Posted by Female Gamers on Jan 19, 2010
Need for Speed: Carbon – Review

Need for Speed: Carbon – Review

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For those well versed in the Need for Speed universe, its breakneck street racing, police chases, shoehorned narrative, and wafer thin annual premise—all of which justify the series’ ongoing (lack of) evolution—won’t find very much that inspires within the gameplay folds of Need for Speed: Carbon. And those who’ve never spent hard-earned money on a Need for Speed game before would perhaps be advised to rewind twelve months and pick up Need for Speed: Most Wanted instead. Okay, that’s the summation, now let’s Tarantino everything and go back to the beginning.

In the beginning, there was Electronic Arts and its street-racing game Need for Speed, a potent mix of white-knuckle car-based clashes across sprawling city environments. Then there was Need for Speed: Underground, and Need for Speed: Underground 2 expansions of potent white-knuckle car-based clashes across sprawling city street environments. Then came Need for Speed: Most Wanted, you get the drift here, yes?

The only thing that has changed from Need for Speed through to Need for Speed: Carbon is the amount of cash that EA has reaped from the pockets of oh-so willing gamers, and the level of pure consumer apathy exercised by those gamers in accepting the same experience over and over and over again. Though, that said, repetition is EA’s particular speciality of profit growth…one need only look at the endless success afforded to the FIFAs, Medal of Honors, NBAs, and NHLs of the world.

But let’s allow for degree of explanation, shall we? Need for Speed: Most Wanted partially redefined the series by enabling the player to roam impressive environments while pursuing a cell-tinted live action narrative finale, a successfully nurtured race reputation, an ever widening garage of performance motors, and an infamous rap-sheet with the local police force. However, while Most Wanted portrayed a modicum of effort in directing the series down an ever-so slender path of progression, Carbon pretty much rests on established laurels while hiding behind the typically slick EA presentation and aesthetically polished delivery.

In Need for Speed: Carbon, the player’s nameless, faceless, voiceless, point-of-view character makes a return from Most Wanted and participates through sporadic tacky live action segues through sight alone, as stranded and uncomfortable ‘actors’ talk directly to the camera/character with all the belief and subtlety of an ensemble cast from Prisoner Cell Block H. The player’s character has come back to Palmont City after fleeing from Most Wanted’s Rockport—for reasons far too clichéd to go into—and, as per usual, must start from the bottom rung of racing reputation in order to regain the respect ‘he’ once had. Although the character is meant to be faceless and genderless, the fact that females (including an overly soft focus Emmanuelle Vaugier) approach with battering eyelids, whereas males generally approach with arrogance and animosity, hints that the person behind the wheel is considerably more male—which won’t come as any surprise to beleaguered and largely ignored girl gamers.

In short, gameplay set-up sees Palmont City based around four separate gang-controlled regions as well as the winding and perilous Carbon canyons. The player must conquer each of the city’s regions through completion of related races and challenges based within each—at which point the region transfers to the player’s control—and then ultimately race for absolute gang superiority in the canyons. Riveting stuff, eh? Sadly, any longevity and challenge is all-but erased thanks to two annoyingly easy features. The first of these is that, regardless of how many races are based in a gang’s territory, only two challenges need to be completed for the area to fall into the player’s control—and they can be freely chosen too. Though, to be fair, player-controlled areas can be wrestled back through gang challenges, which does add a little freshness—but little difficulty. The second is the newly implemented ‘Wingman’ feature, and a new paragraph is required for this…

That’s right, dear easily pleased reader, Carbon sees the woefully ill-fitting introduction of team-based racing. The Wingman assists in races and the player can issue specific orders to have the wingman help in certain situations and race conditions. The wingmen are available in three interchangeable ‘disciplines’, which are Scout, Blocker, and Drifter, and each brings a different angle of possible advantage to the race(s). However, while the wingman mechanic could have worked extremely well in providing a shared sense of achievement through difficult encounters, it’s often the use of wingmen that renders races ridiculously easy. Plus, if the A.I. wingman should win a race then, as the player’s team mate, the race is won without any degree of struggle or racing evolution on the player’s part. And, as the game progresses and the player purchases better cars and grows more attuned with the racing itself, then it’s often the case that the wingman simply gets in the way during races and becomes more of a (vocal and physical) hindrance than an able assistant.

Needless to say, Carbon is crammed to the rafters with the usual array of bizarrely in-depth customization tools, and racing purists, geeks—and those who like nothing more than building Tower Bridge out of matchsticks without stopping for sleep, food, or toilet trips—will have an absolute blast sculpting and engineering their vehicular (wet) dream. Personally speaking, it’s a complete waste of time, especially as owned cars change so frequently as to render customization almost pointless beyond the appeasement of shallow self-gratification.

In terms of graphics prowess, Need for Speed: Carbon, while as outwardly polished as you’d expect from EA, does struggle to whip up a believable storm on the ailing PlayStation 2. And an occasionally extreme stuttering frame rate certainly indicates that perhaps Sony’s workhorse is running lame and needs a mercy bullet between the eyes as the thoroughbred stallion PlayStation 3 trots arrogantly from the consumer electronics stable. Musically, the soundtrack is pumping and well suited to the racing—though it’s often ruined by the incessant wingman chatter—and the in-game effects are decent enough without expanding on anything you’ve already experienced. Deaf or hard-of-hearing gamers can follow the (wince-inducing) narrative segues through full subtitles, and the in-game pointers arrive through text messages.

Ultimately, Need for Speed: Carbon follows the blueprint laid down by Most Wanted, while introducing largely worthless and unnecessary additional gimmicks. However, if the wingman and territory additions were not there, wouldn’t Carbon be merely a repeat performance and another innovation-free EA product? Yes, it would, but the ‘new’ elements in Carbon do not complement the gameplay, they detract from it. The narrative is tired and clichéd, not far reaching and interesting, and the usually thrilling races and police chases—the core of Need for Speed—have devolved into forgettable fillers between bad acting, banal garage expansion, and ridiculously complicated decal immersion. The race, the thrill, and the heart-pounding speed—all vitally important elements—are sadly not given any consideration around the favor of peripheral distractions and tacky gloss.

Review by Stevie

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One Response to “Need for Speed: Carbon – Review”

  1. Marcel says:

    Thanks for the review. I bought this some time ago but I never really got into it. Decided to go back and play some of my old games and looked for some reviews first. I like the reviews here and how they consider the female gamer. Well done.

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