Well this was a nice treat. I think I paid £6 or £8 for this 2008 release and it was worth every darn penny.

Directed by Joseph Hodges who has a lot of credits for the TV show 24, the story is a simple one of an undercover cop posing as a master wheelman to infiltrate car smugglers in a fictional American city. Maggie Q is the lead character’s handler (the lead character is you, obviously) and struts her stuff in live action inserts along with would-be girlfriend Carmen played by Christina Milian. I haven’t played many games with live action inserts and I found it a bit jarring to begin with especially since the graphics are probably the worst of any of the NFS games I’ve played so far, but I got used to them in the end and they do add a little atmosphere. I wasn’t really listening properly to most of it. Suffice to say it involves a lot of driving. Fast. Ha ha!

But graphics don’t count for much if the gameplay sucks. So many games these days seem to have great graphics but awful gameplay. Not this game. It has mediocre graphics which you forget about very quickly once things start going fast, and boy do they go fast once you move up from the little league to drive with the big boys. Apart from the Burnout games I think this is the fastest driving game I have ever played. It is headache-inducingly good.

All the usual sort of challenges are in the game – timed events, police evasion events, police takedown events, traffic dodging races, sprints and outrun events. The difficulty ramps up gradually and there are pockets of frustration when you are on the cusp of affording a new car or upgrade (to improve handling or performance), but that is part of the fun – pushing a Lotus Elise to its limits to win enough events, to get enough cash, to buy a Nissan 240Sx (S13) for instance was a real trial for me. I took a rather predicable path in terms of cars – starting with an Audi TT 3.2 Quattro and then progressing to the Elise, maxing out its stats, upgrading to a Porsche 911 GT2, maxing out its stats, winning a Lexis IS-F, buying an almost uncontrollable Pagani Zonda F, maxing out its stats, and then realising the Porsche 911 GT2 was still a better car (due to its controllability). I also splashed out on a tank of a Bugati Veyron (but only because I love the noise it makes and the shape of it – I managed to drive in wheel-spinning zigzags with this more than I did straight lines). I also ended up with a nifty BMW M6 and a Ford Mustang GT by way of winning pink slips in challenges (I think).

As usual my skills (and patience) aren’t up to the task of winning all the events that are dotted around the map, but I feel I have had a good run at the game and I think I’m at driver level 16, but now I’m skint after buying the Bugati. I finished the story last night after about eight failed attempts at the (again predictable) final battle – I’m not sure if the game let me off as the rival car that normal took about 6 hits to get anywhere near totalled, only took 3 hits to knock out of service. A bit odd, but I’m not complaining. My thumbs were beginning to ache.

Although I have said the graphics aren’t up to much there are some good animated cut scenes if you are unlucky enough to get busted and I didn’t see the same scene repeated (which was nice given how repetitive the VO can be – lost count of how many times I heard the police radio says “he’s turning East”). If you get busted you get a cross against the car you’re driving and some money gets taken off your total (as it does when you knock down a lamppost or crash into a bus shelter) – I didn’t get to three strikes but I expect you might lose the car? Horror! The police are quite tenacious and a helicopter gets sent up sometimes, but they are relatively easy to fool – much like in GTA or the other NFS games. Takedowns are tricky and not as impressive as the Burnout games, but just as satisfying as ever.

Also the music isn’t bad. Perhaps because it’s an old game. For once I didn’t have to switch it off – it was great to hear Supergrass on a game soundtrack.