EA's Need for Speed Undercover takes the franchise back to its roots and re-introduces breakneck cop chases, the world's hottest cars and spectacular highway battles.
Maggie Q, who has starred in Mission Impossible III and Live Free or Die Hard, plays Federal Agent Chase Linh, a seductive handler who recruits and guides players as they go undercover. Players will take on dangerous jobs and compete in races in order to infiltrate and take down a ruthless international crime syndicate.
WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank, and occupation!
SN: I'm Scott Nielsen, and I'm one of the producers on Need for Speed Undercover.
WP: If you had to boil down the essence of Need for Speed Undercover, how would you briefly describe the game?
SN: In Need for Speed Undercover, you play the role of an undercover cop, you get recruited to go deep undercover into this illicit, seedy underground world. You're going to have to infiltrate these gangs, you're going to have to eventually take them down, and that's really the story element of it. Marry that with a phenomenal gameplay experience, and you've got something pretty special.
WP: Why take Need for Speed away from its roots? A lot of people think of Need for Speed as a pure racing game, and with Undercover, you guys have really expanded it. Is there any fear that you're going to alienate the hardcore fans of the franchise?
SN: I don't think so at all. Actually, what we do is build entertainment, and part of building that entertainment is coming up with different ideas every year. I think, in terms of the space that we sit in, we really like to think that we're an action game. So we're not a simulation-based game, we're not an arcade-based game like Mario Kart. You can almost trace the roots [of Undercover] back to what we started doing in the Hot Pursuit days, leading into Undercover, looking at how we can tell compelling stories, weave that in with compelling gameplay, and have the two come together. That's really the space that we sit in, you know, the heritage and the roots of Need for Speed really don't lie too far from where we're going with Undercover. We build big, open-world action driving experiences, so leaning into the past of our franchise, this kind of represents a best of breed from the past, and we're really excited about what we have with Undercover.
WP: Let's talk about new features. What are you introducing in Undercover that we haven't seen in previous games in the Need for Speed franchise?
SN: Need for Speed Undercover is all about the chase, chasing, and being chased, and that really represents the essence of how we built this game out. That element or concept of the chase really comes to life in three different ways, three pillars, if you will: the Heroic driving engine, highway battles, and our undercover arc.
In terms of the Heroic driving engine, what that refers to is, we've got over 430 different levers that we can play around with to really give you the ultimate control over the car and the game. When you see people doing things in Hollywood films in cars, things that are just impossible for you to do in everyday life, that is what we want to recreate in the game. We want everybody to feel like a hero, and we finally sort of have the engine that allows us to do that. That engine also extends to the damage system, it extends to the intelligence in the game, how you interact with the cops, how the AI is racing against you, a lot of great stuff. All of that comes together to really perform and sort of make you feel like a hero.
Highway battles really represent innovation on the gameplay side. These are very, very intense, really raw, emotional — it's a really thrilling gameplay experience. You had a chance to hurl yourself really fast down a highway at 150 miles an hour, weaving in and out of cars. It's an experience that you really have to play to really get the feeling of.
WP: In playing it earlier, we saw a number of different cars. You've got Audis, American muscle cars, the whole range — American, Japanese, European. What can you tell us about the car selection that will be in the final game?
SN: It's a little bit early for me to be able to unleash the entire list of cars. That was a good effort, though. We're still fixing up and getting all the licensing work done. Let me give you a little bit of a hint: You can expect a pretty similar standard car list of what we've had in the past. You talked about a few of them — some of the iconic American muscle cars will be in there, your Japanese tuner cars, exotic European cars. We've got a good mix of some of the old, iconic cars, as well as some pretty special new cars.
WP: Are we going to see any sort of garage mode or multiplayer mode?
SN: So again, you keep touching on the ones that I can't talk about. That'll be part of our communication as we're going out. Tonight's the unveiling of the story, the unveiling of the driving engine, the undercover arc, the new innovation on the game modes. Probably in a month or so, we'll get into a little more detail about what we'll be doing with online, multiplayer, etc.
WP: Let's talk about the story mode. Why Maggie Q? What made her a good fit for the role?
SN: Like we talked about earlier, one thing that we do really well is on the interactive side. One thing that we're getting better at is on the storytelling side. To match what we can do in the interactive side, we leaned into the experts in Hollywood to try and tell that story. We had a Hollywood cast, we had a Hollywood crew, we had a Hollywood director, Hollywood set directors — we trusted the experts to bring that to life.
And we took experts from the acting field like Maggie Q as well. She was a great fit for the character. She plays the role of Chase Linh, who is your handler in the game. She's really your only link to and from the outside world. She's going to get you into trouble, she's going to get you out of trouble, she's going to give you the key intelligence so you can figure out what characters you're going to have to go after. She'll give you intel on those characters and tell you who's a target and who you have to take down.
WP: And how many speeding tickets have you expensed?
SN (chuckling): I'm actually clean for the last three years, so I'm doing pretty well, but everyone's jinxing me tonight, so I expect to drive out of there and probably get nailed by the cops.
Need for Speed Undercover is being developed by Black Box in Vancouver, B.C., and is slated to be in stores North America on Nov. 18 and in Europe on Nov. 21. The game will be available for Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii as well as the PS2, NDS, PSP, PC and mobile.
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