Need for Speed Underground Rivals is admittedly a decent first generation racer for the PSP, but somewhat a backwards step from Need for Speed Underground 2. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, what’s missing is Underground 2’s open ended gameplay (which in effect was one of the most useless additions to a videogame sequel anyway) but some will still feel the lack of evolution in Rivals.
Rivals yonder back to the more classic race by race system. As always, you navigate through the menus and choose your car and mode. The game includes the basic circuit mode in which you race in a series of events gaining money and new tracks along the way. This is the bulk of the game and the other modes are simply icing. Drift Zone, Drag, Street Cross and Nitrous Run are all pretty self-explanatory. Drift Zone is the new addition to the series as it has you racing around corners trying to perfect your drift and achieve higher scores. It’s addictive and Nitrous Run complements it as the two best side sections of the game. Rivals features a head to head mode for wireless ad-hoc multiplayer for up to four people in your local area but lacks online multiplayer, a feature bound to be available in the next portable NFS iteration.
With only 20 different cars and 10 tracks on the table Rivals makes for a pretty slim package compared to other racers on the market, but with what’s presented there is a lot to love. The cars are highly customisable with the garage mode and the different visual styles of each vehicle really make for some interesting variety. EA is quick to tout the new inclusion of muscle cars into the roster. They don’t add much to the game, but it will definitely be a treat for speed freaks. The tracks are well designed but the secret paths and shortcuts are far too obvious to provide any feeling of accomplishment for players.
Rivals is pretty solid controls wise. It’s not particularly tight or realistic but it’s an arcade racer at heart with little to compare itself against a game as detailed as Gran Turismo 4, but that is essentially the point, it’s not supposed to be. The analogue nub is responsive, but I felt the D-Pad is much better suited for the game. Collision detection is the only area where the game really shows its dark side. Since there are no damage physics, the second you hit a wall (or a pillar that sits in the centre of the road), the car will come to a complete stop, allowing every racer to pass by you and its not as easy as it should be to get back into the race. It’s just a small quibble but it happened enough to be considered a notable annoyance. The computer AI is quite competent but don't put up too much of a fight if you start leading by a large distance.
As far as the visuals go, they are quite detailed and pleasing to the eye. The only noticeable issue is the overly repetitive environments and the occasional bouts of intense slowdown that occur randomly. It’s not a game killer but it’s definitely something that should have been ironed out by launch. Car models and motion blur effects however look stunning. Overall it makes for a solid looking game, but definitely not the best in the bunch.
Need For Speed Underground Rivals is a solid racing title that shows EA is intent on delivering the same level of presentation they do on the home consoles. But with Need for Speed: Most Wanted on the horizons you shouldn’t feel guilty if you leave this one in the dust.