Need for Speed Carbon PC Review

Like many other EA titles, the Need for Speed franchise goes through a fresh incarnation each year. But is this next instalment worth your hard-earned (or possibly laundered) money? With this review concentrating on the PC version (the PS2 review can also be found here and, unlike some websites, is actually different!) the answer would seemingly be that, yes, if you like your arcade racers this is worth a go. Before the game itself even comes under scrutiny it is worth noting that the PC version is some £20 cheaper for UK customers and is probably reflected worldwide. Now for essentially the same game that is a certain bargain.

Typically the player starts off with no street rep, a rubbish car and is confronted by a bunch of drivers who believe that Nigel Mansell drove like your Grandma. The aim therefore is to win races by any means necessary and get to the top by ultimately defeating the various bosses in Carbon Canyon; hence the title. Unfortunately, the story is as dull as it sounds in this simple summary. However, when did a racing game, or any sports title in actual fact, really rely on a gripping story? Let us leave that to the RPG genre.

Need for Speed Carbon offers players a number of game modes to choose from. There are of course the standard offerings of a quick race and the now customary online mode. It should be noted that with the unpredictable nature of racing games, much like Soccer where every match is different, the online mode certainly gives this title an extended lifespan and should be used where possible. There is also the option of a challenge series. As the name suggests, players are given a series of challenges which can lead to unlocking various features within the game. These challenges offer a range of difficulty and can be relatively entertaining. There is nothing more satisfying than defeating that opponent you have been stuck on for three days by running him off the edge of the canyon.

However, the meat and drink of any racing game such as this is in the career mode and that is where this review will focus. As mentioned above, you start from the bottom and have to work your way up to the top. There are four standard race types to work through: these are circuit, sprint, speed-trap and drift. Circuit and sprint are self-explanatory; it’s either laps or A-B racing. There is also checkpoint mode, where the player has to reach checkpoints in a limited amount of time, but in many respects this is sprint racing broken up slightly. Speed-trap racing follows a series of markers which act as speed traps, the player needs to accumulate the fastest speeds through these points to accumulate the highest total while racing against other cars. However, this mode is somewhat deceptive: if you finish first you are generally the quickest so it is really just a normal race. Those who have played the more recent NFS titles will recognise drift mode: drift round a small track, as near as the wall as possible, to rack up points. The track is greasy to give that extra bit of skidding ability. This mode may take time for many to get used to. Those who have played the series before will find the cars twitchier than before and it takes a little time to adjust. Those who are new to NFS may struggle at first with gauging throttle usage and the fact that their perfect race car has suddenly started to handle like a rampaging horse with a cowboy on its back.

These various modes of racing serve to bring general diversity to the game and are all accessed through the world map. The world map, that you must take control of, is broken up into areas and each area has a number of races made up of the above varieties. Win all the races in an area and then comes the boss race. This consists of a race in the current area and then a showdown in a canyon race. While the bosses may not defeat you, there is a possibility that the canyon will. While in the city you can crash or hit some traffic and recover easily, in the canyon it is very easy to scrape too many walls at hairpin turns or simply fall off the edge of the canyon; these helps to serve up the somewhat harder difficulty that a boss race should contain. However, while these races are tougher, they are mainly tougher because you do not know the courses anywhere near as well as you come to know the city courses. Once the boss race has been tackled once, you inevitably will beat it second time around. While this may serve the casual gamer well, the more hardcore fans will unfortunately be left crying for a bigger challenge.

What helps the lifespan of all these modes is that the AI is not simplistic; it will not follow a predetermined racing-line constantly. Coupled with this are those darn pigs; that’s right it’s the cops. Race too many times in a particular zone and the heat level will rise. If it gets too high you will be chased and hounded by the police everywhere you go and this is even within races themselves! Not only is there inconsiderate traffic to hinder your victory, but policemen too! This does add a nice spice to proceedings and ensures that many races are different; not only are you battling the rest of the pack, but the law as well. Also, once you finish the race do not expect them to leave you alone immediately; you had better keep that peddle to the metal until you have lost them, race or no race. While this can admittedly become frustrating, it certainly means that every race has added possibilities and it also forces you to move zones frequently so as to avoid the heat; this consequently means you don’t end up racing the same circuits over and over again.

