Summary: Looking to get the most out of EA's latest title in the Need For Speed series? In this article Stathi tests Need for Speed: Underground with a variety of DirectX 7, 8, and 9 graphics cards, going over all the graphics settings with descriptions, screenshots, and performance analysis. See which settings work best for your graphics card in our Need For Speed: Underground optimization guide!
Electronic Arts has been around for many years, starting out with their first Need for Speed game (one of the best I must add), and recently releasing their fifty-millionth game in the series - Need for Speed: Underground. These games have made their place in car enthusiasts and PC gamer’s hearts because of the realistic game engine (at least in Porsche Unleashed), and simply for being a great car racing game. This newest addition brings customizability (Hood scoops, 20” Yokohama Chrome Rims, Nitrous Oxide, etc...), a great slew of cars from the past and present, and a new look at street racing. In this article, I plan to show everyone the various settings in this newest addition, along with explanations of what these settings do and the performance hit associated with these settings.
Testbed setup and explaination
Video Cards used for Testing
Here are the settings for the ASUS V9280S Ti4200 8X and the Chaintech A-G481 MX440 8X cards. They are also set to default to allow for the smoothest gameplay possible respectively.
*Test Notes: Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering were disabled on all cards in this test. Motion Blur and Light Trails will cancel out AA and AF, and since we’re here to get the best performance out of the game while playing it as the developer intended, this is the way to go.
SIDEBAR: Need for Speed Underground Official Website
The first menu you see after you create a user profile is the main menu. From here you can select the various game modes, go to options page, and use your PC’s online capabilities to go head to head against the world of Need for Speeders. For right now, we will worry about the options since this is an optimization guide. Select options and your screen should look like so...
As you see from the pictures above there are alot of configurable variables, even before you get to the where you are customizing display properties. For this article we will use 1024x768 as our resolution (which I hope all of you are using at minimum), with detail settings set to default. We want to be playing with the best possible picture at a decent resolution.
So now that we have all the basics out of the way, let’s show you what each of those settings under the Customize Display Settings Menu do. For this part of the article, I will breakdown each of the Settings in detail, let you know what they do, tell you what
performance hit to expect, if any, and show you screenshots of these settings so you get a better understanding and see for yourself. And after all of this good stuff is said and done, I will give you my recommended settings for this game for several popular video cards from ATI and NVIDIA to get the most out of this game.
SIDEBAR: It’s a shame NFS: Underground doesn’t have the ability to record demos, it would make an excellent tool for benchmarking.
Car Reflection Update Rate:
This attribute specifies how fast and smooth you want the reflections to be on your car from objects like buildings and lights sources. The higher you set this, the more realism you get from the game, especially in city streets with neon and bright white lights. You really shouldn’t turn this completely off, unless you have a real old card or a budget card...
This customizable setting could very well be one that will not be seen by the untrained eye. This basically details the textures and objects that are on the screen at any given time, giving them a truer form and a more realistic image is displayed because of this enhancement. It takes a while to see the difference, but pay close attention to trees, signs, and cones, etc... You should be able to distinguish the difference. In the screenshots below pay particular attention to the spotlight near your car (note the difference in the light beams), and the additional textures used on the tree above it.
Each video card has to be specifically tuned to give the best combination of performance and quality so that the game keeps you enthused while still playing smoothly. Here is a list of video cards, and the settings I recommend for each of them to get the highest level of performance while maintaining a good level of quality.
High-end Cards: ATI RADEON 9500Pro/9800/9800Pro/9800XT, NVIDIA GFFX 5900, 5900/5950Ultra
With these cards you can set everything to maximum. These cards have the memory, bandwidth, and the pipelines to conquer these settings without to much of a performance hit. Besides, if you own these cards, you spent the money to be able to do this. Settings involved out of the game(AA or AF) may play an important role in making the game lag more, but most of these cards, minus the standard 9800 and the standard 5900 should be able to be maxed out and still have very enjoyable game play.
Mid-level Performance Cards: ATI RADEON 9600Pro/9600XT, GFFX 5700/5800Ultra
These cards have great performance, and great price tags. They are fully DirectX 9 compliant, and have at least 128Mb of DDR memory. That makes them fair game for gamers with a smaller budget. My recommendations are as follows: 1024x768. Set the driver settings to default or 2xAA and 4xAF. Set everything in-game to maximum except for Car Reflection Update Rate, Car Reflection Detail, and Road Reflection Detail. Set these exemptions to one tick below the maximum settings. If the game runs choppy, eliminate Road Reflection Detail. This should definitely look and run great with this setting.
Mainstream/Budget Cards: ATI RADEON 9600/9600SE/9200, GFFX 5200/5200Ultra, GF4 Ti4200 8X, MX440 8X
If you are a hardcore gamer reading this article, most likely you will not own one of these cards. But there are people that attempt to make there budget cards work pretty hard to get acceptable game play. Some of these cards are not fully DirectX 8 compliant, so not all features will work: Motion Blur, Reflective lighting, Light trails. This game does have some hefty requirements, so good luck with it on these cards. Keep the resolution at 1024x768, but keep AA and AF disabled to get the smoothest and best looking gameplay you can out of these cards.
The old cliché still has never left us “Newer games sport newer technologies and if you don’t keep up, you’re left in the dark”, and still holds true. Need For Speed: Underground requires a pretty good GPU and memory interface to run smoothly, and to appreciate the game in full detail, your looking at needing a mid-to-high level video card.
Buying a budget or mainstream card means you will have to cut corners with settings, and you may not get the same feel the producers expected you to.
SIDEBAR: NFS: Underground includes music from Crystal Method
In closing, if you are that guy that just picked up a new RADEON 9800Pro/XT, or the bandwidth behemoth GeForce FX 5900, 5900/5950 Ultra and you are a PC car game enthusiast this is your game. Set those settings to their maximums and enjoy the ride. Need for Speed: Underground will keep you on your feet for a long time, with each level getting harder and harder. And pay attention to detail, because this car game brings a whole slew of interesting and intense technology to the plate.
Eye candy features like Motion Blur, Car Reflection Update Rate, and Light trails are just some of the great options that you want to set to maximum. In doing so, Need for Speed: Underground becomes a completely immersive racing game.
*Special thanks to PIZZADOX for allowing use of his user profile which enabled me to have access to all of the tracks, all of the cars, and all of the money to completely personalize my car.
*Note: This is not a video card comparison article, but a tweaking guide for various cards. Overclocking your video card may result in higher FPS, but may also lead to display corruption.
SIDEBAR: Game optimization guides are a new feature we’d like your input on. Do you like these types of articles and would like to see more? Have any tips or things missed? Drop your feedback in the news comments!
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