Need for Speed Underground reinvigorated the franchise a year or so ago by adding some challenging and slightly antisocial elements to an inherently solid and well presented concept. Some great customisation options and an outstanding look underpinned the new direction, and NFSU grabbed a decent share of a tough market. Need for Speed Underground 2 brings a few new ideas and very nicely designed open environments - and customisation is taken up another notch - but things have fallen a little behind some of the more recent entries to the road racing scene and players will be disappointed with the relatively empty city streets. That said, NFSU2 still offers exciting single player encounters and a decent multiplay experience.
A good mix of brand-name cars are available to choose from, after which the aim is to win races and earn cash for upgrades and facelifts. Quick Race options include standard circuits, sprints, drags, drifts (points for style) and the new Street X (closed circuit laps) and lap-based Underground Racing League; and Career Mode drops players onto the streets of Bayview to tackle other drivers and find upgrades. Despite its size, Bayview gets a little boring after a while, although NFSU2 brings a solid points-based progression system and Showcase Mode makes sure the paparazzi is on hand to capture that latest upgrade for your fans. Navigation is helped by the top-down World Map feature, although the fact that the all-important upgrade shops don't show up until you've found them means it's not much help up front.
NFSU 2 shines in the customisation stakes. The appearance choices are outstanding, including paintwork, graphics, decals and window tints; as well as body kits, vinyls, spoilers and trunk audio. Performance upgrades are just as impressive, with hundreds of options, and on-road handling changes significantly as power increases. Unfortunately, the lack of damage modelling (probably driven by the use of licensed vehicles) takes the edge off the game at times because you really haven't got much to lose; and the generally average AI means that the upgrades aren't necessarily decisive in single play. NFSU 2 is a decent arcade-style racer that builds nicely on the successful original. Some of the new elements detract from the main game, but Need for Speed Underground 2 will appeal to the huge online tuner culture.