Need For Speed Carbon REVIEW

Need For Speed Carbon Review (Xbox 360)

It’s become both a blessing and a curse to be handed the title “The Madden of …” in today’s gaming world. In fact, it’s almost used like “aloha” in gaming circles. Just like aloha can mean hello and goodbye, getting the “Madden” moniker can be both good and bad. The Need For Speed series is definitely deserving of the title “The Madden of Racing Games”. Who can argue?

There have been over a dozen releases of the game (this is number fourteen to be exact). They tend to release yearly. They are classically tagged as more arcade-oriented than "sim". They are often accused of being upgrades instead of brand new titles. And, most importantly to EA, they sell a boat-load of copies and make a ton of money.

Like this year’s Madden release, Need For Speed Carbon would be the second release of the series on the Xbox 360, giving it a full year of development with the 360 hardware. They would not get all of the same free passes that a launch title gets. This game will be held to a higher standard than last year’s release: Need For Speed Most Wanted.

The result is a game that is really a lot like last year’s release, just simply handled better and with more polish. I’m not saying that's a bad thing, it's simply a fact. It’s a lot like what last year’s title would have been with another year of development time. I know that sounds rather anti-climatic, but it’s not a bad thing. It’s a better game.

Need For Speed Carbon is a direct sequel to Most Wanted. It uses the same entrancing, Sin City-style full-motion video story-telling to guide you through Carbon Canyon; the location of this chapter in the story. 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 the 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 features 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 is certainly nice to look at and the style of the story-telling really adds a new cinematic twist that I enjoyed. But the gameplay itself still suffers from some frame-rate issues. The game does not appear to be fully utilizing all of the 360’s power to really push the visuals to the same level as some of their competitors. The cars themselves look great straight out of the box, but can be tweaked to your liking. You’ll be treated to even deeper options in that area with the new Autosculpt mode. Autosculpt allows you to tweak different parts of your vehicle like spoilers, bumpers, etc to whatever look you like. Now, you should know that these shapes do not have any effect on the how the vehicle actually handles, but, again, we’re going for style over substance in this area.

The sounds, on the other hand, are through the roof. It’s like pouring Red Bull into your stereo. All the revs and squeals, shift and booms are pumped up to the max and really lend themselves well to the feel of the game. The sound engineers did a great job using the environment and soundtrack to work on your adrenal glands in all the right ways.

If you’re looking to hit the online racing circuit, you’ll want to make sure you go with this version, as the developers have abandoned the functionality on the last-gen. What sucks for them, clearly meant more time to work on the Xbox Live integration for the 360, because it’s the best part of the game. They’ve decked you out with a ton of options for multi-player racing, and each one seems more fun then the next. My favorite so far is the lap-based Knockout mode, which can be played by up to eight racers. You all start out as racers, but as each person is knocked out, they become the police and are now tasked with bringing down the racers. Inevitably, it culminates in a seven-on-one final lap that can be a ton of fun regardless of which side you end up on.

To be “The Madden of Racing Games” is an honor. People don’t say, “I’m going to play some video game football.” They say, “I’m gonna go play some Madden.” Madden has become synonymous with the virtual gridiron. The Need For Speed series has a bigger hill to climb in that area. There’s a heck of a lot more competition out there. But, what they do, they do very well. It’s a fun arcade racer in single player and a blast of an arcade racer online. It’s not about torque or downshift or any of the science of racing. If that’s what you’re looking for, Need For Speed Carbon is certainly worth a look.

Need For Speed Carbon Score
out of 10