Need for Speed Underground 2

The clue is in the title. This is a game is where only two things matter: a huge variety of licensed super-cars and the blistering speeds at which you can race them.

Everything else - the gritty urban environments of EA's fictional city, the heady atmosphere of the illegal street racing community and the night-time setting where all the action takes place - is secondary to getting your garage full of mean machines and then stamping down on the accelerator and nitrous oxide boost at every opportunity.

So, unsurprisingly, there are a lot of races in Need for Speed Underground 2 because that's the only way you can get the points you need to buy new faster and flashier cars and then trick them out so that they'll go even faster.

There are two types of competition: Circuit Races and Drag Races. Circuit Races are further divided into Time-Trial (race against the clock), Knockout (which sees the last place contender removed at the end of each lap), Plain Racing (err, that would be just racing, then), and 'Own The Zone.' This last one offers a refreshing angle by splitting the track into three sections. The objective is to post a faster time than your rival for each of these sections during a number of laps. If your rival posts a faster time for a section, it will show up red on the map on the lower screen but if you 'own the zone' it'll show up in green.

As you might imagine the Drag Races are a bit different and take place on a straight track. The goal here is to hit the gear changes at the right time whilst avoiding obstacles in the road and just go as fast as possible. And the feeling of speed in these events is immense, providing one of the highlights despite the DS's usually less-than-powerful 3D graphics capabilities.

Another ongoing focus of the game is the depth of the car customisation options. There are the typical engine upgrades and nitrous add-ons that anyone who's seen The Fast and the Furious would expect, but also a large amount of visual customisation is available. From the colour of the paint and vinyls to stylish alloy wheels and body kits, it's easy to make a vehicle your own. These modifications are then fully replicated on the car when you race - which is great for showing off in multiplayer.

As for the control system, EA has ignored the touchscreen and sensibly gone with the traditional button and d-pad controls for steering and acceleration. Initially it's tough to get to grips with as the cars feel heavy and unresponsive, but persevere and you will be rewarded with what, for a handheld game, is a remarkably deep physics engine. There remains a steep learning curve that might put some people off, though, especially younger players.

More frustrating, however, is the in-game traffic. Intended to make the racing more exciting and to add to the illegal street race atmosphere, the real effect of the slow moving buses and fire-trucks is to frustrate the player. Especially on the DS' small screen, mobile obstacles are difficult to make out and you'll often find yourself flying down a narrow street, leading the race, only to meet two buses creeping past each other and blocking the whole road. The resultant collision will invariably send you to the back of the pack and with a win being the only way to progress, the temptation to really show your DS who's boss is hard to resist.

But, on the whole, Need for Speed Underground 2 does the business. It's no better than other DS racers such as Ridge Racer or Asphalt Urban GT, although it will fill a gap for fans until Need For Speed Most Wanted lays down a new trail of EA franchise rubber towards the end of the year.

Need for Speed Underground 2 is on sale now.

Need for Speed Underground 2

A good, but not great, racing game, Need for Speed Underground 2 provides enough tracks, cars and customisation options to keep you going for a while