Need for Speed: Carbon Review
PIV 1700, 512MB RAM, 5.3GB HDD, 64MB video card
|ESRB rating: E
release date: Nov 01, 06 (released)
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The Need for Speed series has been around for a long time. In fact, it is quite possible that when the first man sneezed and then proceeded to marvel at the thick greenish liquid on the palms of his hands, another man was snuggled up in his cave not 50 yards away and playing a game of Need for Speed. In other words, NFS has been around almost as long as the cold virus, or possibly longer.
Flashy cars abound.
"Hey, baby. Call me. Love you."
And much like the cold virus, the NFS franchise didn't bother with evolving... much. Hey, if it makes people sneeze and tickle their nose, why change it? I'm not saying that Need for Speed makes you sneeze per se, but theoretically speaking, the same logic applies.
Essentially, the NFS franchise has gone through two major evolutions in the past. It went from being a simple racer to being a racer with cops in it, and then it "grew" the free ride mode in Need for Speed: Underground. Yeah, there was this whole thing about street racing as well, but let's presume street racing in an arcade video game is not that much different from whatever other racing types there are - it's all about as realistic as Jessica Simpson's boobs.
Now, not to think that I'm contradicting myself, I'm sure that the cold virus also had a couple of quantum leaps during its existence. At one point it turned into Ebola, and that was a pretty nasty move on its part.
To get back to the subject at hand though, Need for Speed: Carbon is sort of an amalgamation of all the previous Need for Speed games. It's a street racer with a free roaming mode, and, lo and behold, it's got Pursuit-like cops in it as well! In addition, the whole "new big thing" to the game are the turf wars between rival racer crews (and even "boss" races at certain chapters of the campaign, which are somewhat dreary). I swear to God, the entire concept has been yanked straight out of Defender of the Crown, but then, EA was never known for their ability to innovate. Especially in a certain number of their franchises (Am I hearing people yell "Madden, Madden!"? Nah, it must be the wind.)
So while Carbon tries to add all this drama and excitement with cut-scenes featuring "computerized" live actors and the World Map screen, which allows you to pick your races and slowly take over the wild racing streets, the very core of the game remains much the same. You have to race to win. The arcade feel to the driving hasn't changed one bit since NFS: Underground. Sure, the physics engine may allow for more destructible objects in the environment, but the patented formula of easy turns at very high speeds and the almost non-existent damage model remain the basis for the racing game. Not that this is a bad thing mind you, as NFS fans certainly know what they like about the game.
The race modes are also very familiar to fans of the series: you have your classic races, races against the clock (with checkpoints), drift races, and sprint races, which are very similar to classic races, but set on more perilous roads. This time around, when you skid off a mountain track and smash through the protective railing, you can actually end up plunging with your car straight into the abyss. Sounds scary enough, but the whole point of being afraid of this terrible predicament is somewhat diminished by the fact that you can simply restart the race with no consequences to your career status.
Like in the previous NFS games, players can use nitro and some sort of pseudo bullet time mode to gain more control in tricky situations (in case of oncoming traffic and such).
The big news about Carbon that the EA marketing team was pimping are your wingmen. Conceptually, these guys work *exactly* like the wingmen in Wing Commander. OK, they don't fly around in space ships, but they are constantly chatting with you, giving you tips or encouraging you as you take the lead.
The role of your crew (wingmen) is to block the competition, or say, scout ahead for shortcuts (it all depends on which wingman you choose). While some of these guys and gals *may* end up being useful in certain situations, the feature is not nearly as intuitive or effective as it potentially could have been. Wingmen have "charges," so using them up at the start of the race won't be a smart thing to do. Then again, not using them altogether is not that un-smart either, as you can easily win most races without them on the normal level of difficulty.
And so, as you progress through the main campaign (the career mode), you'll get to unlock new cars and unlock new story elements, win more territories and become the most badass street racer on the block. Unfortunately, this is too familiar to most gamers and hence not as thrilling as it may sound to the uninitiated.
On the other hand, the fact that a grueling 2 or 3 lap street race may end up getting the attention of the local police does up the ante for the quality and the intensity of the gameplay. Trying to shake off the cops just as you won a race can be pretty exciting, as the transition between the racing and pursuit mode is done seamlessly. In my mind, this was one of the most fun segments of the game.
I am not yet done with the career mode, but I'm also quite confident that this is pretty much all there is to the single-player experience.
Still a good arcade racer that offers plenty of exciting moments, cop chases right after a race;
Wingmen control a little clunky and ineffective, monotonous backdrops, very little true innovation and what's there is not implemented well enough, underwhelming soundtrack.