Need for Speed: Carbon
EA games certainly loves to latch onto fads. Isn’t it interesting how the music in their sports games has drifted from gangsta hip-hop to emo pop over the past couple of years? They like to keep on top of things. Soon after The Fast and The Furious became a worldwide hit and sparked a public interest in street racing culture, the megadeveloper released Need for Speed: Underground, an urban racing game that focused on tuning cars as well as driving them. It was very successful, so naturally a sequel was released. However, glamorous nighttime races soon drifted from the public eye, and the next Need for Speed game focused more on car chases through the American backwoods than pimped-out roadsters dueling for after-dark supremacy. Now, though the Need for Speed series returns to the rain-soaked streets of downtown [enter metropolis here] in Need for Speed: Carbon. In this true next-gen debut, EA pulls out all the stops to deliver an exciting urban racing experience. But, with EA games, ‘All the stops’ doesn’t automatically mean good. Need for Speed: Carbon is a decent street racing game that gets the job done. But is it art?
The first thing people are going to notice about Carbon is the return of the awfully cheesy full-motion video story sequences. Instead of rendering in-game characters for story sequences, EA has hired actors to portray the racers you’ll be encountering. It’s a quirky throwback to adventure games of old, complete with melodramatic performances and lots of weird filters, but some people will hate it. It’s extremely outlandish, and frankly the story is weak. Wait, wait, I hear you ask- the story? Carbon features an entirely bizarre tale that not even players of the previous game, Most Wanted, will understand. Suffice to say that it’s more a vehicle for the campy acting than anything else. You arrive in Palmont City whilst being chased by a bounty hunter who apparently hates street racing. Uh… ok. After being bailed out by Darius, a driver from Palmont that apparently knows you, you’re put to work racing rival clans for control of the city streets. The city is divided into four expansive sectors, but the fourth is only available after taking over the other three. Oh, and there’s some bunk about a bag. However, the hammy tale isn’t distracting, and the game focuses primarily on driving. There are literally dozens of different racing challenges to tackle, and the city is pretty big. Driving around aimlessly is entertaining, especially if you drive like a maniac- cop chases are frequent and fun. However, the city feels a little dead- while there are civilian cars, there are no pedestrians, and there is no aural difference between any of the areas. The only sounds you’ll hear are cars and the throbbing soundtrack.
There are three different car classes in Carbon- Muscle, Exotic, and Tuner. All of these cars fall into the archetypal racing game categories: super fast with no handling whatsoever, all-around, and slow but nimble. In a nice move, EA has configured the soundtrack to play music that fits with the cars stereotypical market share- you’ll hear thrash metal when driving your muscle cars, techno with your exotics, and hip-hop with your tuners. There are loads of options to change the look of your car, but the performance tuning has been dumbed down a bit- there is no gearhead-worthy depth to the customization, which is a bit disappointing, given the nature of the game. However, the driving models are very accurate and it’s easy to slip into a groove with each car. Some of the events you’ll be driving these cars in, though, are lacking. Canyon Duels, while exciting, are really just a short road for you to drive down. Speedtrap races are entirely broken- as long as you pass the finish line first, you could drive through the traps at 5mph. Drift races are nigh impossible, because for some reason the physics model is entirely different for them. The player could’ve mastered drifting during races with one car, but that skill is entirely useless in actual drift races. There are also some pretty useless features in the game, such as the wingman. You can hire drivers to play blocker, drafter, and scout for you. They’re supposed to be there to knock other drivers off the road, slingshot you, or find shortcuts for you to take. Really, though, they just get in the way. While it adds a lot of personality to the game to have their constant chatter buzzing over your radio, it’s still a very underdeveloped mechanic that will cause more problems than it wins races.
The best part of Carbon by far is the sense of style that permeates every corner of the game. While racing, the music shifts from the normal licensed music to a overly dramatic orchestral score. That may seem a little weird, but it adds a great deal of tension to the racing. The game itself handles like you’re holding on for dear life, and motion blur adds a great deal of excitement and an excellent sense of speed. Unfortunately, while the art design is fantastic, the visuals themselves are a little lacking. It looks fine at 150mph, but any slower than that and you’ll notice some low resolution textures and ugly models. The cars look great, but other than that the game is rather lacking in the visual department. Thankfully, the vast city and amount of customization options eases the pain a little bit. Playing the game on an HD setup also helps, but it still isn’t the most attractive racing game available for the 360.
Anyone who has a taste for street racing will enjoy Need for Speed: Carbon. While it isn’t a revolution in racing design, it’s a good game with a lot to do. Players who are deep into Test Drive Unlimited or Project Gotham won’t find much to write home about, but players looking for an exciting drive should be pleased with the large urban landscape and sexy cars.