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Video Game / Need for Speed: Underground

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Need for Speed: Underground is a sub-series of Electronic Arts's Need for Speed franchise developed by EA Black Box. Consisting of the titular first game in 2003, the open world Underground 2 in 2004, and the portable Underground Rivals in 2005, these games drastically changed the focus and identity of NFS from racing exotic cars in various scenic tracks while being chased by the cops to racing heavily-customized import tuners in urban environments at night when there are no cops around. In addition, Underground introduced an actual plot to the series for the first time.

In Underground, you are an unnamed racer in Olympic City with your friend, Samantha. After being awoken from a daydream by Samantha, she shows you the ropes around the city's underground street racing scene. You race around the city, meet a mechanic named TJ, and beat competitors left and right until you could come up to Eddie. Eddie is the best racer in the city, and also is the leader of The Eastsiders who drives a customized orange Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 (the car seen on the game's cover). He also has a girlfriend named Melissa.


When you finally do so, he challenges you and Samantha to a sprint race that leads to her wrecking her Hello Kitty-esque Honda Civic Si in the process, which TJ takes for himself and repairs (and redesigns) it afterwards. Eddie tries to get rid of you to no avail, as you win back Samantha's car and beat Eddie and his crew. Finally, a mysterious driver in a silver Nissan 350Z challenges you to compete in one more race. After you beat the driver and they reveal their identity, you are deemed the best racer in the city.

However, your time of celebration will not last long. Leading into the events of Underground 2, a mysterious bald man calls you to try to force you into joining his crew, but you hang up on him. En route to a celebratory party, you are rammed in your Skyline by a black Hummer H2 driven by a man with a scythe tattoo on his hand, calling someone to say that he "took care of a problem."


Six months later, you take a flight to Bayview with Samantha recommending in a note that you meet her friend, Rachel Teller. After arriving at the airport, you drive Rachel's green Nissan 350Z (the car on this game's cover) to get your first car from Bayview for free as insurance payment for the totaled Skyline (although you do have the option to race in three events in her car, though she won't like it).

From there, you race around the city, winning events and collecting sponsorships. Eventually, you cross paths with The Wraiths, led by Caleb Reece, and as you win races against them, you hear more about their shady work in their attempt to control Bayview's racing scene, such as manipulating sponsorships against both you and Rachel. It's also revealed that he knows something about the accident you suffered in Olympic City. Later on, after you win a series of URL (Underground Racing League) races, a female Wraith member named Nikki Morris defects from them and joins your crew.

Infuriated by your constant winning, Caleb eventually challenges you to one last race against him in his 2004 Pontiac GTO. Once you beat him, The Wraiths are dissolved, Caleb is forced to leave town, and you are (again) deemed the best racer in the city.

Underground Rivals has no plot, and thus does not connect to the above stories.

These Need for Speed games contain examples of the following tropes:

