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, who reveals herself to be Melissa, 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 Caleb was the man responsible for the wrecking you 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: Daylight never occurs in gameplay within these games, which was justified given the illegal street racing that made up them. Sometimes in Underground 2 it brights up a bit, turn to dawn, but quickly it skips to dusk, and to night again.
- And Now For Something Completely Different: 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.
- 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.
- 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 costing 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.
- 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.
- Cool Cars: 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 case of Underground 2 where sometimes it looks like dawn or dusk) set in night in comparison to the daytime-dominated previous NFS titles, and Underground 2 begins with the attempted murder of the protagonist, the overall theme of the game is lighthearted, with optimistic soundtrack and ending in complete victory of the protagonists.
- Design-It-Yourself Equipment: While they're not the first games in the series to feature aftermarket parts (that honor goes to Need for Speed: High Stakes), they are the first to make them a main feature.
- The Nintendo DS version of Underground 2 allows players to create decals using the touch screen.
- Difficulty Spike: The first Underground started the exaggeration of this trend in the franchise.
- 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 stylish rating.
- HeelFace Turn/High-HeelFace Turn: Nikki in Underground 2, after you beat her in an URL race.
- 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.
- 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.
- A yokel that's about to get lapped numerous times.
- Lethal Joke Character: 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 HeelFace Turn and join the player's side.
- Ms. Fanservice: Pick a girl, any girl. They were all played by models.
- Nitro Boost: These are the first NFS games to include this. 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 refilled nitrous every consecutive time you can pull off a stunt, meaning weaving through traffic with the maximum x5 multiplier can give you nitrous more quickly than you can spend it.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ramp Jump: Underground's maps had players jumping over rivers and canals using opened drawbridges.
- 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.
- Spiritual Successor: Need for Speed, the 2015 series reboot.
- Swallowed Whole: The fate of a particular silver and purple Nissan 350Z in the mindscrew that is the older intro movie for Underground 2.
- Totally Radical: Underground 2's use of slang was considered bad when it came out; for example, the in-game currency is called "Bank". A decade on and some of the dialogue just seems downright painful. Worse is that the aforementioned "Bank" made it all the way to 2019's Need for Speed Payback.
- True Final Boss: Melissa in Underground.
- 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 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.
- 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.