Drift racing puts you alone on a short, wide track. Time means nothing here. Instead, you'll be graded on how well you can powerslide around turns. Proper use of the emergency brake is key here, though learning how to drift properly isn't very difficult at all. It isn't as exciting as the drag racing, but it makes for a nice change of pace.
The main mode features more than 100 different races, but you'll see the same tracks time and time again.
The career mode is called "go underground," and it lets you engage in all of the game's race types in its 111 races. Since the game certainly doesn't contain 111 different track layouts, you'll be spending a ton of time racing the same stretches of road, forward and backward. This can make the mode a little tedious, but this is the only way to make money to spend on car upgrades. Each race comes in three different difficulty settings, and you'll earn different amounts of money depending on which difficulty you select. Being able to select this from race to race is nice, because it lets you make the difficult races easier, ensuring that you progress pretty steadily. That said, the game isn't terribly challenging on its normal setting, so anyone with a shred of driving game skill will probably want to select the hard setting, as it manages to put up a decent challenge most of the time.
Go underground also gives you a few cutscenes, which are meant to give some meaning to your progression by having a pretty bad-looking polygonal woman tell you about your performance, but these are chock-full of really lame, fake attitude and come across as incredibly hokey.
The heavy use of motion blur makes the games look faster than they really are.
The console versions of Need for Speed Underground allow you to get into two-player races via a split-screen, which works reasonably well. However, the PC and PlayStation 2 versions of the game have online play, which includes head-to-head challenges as well as four-player races. Additionally, you can actually pit PC players against PS2 players, which is a neat inclusion. Online rankings are a factor of your reputation, which increases and decreases as you win and lose races. If you don't feel like putting your good name on the line, you can also drive in unranked races. The online play works pretty well, though lag does manifest itself as cars that sort of skip around the track.
Need for Speed Underground's coolest aspect is probably its graphics. The console versions of the game make use of a pretty dramatic motion-blur effect that gives the streets a grimy, realistic look. The blur also gives you a pretty good feeling of speed. The streets are almost constantly wet, giving them plenty of opportunity to show off their reflectiveness. The cars are also supershiny and reflective, though the reflection doesn't update often enough in the console versions of the game, which makes the reflections look a little choppy. The frame rate also tends to take a few dives in all the console versions, and this, combined with the constant motion blur, makes some parts of Need for Speed Underground look really surreal. The PC version of the game starts out with the motion blur disabled. You can enable it, of course, but it never gets as heavy--or as cool-looking--as in the console versions, and the PC version looks a little too clean as a result. The car models all look pretty accurate, and the additional body kits, spoilers, rims, and other visual add-ons look good. Overall, each version of Need for Speed Underground looks great, though the Xbox version is definitely the best looking of the bunch by making good use of the motion-blur effects while still running at a mostly smooth frame rate. The sounds of racing are well done in Need for Speed Underground. Tire squeals, engine noises, and exhaust notes all come across properly and about as realistically as you'd expect. You'll also notice some great but subtle things, such as the sounds of a turbocharged motor versus a standard motor. There is a lengthy soundtrack with songs from artists such as Nate Dogg, Lil' Jon and the Eastside Boys, Petey Pablo, Rob Zombie, and The Crystal Method. The Xbox version lacks custom soundtrack support, which is disappointing, but the soundtrack definitely fits the theme of the game and has a decent amount of variety.
In the world of Need for Speed Underground, the streets are always wet and the cars are always shiny.
Need for Speed Underground is great. With just a bit more variety to its tracks and a slightly better career mode, it definitely could have been better, but it has great graphics, solid sound, and the sort of easy learning curve that makes it a driving game that anyone can excel at. Online play gives the PC and PlayStation 2 versions of Need for Speed Underground an edge over the other versions. Import racing fans will also get an additional kick out of the car customization aspect, which is more faithful than in other games that have attempted to mimic the same style of street racing. Race fans should definitely check out Need for Speed Underground.