Need for Speed: Underground
The top of the page has facts and links, the bottom of the page has my thoughts about the game.
About points of interest
Unless you're extremely familiar with the game, it's likely difficult to link your memories of the areas you've driven through with this overhead layout of the courses. You likely remember "that shortcut through the construction zone", but not where it's located, how it's shaped, or which courses it's part of. So you probably can't recognise it if you were looking at the map of it, and if that's the case, it wouldn't be a very helpful map.
That's why I have added points of interest with names and in-game screenshots of memorable locations, helping you to form a link between the city map and its landmarks.
Red circles are major landmarks. Orange circles are other more minor locations.
About sprint course names
Sprint courses are named like "Spillway" and "To Spillway [R]", implying that the forwards direction is "From Spillway". However, the names are actually opposite!
In the forwards direction of sprint courses, you drive to the named thing. In the reverse direction, you start at the named thing and drive away from it. In "Spillway" you finish at the spillway, and in "To Spillway [R]" you start at the spillway.
- Examination, exploration, and research by me
- City screenshots by Need for Speed Fandom user Wayneng1997, license CC BY-SA 3.0
- "Reasonable UG1 map" by Kacpa2, GogoDG, and gRiM
- this flash player file - screenshot with all tracks selected
- "Olympic City Map" by 379Felipe - however, this image is incorrectly stretched too narrow
Unlock all visual upgrades by completing Underground mode (no need to purchase each individual part in Underground mode, the game just gives you all parts at the end).
Once the style points bar gets to the end and goes no further, there is nothing left in the game that style points will unlock.
Unlock a track by winning on it in Underground mode.
You can also unlock tracks with cheat codes. In the Main Menu, press Z to open the help screen, and then you can enter these codes. GameCube controller layout. Directions refer to the GameCube controller's direction pad buttons.
- Circuit tracks: Down, R, R, R, X, X, X, Z
- Drag tracks: Right, Z, Left, R, Z, L, Y, X
- Drift tracks: Left, Left, Left, Right, X, R, Y
- Sprint tracks: Up, X, X, X, R, Down, Down, Down
Various other fun things
- Free Roam Mod 2.0 by hockeyguy731, konigsseg, and BojanV03 (REAL)
- "Interesting stuff found in UG1" from Need for Speed Theories
- ABK audio bank file unpacker by xan1242
- Need for Speed Modding Tools
- Server emulator for Need For Speed: Underground by HarpyWar
Thoughts on the game
Driving is fun! Which is good, for a driving game! It's the things other than the driving that are less good, in my opinion.
From a young age, Olympic City was such an interesting in-game place to me. I was so happy that I could recognise certain places and turns from the game while driving, but depending on the course they would connect up to entirely different areas! I got a sense of how the areas could connect while playing, but I never really understood the layout of the city. I always wanted to look at a map of the city, but the in-game course selection screen is not a very helpful map, and the line doesn't at all indicate which areas of the city you are about to drive through.
Now that I can look online, I could find a couple of maps of the city, but none of them were particularly helpful or accessible. A lot of them were cloudy or fuzzy or packed with too much detail. That's why I decided to create my own map. My map uses scalable vector graphics, so it won't lose quality on high-resolution displays. I have also included screenshots of memorable locations of the city, since the wiggly lines don't really give you an idea of what the areas look and feel like to drive on.
I always wanted to be able to explore the city. I've seen the complaint online that if there was a free roam mode when the game in its current state, there wouldn't be anything to do in it, because there's no spot events or police chases. That's true and that's fair! However, it would have made 11-year-old me incredibly happy to be able to explore for the sake of exploring, without needing to be fed particular content while doing so.
I've also seen the complaint online that the races could feel repetitive, seeing the same areas over and over. I think that's a reasonable take, though for me I actually enjoyed seeing the same areas again, because it meant I could learn how to drive specific sections and slow down for specific corners. Mario Kart Double Dash has 16 different courses that look and play totally differently from each other. It's okay in that game, because even if you've never seen the course before, you can hold accelerator and steer around the corner and you'll be fine. In Underground, if you try that, you'll smash into the wall because you're going 250 km/h. You have to slow down for many corners, and knowing just how much to slow down is something that you practise and improve at throughout the game. Being able to replay the same corners and learn what speeds and angles are best to take them at is a very satisfying experience, and I'm glad the game showed me the same corners again and again so that I could improve and appreciate them.
