The story behind Need for Speed: Undercover is you're a cop working the corrupt streets of the Tri-City area who goes undercover (get it?) to bring the crime syndicates of the streets to justice. Helping you along in this quest is Agent Chase Linh (Maggie Q), as your FBI liaison, talking to you in a series of live action cutscenes. All the story stuff is live action, actually - the game having been built around a Hollywood style of storytelling. So, flashy visuals, gritty cop story, and tattooed gangsters... like The Wire, only with Need for Speed.
I'm kind of sceptical about blending an action movie with a racing game. I know they keep making those Fast and the Furious films; but they kind of suck, so I don't have an idea of what a good racing/action game would look like. Sort of like those Jesus Christ lizards - you wouldn't know it was one until it walked on water.
Here's what I did see: a Highway Battle, which was a flat-out high speed burn between two points on a freeway, trying to beat another guy to the endpoint. I also got to try a circuit race (which is exactly what it sounds like) and a driving job that seemed a lot like Grand Theft Auto only I never get out of the car.
Because this was such an early build, it was hard to see the full scope of the game as developer EA Black Box means for it to be seen. Graphics were missing, bugs were rampant, and the guy running my demo kept skipping the post-Highway Battle cutscene with Maggie Q. I guess if I wanted to actually see her, I would have had to go talk to her.
Best lines of the night:
"What do I have to do to get this cop to chase me? Kill his entire family?" - Dan Amrich, Official Xbox Magazine.
"Um. I think you're going the wrong way." -Randy Nelson, Joystiq.
"Where the #$%& is the red shell - I need a red shell!" -Me.
The bottom line for Undercover is the car is the star. The models are all very realistic, and in the garage mode, there's none of this flashy background, topless model bullshit - it's subdued lighting (like you'd see in real life) and black backgrounds so you can really focus on what a real Audi looks like and have a "more mature" driving experience.
So says Jesse Abney, associate producer on NFS: Undercover. Abney (who had to shout over the din at the hands-on party) told me that team was going for a sort of "visual signature" that you won't see in any other Need for Speed title, or any other racing game for that matter. The heroic engine the team built for the project only enhances the realistic physics of the cars as damage models and movements are totally tweaked per car. So, in other words, it'd be way easier to wreck a Pinto than a Beamer plowing into a freeway barrier at 120 mph - like in real life.
But, says Abney, they still want this experience to be accessible to everyone. To that end, there're all sorts of help for the noob - navigation arrows, mission info screens, etc. There's also a 360 degree view of your car, for people who used to play old school racing games (a total first for the NFS series).
Need for Speed Undercover is out this November (18th-ish, we hear). Some details are yet to be hammered out (how many people in online multiplayer, what kind of downloadable content, if any, etc.), but after this first look I've got a better idea of what to expect from the game that's trying so hard to be different.