  • Always Night: Justified given that the street racing depicted in both games is entirely and explicitly illegal. Sometimes in Underground 2 it brightens up a bit and turns to dawn, but it quickly skips to dusk, then back to night again.
  • Bag of Spilling: Justified in Underground 2: the player's car is totaled in the opening cutscene, forcing them to move to Bayview and start all over again.
  • Blamed for Being Railroaded: The first game makes you race Samantha midway through the game, which ends up costing you your friendship with her. The other racers then proceed to call you out on this, despite the game requiring you to race her in order to finish the story.
  • Blatant Lies: Most of the excuses made by drivers when you beat them in Outrun races in Underground 2 fall squarely into this category, from blaming mechanical issues, to outright claiming "I Let You Win".
  • *Bleep*-dammit!:
    • The clean version of Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz' "Get Low" used in the first Underground mutes "twerk" when the Ying Yang Twins say it, but allows Lil Jon to tell the females in the audience to "twerk a little harder".
    • In Underground 2, the word "police" is censored in Sly Boogy's "That'z My Name" (along with "popo"), but not in Snoop Dogg's "Riders on the Storm".
  • Bookends: Underground's story mode begins with Samantha waking the player from their daydream by telling them, "Is that your fantasy?", and ends with Samantha telling the player the exact same phrase after the mysterious racer the player defeats is revealed to be Melissa.
  • Bragging Rights Reward: Underground had the Bonus Cars, untuned cars with awesome vinyls.
  • Broken Bridge: In Underground 2, you have to win events to unlock access to various areas around Bayview, otherwise you'll have to deal with holographic barriers blocking access to the locked areas of the city.
  • Close-Contact Danger Benefit: In Underground 2, one of the stunts to refill your nitrous consists of driving in the opposite lane of traffic and nearly hitting oncoming cars.
  • Cool Car: These games were when Need for Speed switched from exotics to tuners, and thus had the coolest imports for the time, especially the Nissans on the two main games' covers.
  • Darker and Edgier: Downplayed; while the races are entirely (almost, in the case of Underground 2 where sometimes it looks like dawn or dusk) set at night in comparison to the daytime-dominated previous NFS titles, and Underground 2 begins with the attempted murder of the protagonist, both games still have a generally lighthearted tone (in contrast to Hot Pursuit games which are generally more serious), optimistic soundtracks, and end in complete victory for the protagonist.
  • Design-It-Yourself Equipment:
  • Dream Intro: Underground uses one to justify giving you A Taste of Power at the start. Once you're pulled out of your daydream by Samantha, you realise you have a long way to go before you can drive something as cool as what you just were.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Played painfully straight, especially in Underground 2; even if you've maxed out your car's performance and visual ratings, almost all race givers will treat your car as a wreck and expect you to be lapped five times by the end of the race.
  • Excuse Plot: Both games' plots exist purely as an excuse for you to drive around really fast. The first is especially bad about this; Underground 2 has more cutscenes and more of a driving motivation for the protagonist, but it never quite manages to avert this.
  • Fame Gate: The Underground games have a style gate for certain points in the campaign, where you customize your car to reach a set style rating.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Downplayed; no matter what car you choose as your starter car in Underground, Samantha will always react to it by saying, "Ouch! That is seriously weak, dude!"
  • Fighting Your Friend: Underground forces you to challenge Samantha, your Exposition Fairy, to a race, ending your friendship with her in the process. Not only that, but her car gets totaled in the process. Fortunately, TJ later repairs the car to use it himself and you eventually challenge him to a race to get the car back to Samantha and make amends with her.
  • Graceful Loser: Zigzagged with the Outrun races in Underground 2. Some of the drivers you beat will actually be genuinely impressed with you and acknowledge your skill, and after winning a certain number in each stage, you unlock a scripted event in which your opponent is impressed enough to hook you up with a unique upgrade. Most opponents, however, are the exact opposite.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: In Underground 2, Nikki Morris, the sole female member of The Wraiths, defects to your side after you beat her in an URL race (plus some mistreatment from The Wraiths' leader Caleb Reece).
  • I Let You Win: When you beat someone in an Outrun race in Underground 2, one of their possible responses is "If I don't throw a race or two, how am I supposed to get people to race me?", implying they let you win just so people think they're beatable. Of course, they're probably lying out of their ass.
  • Informed Flaw: Bayview's residents act as if Olympic City is some rural backwater, and treat you like you're a hick. Likely some (very) rude teasing on their part.
  • It's a Wonderful Failure:
