Need For Speed Carbon REVIEW

Need For Speed Carbon Review (PS2)

The sign of an effective series or franchise, in the gaming industry is the ability to evolve. To continue to do what you do well, while adding new elements, eliminating those that don’t work, and always polishing what remains. The Need For Speed series from EA has become famous for doing that. They know what they do well – provide a high-quality, high-speed, arcade -tyle racing game, but they’re also not afraid to grow. During the Underground release, they got into the world of high-end tuners – a new step for the series. Then last year, with Need For Speed Most Wanted, they introduced a new dramatic element into the game. Using cinematic style and presentation to create a solid story mode that few other racers had attempted, Most Wanted was another step for a series that has been around for over a decade.

The latest release in the series comes racing onto a console near you in the form of Need For Speed Carbon. Borrowing from the best of the last few years of the series, Carbon gets back to the dark, city backdrop of fast cars and dangerous curves and presents it with a slick story and top-notch arcade style.

The setting is Carbon Canyon, a very West Coast-feeling, hipster city where apparently nothing happens in the daytime. Where Most Wanted had that Pacific Northwest, driving through the woods, maple syrup sort of feel, Carbon couldn’t be more opposite. The story this year, basically, picks up where Most Wanted left off. Essentially, you have lost all of your friends and you don’t like it. You want to win their respect and affection back. You’ll do this by taking on rival racing crews in an attempt to take over their territories. Each territories culminates in a boss-match canyon race that plays out in cat-and-mouse style through dark, curvy mountain roads.

Take all the territories, win back your friends, and life is good. That’s really the core of Need For Speed Carbon. Getting there is left, to a certain degree, to you. The city is quite large and play is pretty wide open.

The cars in the game are plentiful and, this year, are broken down into three classes; Tuner Cars, Exotic Cars and Muscle Cars. Each class is then split into three tiers. As you raise in each tier, you certainly feel the difference in how the car drives. A tier-one Muscle Car and a tier-three Tuner can make you feel like you're playing a completely different game is on your controller.

The race types have been tweaked slightly since last year. Drag racing is out, and drifting is in. I would guess this is in no small part in an effort to mirror what is hot in real-life street racing right now. The Canyon races are new as well, and do a nice job of using the environment to actually portray suspense and danger during the race. One missed turn, and your racing day is done. The development team also borrowed a page from the EA Sports NASCAR series by introducing “crews” in Need For Speed Carbon. Like Total Team Control in the NASCAR release, this feature allows you to use teammates in one of three different roles; a blocker, a scout or a drafter. And, unfortunately, like with the NASCAR title, I found this ability more of a nuisance than an advantage. This series is still way too arcade-driven to start getting into strategically critical elements like this. If you want to move to more of a sim racer, great. But, if you still want to let me ram into things at 120 miles per hour without an immediate funeral, let’s call an arcade game an arcade game.

The game has a far darker and more cinematic look than last year’s game. The graphics are about as good as I’ve seen on the PS2, with exceptionally detailed vehicle models and fairly deep customization. The speed of the game is sold through a highly effective use of a sort of blurring effect. We’ve seen it before, but the motion blur in combination with the really nicely rendered environments gives a nice sense of speed and adrenaline.

The soundtrack and sounds of the game will probably not catch a ton of attention from most gamers, and that’s exactly why I want to give the sound team at EA a nod for it. Conventional wisdom says that a game about speed and racing needs to be loud with hard-driving songs and ear-blasting effects to pull off the right feel. Need For Speed Carbon actually goes the opposite direction and sticks to a cooler approach. It falls somewhere between laid-back and ominous at times. It conveys more of a sense of danger than urgency. Personally, I applaud that effort. Why go the easy way if you don’t have to?

For all the good, I do have two major complaints about the PS2 version of Need For Speed Carbon. Having played the Xbox 360 version first, it became somewhat clear to me that this game was developed primarily to be showcased on that box and tweaked to accommodate the PS2 and Xbox owners. The PS2 owners are not given the opportunity to race against the larger fields of opponents like you’ll get on the 360. Where the 360 had the power to easily handle 20, the PS2 is pretty much maxed out at four. That’s not to say that it’s not still competitive. But, it’s certainly noticeable.

The other issue that could be a deal-breaker for many is that Need For Speed Carbon offers no online functionality for the PS2. I’ve said it before and, unfortunately, I’m forced to say it again – leaving out online functionality in sports (in this case racing) titles in 2006 is not acceptable. Online multiplayer is becoming the linchpin for the gaming community. The ability to compete against live opponents adds exponentially greater replay-ability and increases the value of the product immeasurably. We know EA can do online on the PS2, so why wouldn’t they?

That leaves us with a really solid single player game with a great Story Mode, some of the best graphics on the PS2, and an ultra-hip look and feel. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’d be hard to find a better game for you. If you need online play to even think about pulling out the wallet, I highly recommend taking a look at the Xbox 360 version. Either way, the Need For Speed series continues to evolve and, more importantly, turn out quality titles.

Need For Speed Carbon Score
out of 10