Need for Speed: Carbon was a mostly decent followup, but they lost me completely with Need for Speed: ProStreet. No cops? No hammy acting? No thank you. While I'm told that ProStreet actually did pretty well in Europe, EA Black Box is taking it back to what works with Need for Speed: Undercover, which was shown for the first time at an event in San Francisco last week.
The back story is the stuff of direct-to-DVD action movies, so much so that you probably already know just about everything you need to from the title. You're (surprise!) a deep-cover agent sent to break up a crime syndicate in the Tri-City Bay Area, and Mission Impossible III and Live Free or Die Hard's Maggie Q will play your handler, Federal Agent Chase Linh. From the short clips that EA showed at the event, the production values are up a bit from the Most Wanted days, but the tone seems to be about right. It won't be connected directly to the fiction of Most Wanted or Carbon, though, and it sounds like the chances of a Razor Callahan cameo are slim.
What you can expect is all manner of open-road chaos, both with the cops and the criminals, as well as denser traffic and smarter cops. The game will feature a ton of licensed vehicles, and while EA hasn't yet revealed the full line-up, they're already showing off cars from Audi, BMW, Mitsubishi, and Lexus. You'll also be able to customize the hell out of your whip with aftermarket parts, and the game will feature a similar body sculpting system as seen in the past few Need for Speed games. You'll also be able to put some serious dents in that pricey bodywork when you're on the road, though any damage you see will be purely cosmetic.
I had a chance to play around a little bit with one of the new race types in Undercover, the highway battle. The format's the same as the drift battles from Carbon, putting you in a head-to-head race where victory is had by putting a certain amount of distance between yourself and your competitor. Weaving through traffic and nudging other cars to block your opponent's path is pretty fun, and a dynamic, percussion-heavy original score definitely upped the ante on the action-movie feel. You can also expect to hear some licensed music in the game as well, though EA's not naming names just yet.
The game itself is still several months away from completion, so I was able to excuse the game's choppy frame rate, but beyond that it's already looking pretty sharp. Between the causeways perched over the waters of the bay and the slightly over-saturated colors, the game gives off a real strong CSI: Miami vibe. Whether that's intentional or not, I'm feeling it.
The cogent, intellectual part of my brain knows that Undercover will be neither be best nor the most ambitious game to come out this year, but I couldn't be more excited for its promising blend of high-speed thrills and silly live-action theatrics. November 18th can't get here fast enough.