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As a kid, I adored racing games. Need for Speed: Underground 2 has rekindled that flame.

It’s funny because I don’t even have a lot of nostalgia for this game. I first remember getting it only to download a 100% save file and customize some cars for fun. Don’t know why I didn’t really wanna play it back then as a Need for Speed fan, I guess I was more into supercars as a kid, which UG2 had none of. Recently though I hadn’t been into racing games at all, maybe just a little bit of Gran Turismo Sport. I wanted to get back to NFS and I thought, why not with Underground 2? I hadn’t finished it, heard good things about it, and I wasn’t really much of a supercar fanatic anymore so it seemed like a good choice.

At most I expected a blast from the past, an appreciation for the kind of games I used to enjoy, something to play on the side. But I underestimated UG2. Not that it blew my mind or anything, but I seriously underestimated how addicting this was gonna be. I put down almost everything else I was playing, Morrowind, Dark Souls, Slay the Spire, just to play a Need for Speed game of all things, for almost a week straight.

Like I said, it didn’t blow my mind though. It doesn’t really have any super innovative features (by today’s standards anyway). Rather, it nails the basics. The driving feels damn good. This is before every arcade racer had you drifting through corners at 300 mph. Surprisingly UG2’s cars are kinda slow, and even more surprisingly, I liked it this way. This driving style seems to be more about agility and proper cornering than pure speed and powersliding. And the map is built for that style too, lots of tricky turns and winding roads, and it’s a joy to drive through. As a bonus, all these technical tracks seem to lessen the extent to which opponents will catch up to you through rubber-banding. It’s crazy that the game all about JDM cars and tuner culture is so grounded.

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Speaking of tuner culture, the customization in this game is still exquisite. Changing the bumpers and adding body kits is standard in racing games now, but UG2, an early 2000s game, even lets you change headlights and taillights, get new side mirrors, add neon underglow, even change the trunk layout. The one thing it lacks is a comprehensive vinyl editor, but I’m not too bothered by it since in Gran Turismo Sport I’d spend more time adding vinyls and decals to the cars than playing the game, then they’d turn out looking mediocre anyway and I’d be dejected. Still, I can’t deny UG2’s vinyl editor doesn’t hold up by comparison. Regardless it was super fun to slowly progress through the career while making each of my cars look unique.

If there’s one big flaw with the game, I’d say it didn’t need to be open world. Or at least, it should’ve utilized the world better. Because as it is, the world only serves to delay your next race, which is the actual fun part. As aesthetically pleasing as it is (certainly compared to the brown world of Most Wanted) it’s not nearly as interesting or large as the map of Test Drive Unlimited or The Crew, and I got bored of the free roam quickly. Though that’s probably too high a standard. Either way, it’s a good thing later games didn’t require you to physically drive to every race. Also the Star Rating system has you over-customize your car and make it look like trash just to progress the game, which is annoying. But thankfully you can just have a “side car” to do that on while your main machine can look as subtle as you want.

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In my case my ricer of choice was the Honda Civic (lol) while I used the AE86 Corolla for more races. On a sidenote, That car is seriously one of the best handling cars I’ve driven in any arcade racer, seriously, it’s so damn nimble it feels like cheating. And it’s a starter car, if you decide to play this game I highly recommend it.

Anyway I think I’m actually back into racing games now. I can’t tell if Underground 2’s just that good, or if it’s just my love for these games resurfacing. Even if it is the latter, UG2 still deserves a lot of credit for being good enough to do that to me. Next up is probably Most Wanted, I remember I never finished it and only got to around Blacklist 2 or 3…

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