With that said, it would have been nice if the story mode had, say, 80 mandatory races, instead of 112. The last 20 races did feel repetitive, so I wouldn't have been upset at all if it had ended sooner. (Or they could have added a couple more circuits and a couple more areas to race through. That would also be great.)
When I was younger, drag and drift modes were my favourite, but now, knockout mode is my favourite. It's my favourite because 4 laps is a really good length, and it stays really intense every lap. You have to consistently play well and strategically use nitrous to ensure that the other drivers don't pass you. If you're in third place on lap 1, you're safe for now, but that means you'll be in last place starting lap 2. Better get a move on! I found that the most consistent way to win is to rush into first place at the start, and play consistently enough that the other drivers don't pass you. It seems much more difficult to catch up to them if you're a couple of seconds behind the leader during the first lap.
The car customisation is extremely excessive and I love it. You can change absolutely everything. It's so good.
The style points multiplier seems a bit silly, since it never restricts you or scales. Sure, you can earn style points at an accelerated rate, but the game prescribes to you when you're able to do that, because you need to play the game to unlock upgrades to get the multiplier. In an alternate universe, there would be no multiplier, and the later game rewards would have a smaller number of points required, and it wouldn't change anything.
There's never a choice of what to upgrade. Money isn't the limiting factor in story mode, the rate of unlocks is. As soon as you've played the race that unlocks the next thing, you can immediately purchase it because you will have more money than you will ever need. I think the game's progression would have been more interesting if the performance upgrades were prohibitively expensive, so you had to balance which one you want to purchase based on your car's abilities, and you have to win more races to get money to purchase the next one, rather than it just being unlocked at a specific point in the future that you can do nothing about.
Imagine the kinds of internal strife you get when you have to pick between the ECU, with its insane boosts to top speed and acceleration, or the first nitrous kit, which is just really fucking cool? That would have been fun. I could have had that experience, and I didn't.
There are the optional races for parts from TJ, who makes you pick 1 of 3 specific parts, but since you don't really get to try out the part before you have to irreversibly pick it, it doesn't really hit the same way as what I described.
The story of Underground is seriously weak, dude. There are 5-10 very short cutscenes that play before or after certain races in the story mode. The dialogue and what's happening is really vague, and difficult to hear, and the game provides no captions. Each video is very short, perhaps between 5-15 seconds long. The story sometimes aligns with what is happening in the game, but if you want to actually understand it, it's really difficult and you have to think about it a lot. And once you put it together, it's not actually that good at all. It's not an effective or interesting story and it's not well told. I'm not asking for much, but I'm asking for better than this.
I didn't really think about the game from a critical perspective when I was a child, aside from "wow, wouldn't it be so cool if you could so [thing] in the game!!" / "haha yeah it would"
When I replayed the game in May 2022 before writing this page, at first I was extremely aware that I was not the target audience of the game. The target audience of the game is probably adolescent boys who uncritically want to drive hot cars and fuck hot bitches. The target audience is men because the game is modelled after real life, and in real life, men drive the cars and women stand around and applaud and act as set dressing. Just like in the game. The characters in the cutscenes using male pronouns and insults that are supposed to set a boy racer's blood boiling just made me feel extremely out of place and uncomfortable.
I wanted to finish the game, so I decided to roleplay as the kind of sneery guy who would like this game while I was playing and customising my car, and that gave me a better relationship with the game.
I also couldn't get into the car customisation until I began roleplaying as the kind of guy who thinks that cars are cool. By the end of the game, I was genuinely enjoying the racing and the car customisation as me.
Notes on nitrous
I looked up a video of nitrous oxide in real cars (which is actually legal in many countries!) and very sadly it doesn't make a ppssSSSHHHHHHSSSSSsssst noise while being used. The car just accelerates a lot faster. I think the noise and vision blur are a cool way of conveying the effects of acceleration since the player isn't able to feel their seat pushing into their body as they drive. It makes you feel fucking cool as you drive!!! I'm glad I know the truth about nitrous now, even if it is a little disappointing. Like finding out that the tooth fairy isn't real and also doesn't drive a sports car.
Want to play Underground?
- Need for Speed: Underground, PC version download (archive.org)
- Need for Speed: Underground, PC version download, with widescreen and online patches by HarpyWar
- Need for Speed: Underground, PC version download, ISO image, PAL region (archive.org)
- Need for Speed: Underground, GameCube version download, NTSC region (archive.org)
- Need for Speed: Underground, PS2 version download, PAL region (archive.org)
- if you want a digital copy of my GameCube disc (PAL region), ask me!