3, 6, 9, Damn She’s Fine
If I hear the intro to Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz’ hit Get Low anywhere, I’m taken back to 2003. Not to a club, not to a concert, but rather to my basement. Sitting in my cushy black recliner, driving the snot out of a highly modified virtual Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS.
A testament to both how catchy the song was and how much I played the original Need for Speed Underground, that song and game will forever be married in my mind. When I’m 85 years of age at the old folk’s home, and that song comes on, my mind will still wander to what vinyl wrap I should put on my Dodge Neon.
With Need for Speed Underground, timing was everything. It was released right in the height of the Import Tuner craze and captured it perfectly into an arcade racer. The intro alone looked like it could have been a CGI outtake from the Fast and Furious franchise.
This was new. Racing games were rarely as much about customizing your
car whip as about the actual racing. Sure, many racing games before it had some form of customization, like Gran Turismo’s racing modifications, but NFS Underground was different.
Several different aspects of each car could be individually customized. And each customizable part had several options to choose from. Hoods, bumpers, headlights, paint, underglow, vinyls, decals, wheels, and so much more. Best of all, many of the parts were real life replicas from companies like Enkei, Brembo, and Magnaflow.
A nice touch EA added to the game was the ability to freely customize each car the player had unlocked with the parts they had unlocked. It didn’t advance the game in anyway, but it was a fun time killer.
Tuner Cars Present and Accounted For
The game only came with 20 cars, but that wasn’t an issue. With all the customization, it never felt like it needed more cars as players would spend so much time developing only a handful of vehicles in Underground Mode.
Besides, for the most part, all the stars of the tuning scene were included. Fan favourites like the Honda Civic, Acura Integra, Toyota Supra, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Nissan Skyline GT-R, and Mazda RX-7 were included. There were a few oddities, like the Mitsubishi Lancer ES and Subaru Impreza 2.5RS being in-game and not their sportier siblings, the EVO and the STI.
Win the Races, Build the Stars
Being an arcade racer, the abilities between the cars didn’t differ greatly. The cars unlocked later in the game were faster, regardless if this would be the case in real life. The computer AI performed on stretchy rubber bands, so it didn’t matter how far ahead or behind a player got, the finishes were always going to be close.
And for every nod to realism, like all-wheel drive cars pulling harder off the line at the start of the race, there were Hollywood fantasies like the front-wheel drive Neon and Focus ZX3 tearing it up at drifting.
The goal in the game was to win the various races and/or challenges. Races were circuit, time trial, sprint, drag, drift and lap knockout. For most of the disciplines, the player would eventually get on the top 10 list for Underground racers and work their way up to being number one in all disciplines.
Along the way, players needed to modify the appearance of their cars to earn stars. The more stars earned, the more parts for both visuals and performance would be unlocked, including some special parts.
The balance between completing races and further upgrading one’s car was good but could have been better. As the Underground mode continued, it became a bit of a grind at times to complete races, and some of the level two upgrades took seemingly forever to unlock.
All racing was performed at night (of course) and the ground was always damp to produce a cool reflective effect. The racing action itself was quite manic, with a blur of colours assaulting the players eyes while the world whizzed by. Hitting walls, opponents, and oncoming cars was the name of the game; iRacing this was not.
But that is what made it so cool. In 2003 it was like living out an over-the-top street racing tuner fantasy. It heavily influenced racing games that appeared after it as some level of visual customization were now expected on some level. So, if you will excuse me, I need to go apply an Alpine vinyl to my Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V.
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