Import tuning action games were all the rage a couple years ago, and while it wasn’t exactly first, the Need for Speed series certainly put the sub-genre on the map. Say what you want about the realism of GrandTurismo or Forza, but there’s something about strapping a nitrous kit on a Honda Civic that strikes a chord in a lot of players. The jump to next-gen was fairly smooth with last year’s solid Need for Speed: Most Wanted. The big question is whether the follow-up rests on its laurels or keeps pushing the corner.
Carbon picks up where Most Wanted left off. By all appearances, you’ve betrayed your friends and made off with a nice stash of loot. It’s up to you to clear your name and find out what really went down. The over-eager Smokie from the first game has gone bounty hunting, and a friend pays him off to keep your butt out of jail, and your tires on the pavement.
The objective is to take over the entire city by laying down some rubber against the area’s biggest street racers. If you’ve never completed Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Carbon can come off as a little confusing thanks to almost too many flashback sequences.
The story is told through the same, over-exposed, live action footage that Most Wanted uses. It also utilizes the same, over-the-top acting and script.
Car Gadget Options
While the story is about as good as it gets for a racing game, apparently too much time and resources were spent on it because the game’s design is actually a step backward.
Customization has returned, but even the now-ancient Underground 2 has more engine tuning and neon options.
Auto sculpting is a new feature that allows you to manually create new body kits, but it’s so difficult to get exactly what you want that it’s really not worth the effort.
There are 3 different car classes available including exotics, tuners, and a new addition, muscle cars.
As far as race types are concerned, pretty much the entire lot of them have appeared in previous Need for Speed games.
You get the stereotypical checkpoint races, circuits, speed traps, point-to-point affairs, and the like.
The drift option has also returned, allowing you to take on the latest sensation in motorsports with its own set of physics and vehicle attributes.
If you own the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 versions, you can go online to extend your play time against up to seven other competitors. Pursuit tag and pursuit knockout are the only two options on offer. Tag has one player taking the role of renegade while all the other players are the fuzz.
The first cop to end the pursuit then becomes the runaway. Knockout is a lap-based option where finishing last in each lap will turn you into a cop. This process repeats until there’s just one racer left. While there are just two online choices, both are a great deal of fun and allow you to milk some more play time.
This is a big deal because, just like last year’s outing, the single-player mode in Carbon can be whipped in about 10 hours. It’s disappointing considering how many hours you could milk from the NFS games from last generation.
Just like prior games in the series, you start out with a crap car, and must boost it, trick it, and then sell it for an upgrade. It’s the same formula that has pervaded the series for years now, and your mileage will vary depending on how much you enjoy shaving a second off your lap time due to a new NOS kit.
The city is divided into 4 primary territories, with each one containing numerous zones that you’ll need to take over from a rival car gang.
Once you’ve won enough races in each zone, you’ll face off against the gang leader in a duel. The first part takes place on the streets, while the second leg is a chase down a craggy mountain pass overlooking a canyon. The canyon portion is interesting because it’s broken up into two legs.
In the first leg, you must stay as closely as possible to the boss, and in the second you attempt to leave him in the dust. When both legs are complete, the time spent leading across both races ultimately determines the winner.
Visually, Carbon is more along the lines of the Underground games than Most Wanted. All the races take place at night, which gives the game a chance to show off some nice reflections, but it also becomes monotonous after a while, making you wish you could see just a little farther ahead. The good news is that it certainly aids in the sense of speed, as it’s hard to train your eye on objects off in the distance.
Need for Speed Carbon has all the prerequisites required to earn the name, but it fails to go the extra mile. Taking over territory from rival groups is a nice twist, but overall, the design is basically the same as last year’s game.
With the focus squarely on acquiring territory, Carbon gives you a wingman that’s supposed to help you out in dire situations.
There are three types including blockers, drafters, and scouts. Blockers are supposed to keep the competition from coming up your tail pipe, but more often than not, they end up blocking you. Drafters will get in front of you and allow you to ride in their slipstream in hopes of giving you a nice slingshot, and this works fairly well. Scouts will look for shortcuts to cut down the travel time.
Aside from these on-course duties, crew members are also rated in fixing and fabricating, which can make a huge difference in attaining upgrades or just piecing your banged-up ride back together.
How you take the Corners
The racing itself is highly dependent upon how you take the corners. Charging in with your engine revving and trying to squeal around a turn isn’t going to get it done. You’ll have to use the brakes, go into the curve slow, and power out of them. We’re not talking GrandTurismo here where you’ll be lucky to keep your car on the road, but there’s a lot more to the driving than just keeping the accelerator pegged the entire time and blasting off nitrous.
Police were a big part of Need for Speed: Most Wanted,, but here they’ve been made irrelevant by the warping system included in the game. From the map screen you can choose whatever zone you want to visit so you’re not actually travelling across the city where the cops have a chance to bust you. Whether this is good or bad depends on your perspective. The cops add a nice amount of tension to Most Wanted, but do end up becoming annoying. Here you don’t have a choice.
Carbon’s big marketing push was toward the canyon races, and they’re definitely the highlight of the game. These high-risk drafting challenges ask you to pick your spots and try to make a charge, but this also brings a lot of risk along with it.
One wrong move and you’re busting through the guard rail and falling to the canyon below. Get too far behind for too long and you lose as well. These races provide the most white-knuckled thrills the game offers, but sadly, they don’t happen nearly enough.
Need for Speed Carbon has the same tight driving mechanics as its predecessors while focusing a little more on actual technique. This foundation has served the series well up until this point and continues to do so in Carbon.
Need for Speed Carbon still includes all the fundamentals that have made the series a hit over the years, but at this point, the well is beginning to run dry.
Overall, the fleshed-out story is a nice touch, and the head-to-head canyon races are a hoot, but with so little content.