    • Underground features cutscenes in case you lose your races against Samantha and TJ; Samantha says that she will ignore you from now on, while TJ sarcastically blows you a kiss.
    • In Underground 2, there is a hidden cutscene if you lose the final race against Caleb, saying that he has proven the player that they are nothing to him.
      Caleb: That's what I'm talkin' about! I told ya! You're nothin'! YOU'RE NOTHIN'! [laughs]
  • Jerkass: A massive chunk of the racers you come across in Underground 2 are arrogant douchebags that belittle your car and see you as one of three things: A schmuck to steal money from, a delusional teenager driving his parents' car, or a yokel that's about to get lapped numerous times.
  • Magikarp Power:
    • The Toyota Corolla GT-S (AE86) in Underground 2, which starts out as the slowest car in the game, but when it's fully upgraded it's easily the best car in the game, thanks to its insane handling. Street X and URL races, Drift events and pretty much every race in Jackson Heights in particular are an absolute cakewalk with the Corolla. To top it all off, it's one of the cars you can pick from right at the start of Career Mode. Some guy uses it to deliver tofu at 4 in the morning while navigating mountain passes, what do you expect?
    • The Mazda Miata/MX-5 (NB) in both games also counts. It's a starter car just like the aforementioned Corolla, but when fully upgraded it has the highest overall stats in both games, putting even Skylines, Mustangs and Supras to shame.
  • Market-Based Title: The first game was called Need for Speed: Underground J-Tune in Japan, and the second game was Need For Speed: Underground 2 Sha-Do in Japan.
  • Mighty Glacier: The three SUVs in Underground 2 (Lincoln Navigator, Hummer H2, and Cadillac Escalade) play to this. Their top speed and handling are lower than the other cars in the game, but they shrug off traffic collisions much more easily.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: In Underground 2, after the player defeats Nikki in an URL race, Caleb's Villainous Breakdown begins in earnest and he angrily chews her out. Nikki's response is to perform a Heel–Face Turn and join the player's side.
  • Mock Hollywood Sign: The second game has a Hollywood-inspired Bayview sign on Jackson Heights.
  • Ms. Fanservice:
    • In Underground, Melissa is clearly the main source of eye candy. At one point, the player looks at her while choir-like music plays, implying that the player became enthralled with her; Samantha catches on this and snaps the player out of it, calling them a "loser". Speaking of which, this is actually averted with Samantha who, while very lovely, has no obvious moment of fanservice, with her relationship with the player being strictly platonic, as they remain just friends.note 
    • In Underground 2, the duties of giving eye candy are shared between Rachel Teller and Nikki Morris. The game finds many ways to show Rachel in figure-flattering outfits that highlight her buxom looks, while Nikki is introduced as a driver version of a Biker Babe, complete with leather outfit, and after siding with the player, she takes a page from Rachel's style book, wearing similar figure-flattering outfits.
  • Nitro Boost: These are the first NFS games to include this for the player as a racer.note  While the first Underground limited you to one tank with no way to refill it mid-race, Underground 2 introduced the "Racebreaker" system, which refilled your nitrous if you performed various stunts, like drifting, jumping, and narrowly avoiding traffic. Certain stunts had multipliers, increasing the amount of refilled nitrous for every consecutive time you can pull it off, meaning weaving through traffic with the maximum x5 multiplier can give you nitrous more quickly than you can spend it.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: Underground radically changed the look and feel of Need for Speed by taking out the exotics, scenic environments, and police and replacing them with tuners, cities, and aftermarket customization.
  • Permanently Missable Content: In Underground 2, unique upgrades (from winning Outrun races in Stages 2-5) can only be acquired in the stage in which they were unlocked. If you progress to the next stage without winning the unique upgrades, you won't get another chance to win them.
  • Post-Final Boss: Underground builds up to you facing Eddie, but after defeating him, the mysterious racer who watched the player after beating Samantha challenges them to a race, making them the actual last boss of the game. After the race, said racer later reveals themselves to be Melissa.
  • Product Placement: Along with the numerous sponsorships and part manufacturers in both games, in Underground 2 (2004 "winner" of GameSpot's "Most Despicable Product Placement"):
    • You have a Cingular Wirelessnote  phone with SMS capabilities with their logo prominently showing on your HUD all the time, and there are various Cingular stores strewn across Bayview.
    • There are several Best Buy stores in the City Core and Coal Harbor areas.
    • There are several Burger King franchises strewn across the city, with a prominent Burger King restaurant located in Beacon Hill West that has a drive-thru pathway that can be used as a shortcut.
