Need for Speed Carbon (360) – Review

Need for Speed Carbon - CoverUnfortunately, the last several entries in Electronic Arts ‘Need for Speed’ series has significantly veered from established concepts that work well (such as those found in Hot Pursuit and Porshe Unlimited), and instead have incorporated elements to go along with Hollywood ideas, such as underground and illegal street racing. While “Most Wanted” was a return, in the most part, to the right elements, the series has taken several steps backwards with Need for Speed Carbon which, while combining elements from the “Underground” series, “Most Wanted”, and tries to add a few more, ends up being too easy save for a handful of races thanks to EA rubberbanding, and seems to be a game designed simply with intense graphics to take advantage of the next-gen consoles with little focus on actual gameplay.

Story: B

There’s actually a reasonable story told through cutscenes (acted out by humans but given a ‘plastic’ looking filter to meet with their in-game engine counterparts), though it’s merely a wrapper for the game and not integral to it. Some time ago, your character was part of a street race with a lot of money on the line, but the race was ratted out by the cops and managed to take out all the competitors except yourself as well as the watching audience. In the scuffle, you grab your girlfriend, who thought she was holding the race winners but they were switched on her, and making your escape from town. In the meantime, those other competitors have held a grudge, thinking you had run away with the winnings unfairly and after getting out of jail, have managed to take over the town. As you return, they acknowledge your presence and vow to take revenge for that race gone bad; the only way you can stop them is to take over their territories with your own racing skills and get the town under your control again.

Gameplay: C

Need for Speed Carbon - In Game PlayThe gameplay in Carbon is closer to that of the Underground series than other games. The city is divided into 4 main sections, each with 4-6 territories, and each territory has 3 races, 2 which you need to complete to take over that territory. You can free roam around to get to your races, as well as to get used to the city, or to find random encounters for a few extra bucks, but you can also easily jump to the start of any race from the world map. Once you’ve completed a takeover of a territory, you have to defend it from ‘attacks’ by other gangs from time to time, generally by re-racing one of the events with opponents of higher calibre. After you take over the territories of each section, you have to race against the boss to fully take it over, which consists of two races. The first race is usually a standard sprint or circuit race, but the second is a new type introduced in Carbon called Canyon races (more below). Once you beat the boss, the overall section is yours, which typically opens up another section of town to complete.

The races include the usual Sprints (point to point), Circuits (lap races), as well as Drifting competitions from Underground. Checkpoint (where you race alone to make it through times checkpoints) and Speedtrap races (where you need to have the best total speed through several checkpoints in a race) as used from Most Wanted are also in the mix. The Canyon race, as mentioned, is new to Carbon. In these, you race, without nitrous or other help, a section of a downhill, multi-turn track twice, the first time in pursuit of your foe, and the second time with the foe in pursuit of you. The objective is to stay closer to your foe over the length of the track (based on a score rating) than they can chasing you. While this is an interesting variation of the race type, it still plays as much as the other race modes in the game, with the only cavaet is that some curves, if you overshoot, will have you falling over the edge of a cliff and make you lose.

Need for Speed Carbon - Canyon RacesOn the Sprint and Circuit races, you can now also bring along a computer-control ‘aide’ that can perform one of three functions: Scouts will race ahead and identify shortcuts for you, Blockers will attempt to knock cars off your tail, and Drafters will race just ahead of you to help you get a bust of speed. The latter two require you to activate them so you can use them as best as possible. In addition, you can have a crew of 3 (which includes this assistant) which will provide you with special bonuses, such as cheaper parts, more nitrous, or the like; the possible crew selections become unlocked through the course of the story mode.

In addition to racing, you have to watch out for the cops, which does borrow some of the better parts from “Most Wanted”. While you don’t need to trigger cop chases to beat the game, you’ll likely hit cop trouble during the races, given that each territory has a ‘heat factor’ telling you how significant the cop presence is, and how ‘hot’ your car is from previous chases. You can finish a race while chased by the police, but after that you need to ditch them, much in the same manner as from “Most Wanted”; outrunning them or by plowing through specific obstacles that will fall and block the cops’ path (you can also use these for the same effect during races). Once you’ve ditched pursuit, you’ll need to let the heat cool down or find a safe hiding spot before you can go out again. If you’re caught, you’ll need to pay a fine to get your car out of impound. While the cop aspect was there, they certainly weren’t the challenge in “Most Wanted”; it was easy to ditch them and get out of harms way, even when the level of pursuit raised up a few.

Between races, you can go to your safe house and modify your crew, upgrade your car with new performance parts or it’s appearance, or new to Carbon is the ability to Autosculpt the car’s looks, which gives you fine control of how the body of the car looks not only in color, vinyls, and the like, but also shapes and the like. However, this aspect is purely visual and does little towards your performance in the game.

Unfortunately, the level of difficulty is not very hard, until you hit the last few races where the famed EA “rubberbanding” (where foes you’ve left well in the dust manage to make spectacular comebacks regardless of how well you drive) shows up in full force. There’s only about 60-odd races total, much lower than in previous games, and I was able to breeze through most of them with my base car and upgrading when new parts were available. Then, by buying a new car and upgrading the parts on that (with plenty of excess cash left over), I was able to get through the rest with little problems, save for the rubberbanding. The runner car you have is almost a throwaway benefit, since they will also rubberband and as long as either of you win, you’ll complete the race. Without having any police chases as a requirement to complete the game, the game goes by too quickly without almost no heart-pounding moments. The number of challenges to your territories is also rather small, and thus claiming the city as yours poses almost no difficulty.

Value/Replayability: B-

Outside of the career mode, there’s a series of challenges you can do to unlock more visual elements for the race. There’s also a series of ‘challenge cards’ that you can fill up in career mode through a lot of side and repeat racing, again leading to additional unlockable visual elements for your car, but not much else. The online mode is similar to past Need for Speed games – you can jump into quick matches or set up your own using the cars that you’ve purchased and customized through career mode. Your online performance is kept track of through an experience level allowing you to race others of similar abilities. The career mode may take an experienced player maybe 10 hours at most to run through, making the overall game dismally short for a NFS title.

Graphics: A

The graphics are rather nice and take good advantage of the next-gen hardware, though it feels that much more time was spent in this aspect than the actual gameplay. While there’s still a bit of fascination with neon lightning by the designers, it’s not as bas as the Underground series was, and given that there’s a small casino section in town, it’s used judgementally. The game takes place in a dust-like lighting, so while not dark, you still have to keep an eye on for landmarks for critical turns and shortcuts. The city is rather well detailed and does include in-game advertising in places where it makes sense.

Sound: C

The sound is a bit lacking. While the game’s racing effects are just as expected, and your racing assistant helps with keeping you on top of what’s happening behind you, the music track is drastically lacking and doesn’t appear to use any licensed music, and music is there is rather subpar, even if meant to be a driving electronica/hip-hop beat.

Overall: C+

Even though Need For Speed Carbon attempts to combine elements from previous games and adds a few more, the game is still a step in the wrong direction for the Need for Speed series. It’s too simple save for a handful of races and still has the same EA rubberbanding AI, and seems more geared for being a graphically superior game with online elements in order to take advantage of the next generation console releases. In addition, it’s a move away from what made the Need for Speed series stand out – high speed racing with exotic cars, and more back towards the Underground series. If you’re desperate for a racing game for your new system, Carbon is probably your only present choice, but it’s hard to recommend it for any merits beyond that.

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