|Need for Speed: Carbon (2006)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available for: Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, GameCube, PC
Though EA can often be counted on to flail about in their sports games department, they can also be counted on to deliver some of the best racing franchises known to man. Both the “Burnout” and “Need for Speed” series have been pretty much top of the line for years now when it comes to arcade racing thrills. While others have tried to match the limitless success EA has had with these two titans of racing games, few have succeeded. “Burnout” got insanely great when the third installment arrived, and it’s pretty much the same story for “Need For Speed,” when its third series entry, “Hot Pursuit,” added the cop element to the game and made outrunning the po-po truly an exciting endeavor.
So now here we are with “Need for Speed: Carbon.” Seriously, arcade racing shouldn’t be this addictively great. Well, really it should, but I never thought anything was going to top “Burnout Revenge” until the next “Burnout” rolled along. But the beauty of the “NFS” series is that it has always taken chances with each new sequel. It’s not always just been a new coat of paint and some new cars. In its latest versions, the game has incorporated strong story modes to go along with the usual unlocking of tracks and cars routine. In “Need for Speed: Carbon,” EA has gone the distance in every way imaginable.
The story mode features some freaky but tasty FMV characters and cutscenes that are nothing like the FMV crap of yore that littered various video games before everyone realized that it was best to just use good old computer-created characters. These new bits have a style and life of their own that actually push the story along very well and keep the player engaged and actually wanting to uncover more of the mysterious tale that revolves around a driver coming back to Carbon Canyon to help take over various territories from rival gangs. Of course, there is treachery afoot, but there’s also a lot of great racing in there, too.
The player starts out with some cash for a semi-decent ride that will get the initial jobs done, as well as a blocker crew member. There are different crew members that can be unlocked and hired on. These members all do different jobs to assist the player both in and out of races. Blockers help knock out opponents’ cars, while scouts seek out all the short cuts in the tracks, and so forth. Some crew members also help get a discount on car parts, while others reduce police presence in racing areas. As players get better in the game, sometimes a crew member can be completely useless and get in the way, but for the most part, they serve a valuable purpose.
Customizing your rides in the game is a snap. There are all the usual nitro boosters, tires, brakes, engine upgrades and the like to fool around with. There’s also a cool Autosculpt feature that utilizes countless combinations of designs for the hood, the roof, the wheels, the spoiler, the bumpers – you name it. There are also plenty of paints and paint styles, vinyls, and window tints that are also all fully customizable. And if you like, you can just have the computer pick out what it thinks the best performance setup should be without any tinkering on your part.
The racing is seamless and exciting, but when the cops get thrown into the mix, things really begin to cook. Trying to get away from them in Carbon Canyon can be a bit of a task, but it’s always an exciting one, with various destructible spots throughout the city to be utilized to slow down the pursuits. Be prepared for spike strips, rolling roadblocks, unmarked cars, and helicopters to hunt your ass down, especially if your car has been marked as “hot” in previous races. Your heat can be lowered by paying a fee, but sometimes it’s just fun to let all hell break loose in the middle of a race, as it can often help your odds in the harder levels.
There are new drift and canyon races in the story mode, too. Drift races are exactly what they sound like – the player must rack up combos of drifts to attain a high score and beat the other competitors. Canyon races, on the other hand, usually take place during boss battles, but in later stages become a regular racing style as well. They’re basically a mad dash down the side of a mountain, with plenty of winding curves and breakaway walls to impede your progress. They’re probably the least fun of all the different racing styles in the game, but they’re not bad enough to take anything away from the game overall.
Online play is a groove, with a couple new features added to the game. These are “Pursuit Tag” in which one player is a racer and the others are cops and must bust the racer to become the racer (natch), and “Pursuit Knockout,” in which players race a number of laps, with each racer in last place becoming a cop and trying to wreak havoc on the player who made it across the lap first. The usual online racing suspects are also present, with circuit and lap racing and customizable races included.
Suffice it to say there are always tons of racing games out there to try. Some offer ridiculous realism, while others can sometimes be too easy in their arcade style format. “Need for Speed: Carbon” strikes the perfect balance of easy-to-learn racing thrills and cool customization that doesn’t require true mechanic skills to succeed. It’s an incredibly addictive game, and while it doesn’t have the scope of “Test Drive Unlimited,” it is tighter, faster, and more balls to the wall all around. In other words, it’s a gas.