Need For Speed: Carbon Reader Review
Need for speed: Carbon is the latest iteration of EA's annual racing series, seemingly destined for the top of the sales charts once again. With the series traditionally offering a speedy arcade handling model, customisation options galore and a cheeesily acted'career' story progression, this years version certainly sticks to the 'if it aint broke' EA mantra which must be part of the corporate guidebook by now.
Delving into the career mode for the first time you'll notice that the warm auburn glow of last years game (Most Wanted) has been replaced with a step back to the Underground series total darkness and neon-bathed streets. After last years version was well recieved partially because it didn't cast the player in darkness throughout the game, its a strange decision to place the game back into this environment. However with ads for the film 'Need For Speed : Tokyo Drift' permeating the games numerous billboards, its not hard to see where EA has drawn its inspiration.
The main career mode now sees the player tasked with taking over sections of the city of Palmont from rival gangs. In order to do this you must win a variety of races on that particular patch of the city. The race types are mainly culled from last years version, so you'll get the traditional sprint, circuit and checkpoint races, along with the return of Underground's drift racing. Fans of the drag racing mode from previous games are unfortunately out of luck.
Once enough sections of the have been reclaimed, the action is then transported to one of three canyon's set outside the main city, the largest of which being the titular 'Carbon' canyon. The player is then tasked with a one on one battle with one of the stories main characters, in a new type of race. The first round involves the computer character gaining a head start, with the player tasked with staying as close on their tale as you possibly can down to the bottom of the mountain. You gain more points the closer you manage to stay to the other driver. The race then reverses, with the player starting out first, and the computer chasing. Your points total for the previous race then diminishes the closer the CPU manages to race to you. Winning involves making it to the bottom of the mountain with points to spare, or alternatively you can attempt to overtake the other race for a total of 10 seconds in the first leg, or simply attempt to shunt them off the side of the cliff.
The canyon races inject a nice change of pace into the career mode at key points. The narrow track and the lack of any nitrous can lead to some excellently balanced gameplay, and you get the feeling that these are amongst the fairest races in the game. That they show up the rubber-banding AI in place in the more traditional races however, is not a good thing. Indeed this is more prevalent in this years game than ever, to ludicrous degrees at times. I understand the need to keep the game exciting, but just occasionally it would be nice to reward the player by allowing them to build up a considerable lead if a course if driven well.
The other new feature in the game is the 'crew' mechanic, which involves the player drafting in another racer from your 'crew' to provide assistance throughout certain races. These come in three flavours: Drafters, blockers and scouts. Drafters allow you to follow in their wake and gain an extra speed boost, blockers fall behind on activation and attempt to block the progress of other racers, and scouts race in front of the player, looking for short-cuts through the map. In general these are largely a pointless addition, with only the blockers being of occasional use in certain situations, and it always feels slightly wrong to effectively use them to 'cheat' your way through races. Come on EA, some challenge would have been nice.
The career mode is fairly enjoyable while it lasts, which unfortunately in this case is no longer than 9-10 hours at most, even with the backtracking through previous races that the game will occasionally make you do. The story and acting is generally less engaging than last years over-the-top efforts, although it does have a slick, well-produced style of its own. This format is well-worn now though, and EA would do well to introduce a different structure next year.
The car selection in the game is just as well thought out as last years offering, with a good selection of machines in the games three classes, 'muscle', 'tuner' and 'exotic'. You'll likely settle on one car to see you through most of the career mode. Upgrading to one of the tier 3 cars only becomes necessary in the final stages of the game, which again somewhat negates the purpose of having such a varied selection. Customisation options are of the usual high standard, with EA even using its 'game-face' technology to allow users to sculpt all sorts of monstrous parts to add to their ride.
Online support is generally well implemented, with most of the race types represented from the single-player game, along with some new variants specifically created for this version. The races are not particularly laggy, and kudos for EA allowing the players to take all of the customised vehicles online, rather than having to use the stock models. Achievement whores will be interested to note that a large portion of the points in this years game involve online racing, with completion of the single-player career mode only netting 120 points in total. The rest are divided up between the other offline options and the challenge mode. No easy pickings in this release.
The visuals in the game are generally sharp and well produced, although the blur and other post-processing effects are layered on a little too heavy for comfort at times. The frame rate is generally good, and certainly a step up from the rather rashly introduced downloadable demo, although this can spike a little in the canyon and drift races. Sound quality is largely average throughout. Engine noises are generally good, although you will recognise lots of environmental effects recycled from Most Wanted, even the police chatter is the same as last years game. The licensed soundtrack will only appeal if you sit in the Rap, Rn'B or Jungle camp. Thank god for custom soundtracks.
Overall this is a solid, fun title very much in keeping with the series recent lineage. Whilst the return to a night-time setting will grate with people that enjoyed the open-freeway light and bright style of Most Wanted, if you can get past this the same addictive core of races are present. The lack of challenge in the single-player however is the biggest concern, and EA seems set to continue pandering to those that want to progress through the game barely stopping to pause. that�s fine for some, but following the steep and addictive challenge offered in Most Wanted, Carbon comes across as limited in value. Good fun while it lasts, but don�t expect that to be very long.
7 / 10