After a long break it is now time to go back into the world of Need For Speed. Carbon brings in a lot of familiar elements from Underground 2 and Most Wanted while also adding its own spin on things. I would consider this to be the best NFS in a lot of ways with the only thing I don’t like being the whole territory system. On the whole it’s also tough between this one and Most Wanted, but I would probably give this one the slight edge. It definitely does have the best story although the gameplay is naturally the deciding factor.
So you’re playing as an underground racer who was nearly caught by the police but managed to escape. Of course, the issue with this is that he had to desert everyone else to do it. Now the rest of the racers and even his old friend are pretty upset at him. It’s a rough time for our nameless lead and he gets sloppy enough to even let a bounty hunter catch him. Fortunately a “nice” gangster frees the hero and tells him that the only way to restore his rep is to go and take over all the various gangster territories in the city. I don’t know exactly how that makes sense…if anything that would make him seem even more like a jerk right? He comes back just in time to beat everyone up and get the cops back on the trail? Ah well, the hero likes the plan so that’s what we’re going with. As the game goes on it turns out that there may have been something more to this incident. Were the cops really just coincidentally in the area?
I liked the story because there are quite a few cutscenes and I do think it did a pretty good job of setting the stage. Each of the main mob bosses gets a very exaggerated cutscene where they yell a lot with crazy colors in the background. It’s got a very 90’s-early 2000s vibe which works really well with the Need For Speed franchise in general. You really just can’t go wrong with the story here. Most of the levels are at night which is cool, but you will find yourself missing the day time by the end. It’s always good to have a mix of both. When there are only day levels I miss the night themed ones and vice versa. I think the game would have done well to have included a nice mix. As for the soundtrack, you’ve got an array of EA songs as always. They’re pretty fast paced even if the lyrics aren’t anything to write home about.
As for the gameplay it is pretty standard. The driving is pretty good and you’ll get the hang of the turns as the game goes on. Personally I always found it easiest to quickly let go of the pedal and turn before slamming it again. Alternately you’ve got the hand brake by pressing A, but I always found the turns to be a bit too wide using that method. You can also brake to turn which I would use at times if I really had to make a sharp curve in time. They’ve all got pros and cons of course so you’ll just want to try everything and see what sticks. You can also buy turbo which will permanently give you the option to use boosts. One warning for that is once you activate it then the computers will obtain it as well. I’d say that it’s worth it though because the boost really comes in handy.
You start out with a pretty average car, but as the game goes on you will be able to buy new ones. I actually used the same car for most of the game before eventually buying 3 more by the end. It’s worth staying with one car for as long as possible since your new ones will get outdated very quickly and you’ll run out of money. As it stands I only got 3 cars and I was out of money at the end. Of course, the third car I got was the best one money could buy in the game by the end so it was well worth the price. It effectively is impossible to win the last races with a weak car since it is simply too slow. Even if you don’t make any mistakes you simply won’t be able to keep up with the opponent.
Then there are also the cops to worry about. If they catch you too many times then they’ll take your car away for good. If they take all of your cars then you go all the way back to the beginning of the game. I don’t know exactly how that works since I didn’t let them take away 1 car, let alone all of them. Hopefully you’d be able to quickly reset the Gamecube so you wouldn’t actually have to go back. That would be pretty devastating. Speaking of the cops, the game does have an open world as always so you can have fun getting into police chases. I didn’t play around with them much compared to the last games because this time you aren’t forced to stay in the city the whole time. Instead of finding races through free roam you can just warp to them from the safe house. This saves an incredible amount of time and is a great change. You also don’t have to worry about increasing your reputation or anything like that. This game finally gives you the ability to just focus on the races and claim them all.
Now, this wouldn’t be a Need for Speed game without some kind of pointless gimmick though. For Carbon it is the territory system. The way you advance past each world is to win a lot of races and then challenge the boss. When you beat him then you claim the area. The problem here is the fact that other teams can challenge you for the territories you took earlier. If you refuse to fight them then they take your area automatically. So get ready to have to fight these guys quite a bit in races that you’ve already won. I dunno, maybe it’s not all that bad but it felt like a quick way to extend the game a bit. It’s also not needed since the game is actually pretty long I’d say.
The main story should take you around 10 hours or more. For replay value you can go around and beat all of the levels that you had not conquered yet. Since you’re able to skip about 1/3 of the levels that should add on another 3-4 hours under your belt. In general free roam is also limitless fun as long as you just like driving which is the whole point anyway. I can’t say that I’ll be sticking around with this game, but maybe some day I’ll come back to do those extra races. I basically skipped all of the drift challenges since the controls for those are pretty wonky.
Finally, I should mention that in the story mode there are a few different kinds of events. The general gameplay is the same of course, but the objectives are different. First you’ve got normal races which are self explanatory. Then you’ve got Canyon Races which are usually 1 vs 1 races (it can be 4 way though) and they take place at night on a canyon. In these stages you can actually fall off the track which is an instant loss. I really liked how they handled these levels. You’ve also got check points where you’re doing a time trial, speed bumps where you want to go your fastest as the scanner steps in, etc. The only pretty iffy one is Drift and I avoided every single one of those. By the end of the game I hadn’t completed any of them and I’m glad that I didn’t. It would have taken forever for me to force myself to learn the controls which wouldn’t have been super efficient.
Also, you’ve got a partner for some of these races and he really comes in handy. There are a few different kinds of helpers like people who show you short cuts, help you boost, etc. I went for a guy who can ram into other cars to help you get a lead. It went over really well since the guy was great at his job. It’s part of why I got away with using a terrible car for so long. The blocker could buy you up to 20 seconds at a time which is huge in a race. I owe him a lot.
Overall, Need For Speed Carbon is definitely a solid title. The story ends a little too abruptly if you ask me. There’s really no payoff to the long detective journey and by the end you will definitely wonder what the point of the villain’s plan was. He would have been doing good if he didn’t bring the hero in to mess things up. I suppose it’ll just be a mystery. I actually don’t have the next Need For Speed so that’ll probably be a while, but in the meanwhile I do have another video game review coming out so keep an eye out for it. Meanwhile you should definitely check this title out. You’ll have a hard time trying to find a better racing game than this one.