Version Reviewed: 1.1.28
Game Controls [rating:5/5]
Graphics / Sound [rating:5/5]
iPhone Integration [rating:5/5]
Lasting Appeal [rating:4/5]
Just two days ago I was talking to Bryan (our editor) about the state of iPhone gaming. In a nutshell, I was concerned about the mediocrity that people were coming to expect when they pick up iPhone games. In my mind, the iPhone could (and should) be considered a gaming console that rivals the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP, but at the moment it just stands in most peoples minds at the top of the mobile device gaming market. For being so new to the game, I commend the developers for all the great games that have come out, but I really wanted to see a game that would raise the bar in terms of graphics and gameplay, something that would make people ok with spending $10 on an app. Bryan told me to be patient and that the next big thing will inevitably come.
It turns out that the big app I was waiting for was going to come out the very next day. I had been reading the previews for NFS on our site and was pretty excited about its release, but racing games, iPhone racing games in particular, are usually not my cup of tea. Being a fan of big releases though made me quickly jump on the opportunity to review this one. I'm sure glad I jumped on it too, because it is, without a doubt, the best game on my iPhone.
The Need For Speed Series has been going strong since 1994 on consoles, with a new version coming out every year or so. Each game has a somewhat unique plot, but all heavily lean on the sense of speed and urgency to push along the gameplay. There is definitely more of an emphasis on fun than of simulation, allowing you to run head on into cars with no real issue other than the time wasted watching your car get knocked over. The newer versions of the game, including this one, allow for a variety of car customizations, from paint jobs to nitro upgrades, and car types, all from real car models. The available cars range from bad to good, foreign to domestic. My car path through the game was Pontiac Firebird, Mittsubishi Lancer Evo, Dodge Viper. I had the money to by a Ford GT at the end, but I was a bit too attached to my Viper to get it.
As I was saying earlier, the plot in the game is somewhat unique. The reason I say somewhat is because the plot heavily borrows from movies like The Fast and the Furious and... well... The Fast and the Furious. I'll just go ahead and say it, NFS, until the very end (there is a twist!), pretty much uses the same story as The Fast and the Furious (F&F). You play as an undercover cop who has to find out who stole some incredibly important cars from a bigger shipment of, you guessed it... cars. Your boss, played in glorious cut scenes by Maggie Q, gives you an assignment to infiltrate the gangs around the Tri-State Area (basically, your in-game world) in order to find out who stole the car shipment. While working undercover for the first gang, you meet the lovely Carmen Mendez, played by Christina Millian, who you instantly have a thing for. Don't expect any kind of crazy character development to happen, but you will be surprised as to how well you will comprehend what is going on. There definitely are a few levels at the beginning of the third state that make no sense, but the overall story works well enough to push the gameplay forward.
I can't emphasize this enough; NFS is possibly the first big budget title that truly has a next gen iPhone control scheme. There wasn't a single point in the game that made me wish I were playing on a PSP or DS, which is definitely a first among the bigger titles on the system. Between the super effective use of the accelerometer and the fantastic use of the multi-touch display, NFS uses the phone to its full potential.
As mentioned in the video, there are many gameplay options in NFS. Besides the typical races, there are many levels that involve destroying a rival cars, destroying police cars, trashing the road, or evading the police in order to deliver stolen vehicles. The best two gameplay variations to me are the races and the stolen car levels, but none of the gameplay types could ever be called even remotely boring.
The graphics in NFS are absolutely fantastic. There are a few instances of lag at some points, usually when the phone is receiving an e-mail or text message, but the overall build of the game is flawless. All of the cars are richly detailed, with customization options (body kits, spoilers) that all look fantastic. Even the environment in the game is richly detailed. I fully expected some nice racing graphics in NFS, but when I first saw 3D buildings whizzing past my car I was shocked.
The best thing about the graphics of the game though, and this may be a testimonial to the gameplay, is the sheer sense of speed you get while playing the game. In real life, there is a massive difference in the amount of reaction time needed to drive a Firebird and a Porsche at top speed, and this is represented very well in NFS. Some of the later levels have you going so fast that winning boils down to developing twitch reactions to situations, making for an exciting game.
The background music in NFS is a collection of decent rock tracks (I wish I could import the Crazy Taxi soundtrack), but the game really excels in the sound effect department. At various points in the game you will hear your engine shift, hear the crunch of a car around you, and hear the sirens and helicopter sounds of the oncoming police. With the speed of the action and the growl of your engine, the background music becomes what it is meant to be... background music. With the sounds as good as they are, listening to the game through the iPhone speaker is almost a waste, so I would definitely recommend a good pair of headphones.
NFS: Undercover has definitely raised the bar for iPhone gaming in general. The graphics are stunning, the sound is awesome, and the gameplay is the best that the system has to offer. I commend the EA programmers for finally making an iPhone game that seems like it was designed specifically for the iPhone, and not just ported over with some kind of tired control scheme. It's hard to find fault with the game, but if I had to reach, I would probably ask for some sort of multiplayer option. The single player experience though is so good (and extensive) that you won't even think about the lack of multiplayer. I'd say that you can legitimately expect 10, maybe 15 hours of gameplay if you want to complete the story mode and the drift mode that unlocks at the end of the game.
By iPhone standards, the game is quite expensive, but this is a fully featured game that would be welcome on any portable console. Considering that I would gladly play $15-$20 for the same experience on the DS, the measly $10 iPhone price is well justified. Pick this one up as soon as you can, it's worth it.