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Need for Speed Carbon Review

Developer: EA Canada Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 1, 2006 Also On: GCN, PC, PS2, PS3, Wii, Xbox and Xbox 360

In the past several years, Electronic Arts has built a dynasty that could only be described as the equivalent of Madden to racing. Need for Speed was popular, but did not gain the mainstream year after year sequel appeal that it has today. Starting with Underground in 2003, every November since then Electronic Arts has pumped out follow-ups in their racing franchise, some to better success than others. To their credit, unlike Madden, Need for Speed seems to evolve every iteration. For Carbon, that’s a mixed bag of good and bad.

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EA Canada has essentially blended the old elements of Need for Speed Underground with the new offered in 2005’s Need for Speed Most Wanted. For starters, Carbon brings the franchise back to late night city street racing. Need for Speed Most Wanted almost brought the franchise into Burnout territory with its bright daytime visuals and intense races. Carbon is more Underground 2 than Carbon in this sense as you have the open city environment returning to the nightlife.

The single player career mode is largely unchanged from Most Wanted and Underground 2. The obvious differences are the territories, the canyon races, car classes and the crews. We will start with the territories, as it was actually an idea I suggested during a Community Day at Need for Speed Most Wanted in 2005. The city you race in, Palmont City, is divided into different territories controlled by rival racing crews. Each territory has a minimum of two and a maximum of four races available. Win a majority of the races in a given territory and you can land claim to it. Once you take control of a territory, however, you must defend it from challenges from rival crews. Failing to do so will result in the loss of territory.

This is where the canyon races come into play. Once you win a majority of the individual races in each territory, the game will challenge you to a boss race in the city. This consists of two laps against the crew boss around a select track within the territory’s confines. If you succeed in beating him (or her), you will then be challenged to a canyon race. This is one of the more unique racing modes in Carbon, though I must say that it is somewhat plagued by a bad camera around the turns that can lead to your falling off of the side of the track.

In a canyon race there are two stages. The first stage gives your opponent a short head start with your goal being to come as close to him throughout the race as possible, accumulating points along the way. Unlike the other races in the game, however, you can fail immediately if you fall off of the canyon’s cliff, making sharp turns treacherous risks. Likewise, if you pass the computer and hold your lead for ten seconds, the crew boss fails. This gives a little bit of balance to the game’s boss racing.

In the second stage you take the early lead and need to hold it against the computer. This time instead of gaining points you are losing them depending on where each car is situated in comparison to each other. The farther you pull away from the crew boss, the fewer points you will lose. In turn, the closer they are, the faster you will lose points, which can quickly lead to an early elimination. If the computer happens to take the lead and hold it for ten seconds, you are eliminated. However, if you pull away by a certain distance and they do not catch up, you will win immediately after ten seconds.

Now that we have taken a look at the territories and canyon races in Need for Speed Carbon, let us take a look at the car classes and crews. At the start of the game you will choose between three distinct car classes: exotic, muscle and tuner. This will affect the performance of your car and the cars you can purchase. The crew element allows you to hire three people that can aid you in a race. You can hire drafters to gain some speed, scouters to find the quickest path and blockers to prevent the competition from passing you. Some of these people have perks, such as a boost in nitrous for your vehicle or a discount on auto parts.

Most of your favorite racing modes return, such as Sprint (fastest person to drive to a specific point on the map wins), Circuit (a set number of laps on a given course) and Drift (earn points by drifting around corners, although it is almost uncontrollable). Speedtrap returns from Most Wanted, where your speed is clocked at spots on a track and added to a total. Checkpoint and Canyon Checkpoint replace the Tollbooth races from Most Wanted. Finally, the new include Race Wars, where it is you against 19 other racers in three laps around a course, and Canyon Race, where you race against three other racers in a race to the bottom of a canyon course.

The police chases that seemed to characterize Most Wanted so well are now nothing more than footnotes. More or less they have morphed into modes for the offline alternative to the career mode, the Challenge Series. Even though your cars do still maintain heat levels throughout the city during career, these seem far less prevalent and frequent than they were in Most Wanted. You will occasionally run from the cops after a race, your car can still get impounded and you still are fined, but unlike in Most Wanted, it’s not exactly clear why. Most Wanted was all about building a rap sheet, something woefully ignored this time around.

The cops come into play most in a couple game modes not involved with the career. First you have Trade Paint, where you avoid being busted by the cops and take them out along the way. Pretty straightforward stuff. The other is Pursuit Evasion, which is a little more interesting. You evade the cops for a specified amount of time to earn yourself a medal. Be sure not to get too far away though, as your cooldown meter will show up. I like this mode because the whole point is to antagonize the cops as long as the timer is set, making the challenge be to keep them on your tail without getting caught instead of simply escaping.

Overall, Need for Speed Carbon is a disappointingly short game. The developers seem to habitually overestimate the length of their games, estimating as many as 20 hours for the single player career mode, but it doesn’t even come close. Cut that in half and you have a rough idea of how long Carbon is in the career mode. If you were to complete the entire game (not including all 50 Achievements), it might take you 20 hours, but that’s still not very much. Thankfully you get online multi-player on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

EA Canada has once again made a quality racing title. Need for Speed Carbon is a solid arcade-style racing game that mixes elements of Underground with Most Wanted. Some of it works, some of it feels forced. The boss races went from fifteen in Most Wanted to four in Carbon. It’s not hard to feel cheated. With all of the time they spent exhibiting a cheesy West Coast/Hollywood persona in their nonsensical storyline, they could have put it into a longer game. Although I suggest that EA get an identity for their racing franchise and stick with it, Need for Speed Carbon wins my approval.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 8
Replay Value/Game Length: 8.5
Final: 8
Written by Kyle Review Guide