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Need for Speed Underground: Rivals (PSP) artwork

Need for Speed Underground: Rivals (PSP) review

"Such feelings of lost opportunity don't stop there, though admittedly the worst is now behind us. Charging forward we look to the career modes, hoping to find a reason that justifies this charade. And in a way, this is where Rivals actually manages to surpass Ridge Racers, not in the short term rush but in the long, drawn out haul."

When it comes to the subject of Electronic Arts, one can have a field day analyzing the various criticisms that have been brought against them. Their software is bland and repetitive, their design values the very antithesis of creative, and the less said about their habitual yearly updates the better. It's in danger of becoming a stereotype then that Need for Speed Underground: Rivals opens in a predictable fashion, a rash of atypical rock music forming the basis of our now plummeting expectations. The dark streets lay slick with water while neon lights slowly fill the skyline... then off in the distance, a pack of cars come tearing into sight. Rice rockets are what they're called, hotted out and customized is what they are. Decals adorn their side panels, flame designs of all shapes and sizes serving to catch the eye, if not the imagination. It's gritty street attitude with a flair for the excessive. A been there, done that experience designed to inflate EA's portfolio with very little effort or work...

I'm sorry if such disappointment seems excessively heavy, but in the face of Namco's lavish Ridge Racers, it appears that Rivals has been left to claim the proud, second place title of being the first to the lose. Take for instance the game engine as it lovingly attempts to recreate the vast nightscapes present in the home console originals. A dark sky hangs menacingly overhead, threatening to rain though never actually doing so. Port lands, city parks, Chinatown, the locales are as familiar now as they've always been, almost to the point of utter contempt. What there is though has been nicely detailed, and if the truth be told, there's still a certain ambiance to be had. It's not until a nitrous burst has been dropped however that the first cracks begin to appear, slowdown rearing its ugly head and breaking the illusion much to our dismay. Like we said, NFSU:R is a game designed to fill a portfolio with very little effort or work.

Such feelings of lost opportunity don't stop there, though admittedly the worst is now behind us. Charging forward we look to the career modes, hoping to find a reason that justifies this charade. And in a way, this is where Rivals actually manages to surpass Ridge Racers, not in the short term rush but in the long, drawn out haul. A wealth of game modes offer the variety that was missing from Namco's entry, circuit racing, drag challenges, drift events, you've seen it all before. Underground 2's free roaming action has of course been left by the wayside, undoubtedly proving too much for the PSP to bear. Likewise, the once smooth controls have suffered in the transition from home to go, offering a level of frustration that only gets better once the cars have been upgraded.

Oh my, something else Ridge Racers seemingly forgot...

It's in the realization that things improve over time that players push on, seeking out the tiny moments of greatness that haunt Rivals like a lost dream of promised hope. Over taking on a corner is as exciting as always. Do so as it gently rises into a crest however and your car will grab some air, its wheels catching the ground upon impact with a heady sense of friction. The back end slides out, and for moment there you're feeling it: the thrill of the race and a need for speed have come together in a mighty woohoo. A number of short cuts then serve to open things up a bit, offering a chance to steal the lead at the risk of blowing it all together. Blast through a chain-link fence and around a series of shipping crates, then point your car at a ramp and drop some nitrous when you're ready for that rush. Slamming onto the road again, you spin those tires and throw yourself back into the race. A brief smile quickly passes across your lips...

Need for Speed Underground: Rivals will have its fans, that much is sure. And while Ridge Racers is most certainly the better game, Rivals offers a deeper experience, even though much of the package seems flawed and generic. What it lacks is character, what it needs is class. The soundtrack carries the usual number of forgettable hard rock anthems, the occasional classic serving only to spice things up. Have I told you yet? I'm sure you've seen this all before. If you're looking for a racer come launch day, you could do a lot worse than this. That you could do better though should be cause for concern. Buyer beware, or save yourself the cash and play the original instead. The choice is up to you...


* A neat variety of events makes for some interesting racing
* Shortcuts provide the all important risk = reward factor
* The countless upgrade options will always give you something to aim for
* Cars are fully customizable
* Believe it or not, the controls do improve over time
* Graphically, Rivals pleases more often than not
* The sense of speed can be impressive


* At higher speeds, Rivals suffers from some serious slowdown
* A lack of imagination or true desire to achieve proves to be its downfall
* EA Trax is as bland and forgettable as always
* With Ridge Racers already on the market, Rivals has finished a distant second

midwinter's avatar
Staff review by Michael Scott (March 15, 2005)

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