Need For Speed: Carbon

Need For Speed: Carbon reminds me so much of the Fast and the Furious that it’s scary. Fast cars; nitrous; illegal street racing; cheesy action: the list goes on. About the only important ingredient that’s missing is Vin Diesel.

Picking up the storyline of Need For Speed: Most Wanted, NFS: Carbon is more than just a racing game – it’s a journey into the world of illegal street racing. It may be cheesy and excessive, but it so – really – on about the same level as a B-movie. So, for a videogame, it’s pretty excellent. And let’s face it: long chase sequences are a lot more fun when you’re the one behind the wheel.

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Carbon opens with some beautiful-looking cut-scenes and a set-piece of what I can only describe as ‘story driving’ (basically, in the middle of the intro movie, you get to actually drive, and attempt to outrun Cross, a cop-turned-hit-man who has your number). I say beautiful, and I mean it. It strikes me that, on the Xbox 360 (and I’m thinking of Project Gotham 3 here as well), cars seem to look beyond realistic; technology has apparently gone past the ability to realistic render automobiles, so now we’re making them look better than real – too good to be true, in other words. The cars in NFS: Carbon shine so much it’s just unnatural – even if it is pretty. And the people in the cut-scenes are the same: realistic, except that they all look shiny – and I mean “I can understand a silk shirt, but why does this guy have silk skin?!” shiny. It’s impressive, but it’s also a little odd.

Once the game kicks off, it’s more interesting than a simple progression through races. In Carbon, you need to control territories to win. Of course, you gain territories by winning races (or, more specifically, by having won more than half of the races within a territory) – but it’s nice to see a different structure, even if it feels pretty contrived. The territory system (similar to Saints Row), combined with the ability to ‘free drive’ around the city – something which you will often be left doing at the end of a race, should the police unfortunately crash the event – gives Carbon an almost GTA-like style, even though you remain bound to your car throughout.

The police chases are highly enjoyable at first, but can get frustrating, especially when you end up spending three times as long escaping the boys in blue as you do actually racing, and get nothing to show for it at the end. The races themselves are entertaining and varied; in addition to the standard assortment of lap races, sprints, and time-trials (checkpoint races), there are also drift races - where you are scored Project Gotham style for your drifting - and speed trap races, where you accumulate a score based on your speed going through several speed cameras. In addition, the game features boss matches in the canyons outside Palmont City, where you must first chase and then be chased through treacherous terrain, making for a big challenge, and often frustration.

Carbon handles well. It’s a little arcadey, but not excessively so (this isn’t Ridge Racer). Nitrous is easy enough to use, but it took some time to come to terms with the ability to slow down time in order to execute more precise turns, et cetera (it’s a useful trick, no doubt, but a little gimmicky for my liking). One interesting gameplay element which Carbon adds to the Need For Speed franchise is the ‘wingman’. As you play through career mode, you will build up a ‘crew’. Crew members generally have skills both on and off the track. On the track, you can in many races take a wingman, either a ‘blocker’, a ‘drafter’, or a ‘scout’: blockers you can use to take out other cars, drafters let you draft behind them and then catapult up ahead, and scouts find you the best route to the finish line, including tracking down shortcuts. While your wingmen (the first of whom – Neville – looks like Meat Loaf’s younger brother) are not always hugely useful, they do add a bit of spice to simple racing. And, even if you don’t use their special abilities, if they come first in a race, it counts as a win for you (it may feel like cheating, but who cares?)

The in-game graphics are actually a mixed bag. The cars, as I have already said, look amazing. And so does most of the game, especially the high-speed motion blur effects that kick in when you fire up the nitrous. But some of the background graphics look a bit tacky, and some textures and objects seem to have been lazily kept over from Most Wanted. I so badly want to score it well for graphics, but these little things do count. Sound-wise it’s solid. It’s fairly hard to go wrong with car noises. And it packs a pretty good soundtrack, even if it is a tad heavy on the hip-hop.

The career mode is of course the most important aspect of the game, and it will keep you busy for a decent while, especially if you take the time to finish all the races (not actually necessary in order to progress through). Outside of that, there is good multiplayer support over Xbox Live, quick races, and challenge mode, if you get sick of the game’s story. Carbon also features full customisation of cars, including ‘auto-sculpting’, a feature which allows you to use sliders to finely adjust the look of your vehicle, both for the career mode and online play.

Need For Speed: Carbon is cheesy, and it tries too hard in places. Not all of its moves are pulled off effectively. But there’s a lot that’s very right about it. And the bottom line is that it’s a lot of fun, and it’s structured in a far more imaginative way than most racing titles.

"The Fast and the Furious, minus Vin Diesel."
- Need for Speed Carbon
Follow Own it? Rating: G   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 5 Min


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