The developers changed from giving players exotic cars like in previous NFS games to more mod-firendly cars perhaps trying to capitalize on the phenomenon of illegal street racing arguably brought to mainstream view by the movie "The Fast and The Furious." It has robust car customizing tools which let the player edit the look and performance of the car to their liking. To keep with the theme, all the racing in the game takes place at night time.
Starting off as a rookie, the player is thrust into the illegal street racing scene. The player must win an Abilitease race, before being promptly woken up by Samantha--the player's lady friend--for daydreaming. Now the player is given the chance to buy their vehicle from an extremely limited selection of cars, including Hondas, Nissans and Fords. As days--and races--pass, the player becomes acquainted with fellow racers who soon become enemies. Over time races become longer, more complex, and, ultimately, far more difficult. The player, wanting to have a shot at the top dog, agrees to race Samantha. This is without her consent, however, leaving her angry and distressed; they race, resulting in a defeated Samantha seeing her car towed away while the Player celebrates. After all 120 races are complete the player must win one more race, head to head against the ultimate street racer. While there is no real ending per se, the player is greeted with his name at the top of all the racing rankings.
Need for Speed: Underground does away with the previous realistic track driving model in favor of a more arcade style racing model. While drifting is not a main gameplay mechanic, it is certainly encouraged. The exception being the Drift Events (See Below). There are a number of different races the player may participate in: Drag Races, Knockout Races, Drift Events, Sprint Races, Time Challenges & Circuit Races.
These are purely straight line races, normally over about a mile and a half. The focus is purely on timing your shifts perfectly. Instead of controlling the car directly, the car moves left to right in a slot car like fashion.
This type of race usually involves four competitors going around a regular circuit. The person in last place when crossing the start/finish line is eliminated from the race. This process is repeated until there is only one competitor remaining. One criticism against this mode is that it does not give any of the competitor's times; it only says "Eliminated."
While not a race, it involves you drifting around corners, stacking up a multiplier while aiming not to hit any barrier surrounding the track. While the player is against AI, there is no one else on the track, you only see your opponents score on the HUD during the race.
Very similiar to a Circuit Race [See Below] the player will race against anything from 2 - 4 opponents. The catch is that the start point is completely seperate from the finish line, resulting in no laps being performed and at no point does the player see the same scenery twice.
Only in Underground Mode, the player races against the clock in order to get Custom Parts from PJ; an illustious engineer who is a friend of Samantha's.
The main race in the game, racing anything from 2 - 5 opponents, and anywhere from 2 - 7 laps. This classic game mode is in no way altered to create a uniqe spin on the genre, it takes it straight from the book. This means that there are split roads, there are numerous shortcuts to perform on any given circuit, aswell as numerous hazards.
The following is a list of cars featured in the game: