Review by RoxasANobody

"Need for Speed Carbon warrants more attention than it should."

EA's popular Need for Speed series has warranted a lot of attention - nowadays it's known for the attempt at Forza and Gran Turismo-esque racing with the game Need for Speed: Shift. Shift is a game that is attempting to build off of a realistic-esque engine like Forza and Gran Turismo - however - Carbon is a homage to the older versions of the "NFS" series. Although it's been out for quite some time, it still happens to grab some attention all around the internet, however; I don't see why.

Storyline - 3/10

Everything about the story that EA supposedly wrote seemed a bit cliche. The guy who befriends the player in the beginning is only using the player for his own benefits, the player finds out about this after the reveal, some of the bad guys turn good, and then the player ultimately defeats the antagonist. It's a bit overdone, however, it was revived for Carbon's story. Whether or not it was cliche, it definitely lacked originality - it lacked the spice that most games try to replace with gameplay.

Not only does this game replace a storyline with gameplay, but it does so blatantly. Once the player starts to win territory and starts to be engaged in the gameplay, the only representation of the storyline is through vague cut-scenes with allies who "just so happened to be in the area" the night the protagonist left town. The cut-scenes are so brief and so unimportant that the player is much better off not even watching them. In addition to the cut-scenes being brief and unimportant, they tie-in a minuscule amount with the main story.

Gameplay - 7/10

Something special that EA has done for Carbon was to introduce the concept of "territory". Essentially, territory is split up between four main factions with other minor factions trying to take over. The player's goal is to try and obtain all the territory within the game in order to build up his/her reputation amongst the street racers. The territory concept isn't anything new, in fact, it seems like the territory idea was fashioned off of Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Whether or not that may be true, the concept is a bit fun to toy around with.

Depending on what car the player decided to start with, the player will be pitted against the Exotic, Tuner, or Muscle boss. After taking over said territory from initial boss, the other two territories open. The key to taking over a territory is to win two races within a district; winning two races will change the territory from the enemy's to the protagonist's. Obtaining all the territory will open up a boss challenge, defeating the boss means that the district will officially become the protagonist's.

In order to obtain that territory, players must win races that pertain to certain modes. The "Sprint" mode designates a certain destination and then prompts the player to race to that location. "Circuit" mode generally sets a course for the protagonist and sets certain laps to win. There are also other modes that include mountain battle sprints, circuit drifting, mountain drifting, and checkpoint time attacks. The player is given the option and freedom to do whatever they want first.

These modes are evident within other Need for Speed games and it's definitely an improvement off of the modes previously seen. However, the uniqueness is something that isn't there. Rather than focus on one aspect and improve on that point, EA attempted to generalize the entirety of the race modes. Circuit mode is something that is generally seen in other racing games like Gran Turismo and Forza. And while some may say that limiting this game to one mode may be boring; features such as drifting seem a bit "last minute" and not refined at all. Drifting is considered a difficult art to perfect, but EA has made it as simple as pinning the throttle down through corners and maneuvering the joystick. Although this may be fun for the casual gamer, it presents no challenge to anyone who isn't new to racing games.

If the player isn't interested in racing at the moment, they can evacuate to the confines of their safehouse. Within the safehouse, the player is able to tune, paint, autosculpt, and put decals on their car. The freedom of customization is probably the best part about the game, but the usefulness is very minimal. Throughout the entirety of the game, it isn't necessary to change any part of the car or change the look of the car. The only reason the game gives the player for modifying their car is to avoid the heat from the police. This, however, can easily be avoided by "quick jumping" races from the start screen.

Safehouses are also the place where players can choose their active squad members. The player can have up to three squad members. Who the player picks actually does matter since each member has their different perks. So, in that sense, the game is pretty unique. Not only do the two racers who aren't racing with the player maintain their career perks, but they also have their own racing perks. Racing perks are only available if the player has them as an active companion whereas career perks are activated if the companion is hired.

A huge problem that the game has is the slow motion camera. EA thought it was an excellent idea to implement a feature where, if the player decides to go several feet in the air, the camera will zoom in and slow down time. This feature was quite impressive the first time around, but, in the midst of a battle; it can be annoying to have to watch this every time. The game is entitled Need for Speed after all, so the slow motion shouldn't have made it in the final production. The feature is arguably something that the player can deal with, but rather than add something to the game; it feels like it was added to hinder the player's progress. All-in-all, the slow motion camera could have not been implemented and nothing would have been missed.

Speaking of things in slow motion, EA added a feature where the player is given the option to slow down time. In a normal racing simulation, this would seem out of place, but after all, this is Need for Speed. The problem that comes with this feature is that it seems to do absolutely nothing. This feature would've been useful if the player maintained a constant speed, but not only does the world around the player slow down, but the player him/herself slows down as well. This is rather confusing since there have been situations where Speedbreaker would have been useful if everything but I slowed down.

EA seems to have also implemented a rubber-band feature to this game. The rubber-band feature is nothing new to the racing genre, in fact, it's something that is commonly seen in some racing games [e.g. Mario Kart]. Rubber-banding slows the A.I. down when they are in front of the player to allow them to catch up, however, when the player passes the A.I. the A.I. will be hard to shake. The problem with the rubber-band feature is that it works on all the A.I. Trying to win a race with any racing companion is a pain since the racing companion will almost always pass the finishing line before the player.

Although it doesn't really matter who finishes first, it's a constant annoyance to have to deal with the friendly A.I. The friendly A.I. will race against the player rather than the enemy A.I. If the players fall back into last place, then the friendly A.I. will drop back to last place as well. If the player happens to overtake the enemy A.I. in first place, then the friendly A.I. will suddenly get a boost of power and shoot in front of the player. This is annoying because the fact is is that the friendly A.I. will never attempt to overtake the leader without the player being nearby.

Another problem with rubber-band A.I. is that it applies to cops as well. A key mode within Need for Speed: Carbon is the chase mode. If the player's car is spotted within a race or just wandering around the city, "Chase Mode" will be initiated and the cops will start to chase the player's car. If the player has a car that speeds to 120MPH+, then the cops will have a difficult time keeping up. If the player decides to do a well-executed handbrake turn, he/she may have successfully eluded the cops. This isn't the case in this game. The cops in this game can initiate a U-turn/J-turn and accelerate at an uncanny speed. Now, the speed wouldn't be too uncanny if it were 20-30MPH and they slowly caught up to the car, but the cop cars must be accelerating 40-50MPH faster than their top speed to catch up to the protagonist's car.

Therein lies the problem; not only is rubber-banding a problem with the enemy A.I. but it is also a problem with friendly A.I. There have been several occasions within the game where I found myself having trouble overtaking my friendly A.I. and not my enemy A.I.

Finally - the physics - they are the most questionable part of the game. Although Need for Speed isn't known for the application of real life physics, there should have been a line drawn when the physics went this far. The physics are quite questionable since I've had occasions where I was barreling down a road at 120MPH and then turned a tight hairpin at 70MPH without braking. The game has a small learning curve because of this reason. Brakes normally don't have to be applied to slow down for a corner in time and the player can easily get around a corner by just letting off of the throttle; this allows the player just to slide through corners. Once the player learns how to abuse the physics; they are in for one of the easiest games they have ever played.

Graphics - 6/10

The graphics were decent at best. The portion that saves the graphics from a lower score are definitely the decals and the customization. The decals, although some times not smooth, look extremely nice on a car. With some good news also comes some bad news, the paint jobs given to the player aren't limited at all; the downfall is that some of the paint jobs look absolutely horrid. They may have well just named their paints as such: "Dull", "Okay", "Shiny!"

Outside of the safehouse, the city is at large. Even with a good game disc, there comes the possibility that pop-up graphics are an issue. A perfect example of pop-up graphics would be the game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Not only is it notorious for it's cheats and bugs, but it's also notorious for the atrocious slow load-up of buildings and surrounding areas. Pop-up graphics show nothing ahead of the player and it's basically the game's inability to keep up with itself. Although this problem is more on the technical side of things, it's worth to mention on the graphics portion since it does have to do with the graphics.

Gran Turismo 4 is a perfect example of a game, at the time, that attempted to do proper textures. The area from the grass to the road shouldn't just instantly end; EA decided that it should in this game though. Textures from the walls/buildings do not properly fade correctly with the texture of the road/sidewalk. Although the city is a bit huge, more attention could've been brought to texture shading. Texture shading isn't game-breaking, but it is something quite noticeable within the game.

Another problem with the graphics is that the only proper attention was given to the cars that can be driven. When the player is chased down by the cops and the chase music starts to begin - the first thing the player will notice is that they are not being chased by cops, but they're being chased by cops in cardboard boxes. The cop cars have no saving features - they're simple there just to fall apart, respawn, and then chase the protagonist again. in addition to that, things like explosions and environments being destroyed could have looked a bit more realistic as well.

Audio - 6/10

A saving grace for Carbon is the music choice. Although it does become quite repetitive with its [seemingly] five track selection, the songs fit the vibe that EA was trying to support - a very relaxed, chilled out racing game. Even though the music choice was right for the game, it wasn't necessarily diverse and it, like most features of the game, lacked a bit of originality. Although it fit the theme well, there could have been many more tracks added to the game. The OST could possibly fit into a standard CD. Unfortunately, a game that takes an average of 5-7 hours to complete should have a wider variety of music.

Audio also includes sound-bytes like the voice actors and car sounds. As far as the voice acting goes, it was done by professional actors. EA did a great job of implementing a real world around the main protagonist. As far as car sounds go, however, they do sound a bit unrealistic. In the real world, it's nearly impossible [if not impossible] to get wheel spin off of an automatic car. With that said, EA gave every car the right to its own wheel spin. Additionally, a car that sounds as beautiful as the Lamborghini Gallardo should not be caught up to by a cop car that makes no sound.

Overall - 5.5/10

If this were a new release, I'd recommend staying away from this game and just renting it. However, now that it has obtained some dust on the shelves on gaming stores, I'd recommend that you go out and buy it. The game should be under ten dollars at any local store and it's a decent title to indulge your tastes in. If you're still on the edge about it, I recommend buying from Gamestop. If you don't like it or if you beat it within a week; you can return it for a full refund.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 07/18/11

Game Release: Need for Speed Carbon (US, 10/31/06)

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