What really mixes it up though is the presence, most of the time, of a crew. In most races you can select a member of your crew to drive in the race too. This crew is unlocked and made available for hire as you progress through the game. You start with a pasty, fat, white boy called Neville! Nice! However, Neville is not all bad and is rather adept at blocking opponents. This is his special skill; you can ask Neville to block an opponent for you to help you out. This is just one type of skill your crew member can possess: there are three types and each crew member specialises in one of them. Blockers have been explained, they bash people for you. There are also scouts; they look for shortcuts for you. Alas, while this may sound very pleasing, if you have a sharp eye and are decisive enough you can spot all these shortcuts yourself. The third skill is a drafter; this means that your crew member will create an area that allows you to slipstream behind them and consequently get a short burst of extra speed. Again this sounds useful, but can be circumvented when NOS comes into the equation and boosting becomes a real weapon. So, while these crew members provide some added spice, only one of them can arguably be stated to be actually useful. However, with each crew member that is hired a number of customisation features also become available. Some will give you access to more hood designs, some will grant access to visual art. This all adds to the customisations you can unlock with each race victory that enables you to fully customise your vehicle of choice. The crew members also have an individual race bonus each; many of these are attributes such as no increase in heat from the cops in the zone where you are racing. All in all crew members provide on and off the track benefits, however, they are not a huge device and one should never rely on them to win races for you. They certainly add depth to the game, but it is easy to leave them behind.

Overall, the gameplay and career mode are of a solid quality if unspectacular. In essence there is nothing ground breaking about the release in this aspect; there exists much of the same tactics as with each new Fifa Soccer and Pro Evolution Soccer release: little tweaks and touches are added with each instalment, but rarely are major changes implemented to the core mechanics of the gameplay.

Graphically NFS Carbon on the PC somewhat disappoints; this is not necessarily because the graphics are terrible because they simply are not. The backgrounds are shaded and lit well and contain diversity and depth; sky scrapers and such are present much like a real city. The foreground graphics are colourful and diverse too; the only complaint is that perhaps some of the many details such as street lights appear a little two dimensional at times. The cars have detailed reflections and only look suspect from certain angles, EA have obviously concentrated on light reflections and the cars are all very shiny, but not overly so. Damage is also present, but not in any great form. Your car visibly receives scrapes, dents and broken windows. However, after a 150mph crash you do really expect your car to be completely totalled, not able to drive away with merely a broken windshield. Yet, in saying this, this does add to the arcade style of the game as a whole; NFS Carbon is in no way stepping into the same ring as Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. On top of this the main story is told through a mix of live action and FMV sequences; by this it is meant that they are actually mixed together. Real actors have been used to flesh out the computer generated race scenes; to fuse them together the designers have coloured the actors as such so they take on a similar appearance to their surroundings. With this technique EA avoids cheesy cut-scenes such as those witnessed in the first instalment of C&C: Red Alert, and also brings some actual acting to the game which helps to immerse you in the game as a whole. The main issue with the graphics is that for this review they have been set to maximum in all areas, yet they still do not match the Xbox 360 version of the game. While the 360 is a dedicated gaming machine and the PC is not, it is rather frustrating when you have a PC far more powerful than any console that you cannot match their graphics. There is not a huge difference, but many small differences such as smoother curves on the cars is present on the Xbox 360 yet absent on the PC. It is almost as boggling as the high definition madness at present, I am sure PCs have had HD capable hardware for years.

To conclude, NFS Carbon is a solid arcade style racer and provides a fresh instalment for the franchise in an adequate manner. The graphics are good, if lesser than the 360′s version, and the gameplay is diverse and deep enough to keep you going for a while; this can be coupled with the online play which enables you to laugh as your friends eat your dust. However, one should not buy this game expecting a fresh and unique experience. As with many EA titles over the past few years, this is but the next one in the long line of the Need for Speed franchise.

Minimum System Requirements: Processor 1.7ghz/Memory 512mb/Hdd 4.7gb/DVD-Rom/Graphics Card 64mb/Windows XP or 2000.

Review System: Athlon 3400+/Memory 1gb/Hdd 80gb/DVD-Rom/Radeon X800GT 256mb/XP Home.

Good but not ground breaking, rather like a mother’s cooking.

7.8/10

by

Version tested: PC

Developer: EA Black Box

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Genre: Racing

Players: 1-8