Do you remember the time when the Need for Speed series was synonymous with quality racing? And I mean way before it traded adrenaline-filled gameplay for flashy set pieces and turned into a blockbuster. Before all that nonsense, the Underground games were right up there with the creme de la creme of the series. And there’s a reason why Underground 2, in particular, takes a high spot on many people’s lists.

NFS Underground games were, obviously, made to capitalize on the success of The Fast and the Furious movies. With an open-world setting, neon lights and an elaborate customization system, they offered something entirely new from their predecessors. Some might even argue that Underground 2 marked the end of an era. Possibly, the best time in the series history, with Underground and Hot Pursuit 2 releasing consecutively just two years prior.

I still recall driving across the glittering streets of Bayview, listening to the excellent music and taking in the sights. And also, spending hours obsessively tuning my car in-between races. Fasten your seatbelts because, in this nostalgic article, we ignore the many failures that came after it and take a look at fast cars and spicy senoritas in Need for Speed: Underground 2.

The Eastsiders

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I always liked the story of Need for Speed: Underground the most. Developer EA Black Box put together a memorable cast of characters. Particularly Samantha, the player’s friend in her cute Honda Civic Si. And of course, Eddie, the main antagonist and the leader of The Eastsiders, driving the now legendary Skyline GT-R.

Cutscenes were brief and to the point; they never overstayed their welcome. And the story featured a rather brilliant surprise at the end. After beating Eddie and the “surprise”, the nameless player character became the best racer in Olympic City.

But that quickly changed in Underground 2 when Caleb Reece, the leader of another gang called The Wraiths, sabotaged the player’s reputation. With an open-world city introduced for the first time, you were once again expected to rise the ranks of illegal street racing.

Underground 2 placed a greater emphasis on presentation. But for some reason, the well-crafted CG cutscenes from the first game were replaced with static imagery. It didn’t leave a lasting impression and felt cheap in many regards.

Models Brooke Burke and Kelly Brook were introduced as characters in the game. The former replaced Samantha as the player’s friend/assistant, while the latter played out one of the new antagonists in Caleb’s gang. As the new antagonist, Caleb didn’t exactly live up to Eddie’s legacy, or even Razor’s from 2005’s Need for Speed: Most Wanted. And if not for some research, I wouldn’t even remember the guy.

Fortunately, the racing side of things felt as great as ever, in no small part thanks to the extensive customization options.

Pimp My Ride

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We’re used to having hundreds of cars in racing games today. Just look at the car lists for Forza Horizon 4 and Gran Turismo Sport. They’re overwhelming! Even Need for Speed Heat, the latest iteration in the NFS series, features well over a hundred cars. But things weren’t always this way. In comparison, Underground 2 featured a measly 31 cars, in addition to several secret cars unlockable via cheats

Even so, the total amount didn’t exceed 40 cars. But despite this limited selection of vehicles, Underground 2 featured a few standout choices. Manufacturers like Audi, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota were present, featuring cars returning from the previous game. Mitsubishi Eclipse became more sought after than ever; everyone wanted to recreate Brian’s bright-green Eclipse from The Fast and the Furious. Right?

Several SUV’s were also included, with the Cadillac Escalade and Hummer H2. And I haven’t even mentioned the ridiculous customization options. Underground 2 upped the ante by introducing options for customizing doors, mirrors, spinners, and even the trunk. Most of these were totally redundant for improving performance, but very cool to look at.

Brrr Dum Dum Dum…

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Look back at any game by EA from the early 2000s and you’ll find one thing in common — a great soundtrack. These soundtracks introduced me to genres and artists that I wouldn’t have found out about otherwise. While I don’t think the soundtrack for Underground 2 was as good as its predecessor, it still featured a few exceptional tracks.

If you were simply enjoying the sights, “Riders on the Storm” performed by Snoop Dogg and The Doors, was excellent for a leisurely drive. Likewise, “In My Head” by Queens of the Stone Age, still rings in my ears from time to time. And finally, Xzibit’s “LAX” was all I ever wanted to listen to while tuning a car in the garage.

Energetic metal tracks like “Nobody” by the Welsh band Skindred gave any competition an extra boost. And, of course, I didn’t forget the immensely awesome “Black Betty” by Spiderbait which, arguably, surpassed the original version from back in 1977.

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These were some of my memories and highlights from Underground 2. It didn’t resonate with me as much as Underground did. Its presentation and characters were forgettable and I found some of the customization options redundant.

But being able to go wherever I please on the map, enter a garage and intricately tune my car sufficiently compensated for the lacklustre narrative. Does it stand on par with the likes of Underground and Most Wanted? Probably not. But Underground 2 is definitely much better than most of the entries that EA has released in recent years.

If you wish to pick up a copy of Need for Speed Underground 2 on the OG Xbox then Amazon is now your best shout.

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