After dealing with Razor Callahan back in Rockport, the anonymous racer in the Need for Speed series is back and looking for more pink slips in Need for Speed: Carbon. While it definitely has some rough edges to it, Need for Speed: Carbon’s solid gameplay and over-the-top story should definitely be checked out by fans of the series, as well as fans of racing games.
Having escaped from him in last year’s Most Wanted, Carbon starts you off in a chase scene with Sergeant Cross. After he catches you (it is inevitable), a boss from one of Palmont’s “crews”, Darius bails you out and offers you to join his crew. Of course, you join up, get a new ride, learn some of the back story, race some cars, some debauchery occurs and then you have to clean it up. The story is told through the same stylized full-motion-videos that we saw introduced in Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and are as crazy as ever. While the story is definitely sub-standard and not particularly engaging, these cut-scenes are extremely humorous and a pleasure to watch. (In particular, watching Emmanuelle Vaugier!)
Much like the FMVs, the core gameplay from Most Wanted is pretty much intact. Handling your car is still as solid as ever, particularly when cornering, and the game gives you a great sense of speed, much like Most Wanted. However, Carbon isn’t just Most Wanted at night. Instead of having to gather up reputation and go after racers on the “Blacklist” in Most Wanted, what Carbon does is splits up the city into territories held by different crews and you have to race within these territories to gain control of it. What is neat about this set-up is two fold—first, because you don’t have to win every single race within each territory, you can pick and choose races you are good at and that you enjoy. Secondly, I personally disliked police chases in Most Wanted, and because you don’t have to worry about gathering reputation, you are not forced into soldiering through endless amounts of cop chases. Though, if you are fan of police chases, the option is definitely there for you.
After you completely take over one crew’s turf, this initiates a boss battle with the leader of each faction in both city and canyon races. The city races are pretty standard circuit events, where you just races for two laps and then you’re done. Canyon races are completely different. Done in two stages, the canyon race first pits the player against the AI and you have to stay as close as possible to him throughout the race to accumulate points. In the second step, the roles are reversed. The points that you accumulate fall at a faster rate as the AI gets closer and closer. If by the end of the race, you have negative points left—it’s back to the top of the canyon to race again, loser. Also as you are constantly looking at those points counting down, the endings of these boss races are extremely intense and will have you gripping your controller, begging your car to hurry the hell up.
There are some definite problems with the gameplay though, the chief being a lack of interesting race types in the single-player game. While it does have the police chase mode, which some may find enjoyable, the other five modes just do not have enough variety to them. Circuit, sprint, race wars and checkpoint are basically the same thing, with speedtrap and drifting being the only modes bringing any sort of variety to the gameplay, though they are not particularly great game types. Although it is great that the core modes like sprint and checkpoint are fun, there are not really any alternate modes to go to really change things up outside of the boss battles, which are few and far between.
The tracks also suffer from lack of variety, principally canyon tracks. Despite the tracks being in totally different territories, there seemed to be no differentiation once so ever. Again, much like the modes, these are good tracks, but they’re used too much and lose their impact after the tenth time you’ve been through them.
One of the biggest additions to the game was having AI teammates racing along side you when you’re racing. They come in four different classes: drafter, scout, blocker, and kamikaze. Drafters you try to get behind, giving you less wind resistance, thus making you faster, while scouts will find hidden pathways for you to use within the races. Blockers will try to stop opponents from passing you and kamikazes will straight up take any car within striking distance out—whatever the cost. While it is an interesting concept on the surface, it wasn’t really central to the gameplay. I did not use it once throughout the entire game and did fine. If the player was forced to use this, it might make for a more interesting gameplay element, but in its current form, it’s totally worthless.
However, one of the better things that Carbon does is in its graphical presentation. The city of Palmont is richly detailed with various shops, skyscrapers, and parks, giving you a sense that this is a living, breathing town. Similarly, the canyons look dark, dank and eerie, just like they should be. Car models look good on the whole, especially when they are in motion, although some cars lack definition standing still. Another minor problem with the graphical presentation is in the frame-rate, which noticeably stutters from time to time, but it never drops to down too much that it affects the gameplay.
The audio presentation in Carbon is passable, but not especially noteworthy. You’ve got some good things going on, particularly in the sound of tires squealing nicely around corners, and cars sounding pretty darn powerful. The voice acting, done through voicemail is in-line with the whole over-the-top style of the full-motion-videos, is also another high point. However, there aren’t a whole lot of voice messages, which is a disappointing departure for the series. Carbon also fields a mediocre track list, with nothing being bad, but nothing memorable either.
Carbon also has a full-fledged online component to the game, which seems to have a good enough amount of people on the Network to trade paint with. The best news is that there was no lag encountered when playing the game online, so players will be able to enjoy Carbon online long after completing the single player. There are some online exclusive game modes, Pursuit Tag and Pursuit Knockout, which both can have the player racing as the cops. Both of these modes can be a blast to play, particularly pursuit tag, which has one player as the racer and all the others as the cops trying to bust them.
While you can find some faults with Carbon, it is generally a good step forward in the Need for Speed series. Racing fans that are looking for some potentially long-lasting, solid racing action should check Carbon out.
Originally Written By: Art Green