The two most highly anticipated video games this holiday season -- Take-Two Interactive's
Yesterday, Electronic Arts delivered Need for Speed Underground 2, the sequel to last year's best-selling game. NFS2 reaches the The Fast and the Furious-ignited boost in the popularity of import car culture: According to the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), the compact performance market for aftermarket car parts in the U.S. has grown from $295 million in 1997 to $3.2 billion in 2003 -- a roughly 50% annual clip. And with Take-Two's highly promoted Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition pushed back until January, and THQ's
I picked up my copy yesterday at Electronics Boutique
The game is bigger and better. Like Namco'sStreet Racing Syndicate, NFS2 has adopted Midnight Club's open-city model. This year, you cruise through a huge environment between races and parts shops. You can also keep more than one car in your garage, something that couldn't be done in the first Underground. And for the stylists, there are more visual upgrades than ever, with the addition of Lamborghini-style doors, spinners, hydraulics, personalized gauges, and even audio systems (my personal gripe being that you have to add these things to gain style points -- I don't know of too many Mazda RX-8 or Nissan 350Z owners who would ruin their cars with spinners and hydraulics).
But Need for Speed has also made great strides toward realism for the enthusiast.
Unlike previous versions -- which used bar graphs to rate things such as top speed, acceleration, and handling -- this year's version makes use of the dynamometer to measure actual horsepower and torque. In addition, you can tweak the suspension settings and measure lateral grip on a test course. And in what has to be a video-game first, you can adjust the electronic control unit settings for different driving situations as you might do with a GReddy e-Manage, as well as the turbo boost settings.
Electronic Arts also broadens the racing. Drifting -- the sport that singularly makes Need for Speed stand apart from every other racing game -- is back. Moreover, the company has added road racing and the new StreetX, a sort of extreme version of auto crossing.
The gameplay is deep. And really, the only area where Need for Speed falls behind competitor Street Racing Syndicate is that the latter goes as far as to use real body kits from high-end companies such as C-West and VeilSide.
Next month, Sony's
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Fool contributor Jeff Hwang owns shares of Electronic Arts.