  • Rainbow Pimp Gear: Underground 2 requires you to completely and utterly rice your cars out to proceed in the game. No matter how fast they may be, no matter how many races they may win, sleepers or JDM-style vehicles won't get you anywhere. It doesn't matter what you slap onto your rides as long as it's expensive. And the more expensive something is, the tackier it is.
  • Ramp Jump: Underground's maps had players jumping over rivers and canals using opened drawbridges.
  • Rice Burner: Both games require and encourage you to rice out your car and raise your Style rating in order to progress. Your opponents' cars, for the most part, also get increasingly riced out as you progress. While in the first Underground it is only used for some optional unlockables and entering a few events (and after you're done with the event you're more than free to remove your customizations), in Underground 2, in order to advance past certain parts in Career Mode, you have to get your car published in a magazine, and said car needs to have a minimum Star Rating to be able to take it on. While forcing players to take on something that should not be mandatory in a game genre is already questionable by itself, it does not help that the late-game visual customization options, necessary for the later magazines, make the car look like a very blatant rice burner. Thankfully, subsequent games did away with the star rating, making customization completely optional.
  • Rubber-Band A.I.: Both games have this in the form of a feature called "Catch-Up" - AI drivers will slow down if they're in front of you, but speed up dramatically if they're behind you. Notably, Underground 2 allows you to switch Catch-Up off, at which point the AI can go from being right on your tail all race to finishing literal miles behind you.
  • Serious Business: Illegal street racing in both of the games' plots, to the point where in the first game, Samantha gets pissed at you upon accepting Eddie's challenge to race her.
  • Signpost Tutorial: Underground 2 has a series of info coronas laid around the Airport and City Center (the only two sections of town accessible at the start of the game). Driving through these gives you some information on the game and a small amount of cash.
  • Sinister Scythe: While nobody actually wields one, the members of the Reapers gang in Underground 2 all have black scythes tattooed on the back of their hand, as a visual shorthand for "these are people you don't want to mess with".
  • Sore Loser: Almost everyone you beat in an Outrun race in Underground 2 will either accuse you of getting lucky, or come up with some blatantly false excuse as to why they lost.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: In the Drag mode, if you don't shift properly, your car's engine will explode, resulting in the player being disqualified.
  • Swallowed Whole: The fate of a particular silver and purple Nissan 350Z in the mindscrew that is the older intro movie for Underground 2.
  • A Taste of Power: Both games.
    • In Underground, the opening race is a Fantasy Sequence in which you drive a fully-modded car. After Samantha wakes you up from your daydream, you're invited to select your actual unmodded starter car.
    • In Underground 2, once you arrive in Bayview, Rachel lets you borrow her car (a fully-modded Nissan 350Z) so you can get from the airport over to your garage. You can drive straight there, or you can participate in a couple of races, which will prompt increasingly irate messages from Rachel.
  • Totally Radical: Both games' use of slang was considered bad when they came out; in Underground there's some of Samantha's dialogue ("That is seriously weak, dude!") , and in Underground 2, the in-game currency is called "Bank". A decade on and some of the dialogue just seems downright painful. Worse of all, the aforementioned "Bank" made its return in 2019's Need for Speed Heat.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Caleb spends the final part of Underground 2 having one, as first Nikki, and then his sponsors turn against him. This culminates in him smashing his phone and angrily challenging the player to a final showdown, which he then loses.
  • The Voiceless: Your character doesn't speak at all in these games.
  • Wham Episode: Actually a Wham Race in the first Underground. The race known as "Friends Are Easy To Make, And Easier To Lose" has you racing against Samantha, who's been your guide throughout the first two-thirds of the game, in order to get her pink slip and selling her car to The Junkman for engine upgrades. Later, the other racers will call you out on this.
  • What the Hell, Player?: At the beginning of Underground 2, Rachel lends you her ride and tells you to meet her at the Car Lot, but you can participate in a couple of races along the way. After the first one, she asks if you've gotten lost and reiterates that you need to meet her at the Car Lot ASAP. After the second one, she's utterly furious, and threatens to have you blacklisted unless you get to the Car Lot right now. If you choose to compete in a third, albeit hidden race, she will warn you that racing's now over (which is true, as that's all the races available while in Rachel's car, outside of Outruns), and that she isn't calling you again.
  • Wide-Open Sandbox: Underground 2 marked the debut of free-roaming environments in the Need for Speed franchise, with Bayview able to be explored more and more as you beat events.

Alternative Title(s): Need For Speed Underground 2