Review: Need for Speed: Carbon

So you’re picking through old games at the local shop, or you’re clicking through the bargain pages of a web site.  Either way, you come across Need for Speed: Carbon (the version discussed here is for the PS2 and X-Box, though the thing came out on pretty much every possible system; there was even a cell phone version, interestingly enough), and you’re pondering picking it up.  Sure, you can go off of reviews written when the game was new—but what was cool as chilled cucumbers then may be trifling better than year-old beets now.  So how’s one to know?  That’s what I’m here for.

Developed by E.A. Canada and published by E.A. Games, Carbon came out in late-‘Oh-Six to a generally good reception no matter the platform, and was the twelfth game in a series that has always been received at least rather well.  There’s a reason for that.  Especially starting with the Underground 2 reboot of the series, what’s been offered are large cities to explore, stories that ride the line between parodic and simply shallow but still interesting, more licensed cars than you can shake a stick at, and the ability to customize them to look and act however you want.

So now the question we’re going to try and answer is not only how well Carbon holds up to its predecessors, but also how much it offers the casual gamer.  Let’s break it down…

Game Play
When you first start the game, you’re treated to the obligatory “Don’t try this at home” message (which you’ll see every time you load up the game thereafter), then you create a profile.  It can be any collection of letters you want.  After that, you’re thrown right into a tutorial of sorts, though it’s more a “trial by fire” as you immediately start off trying to flee from a police Corvette (the police in these games have access to better cars than you do; kind of makes you wonder what would happen if real-life police forces had things like Lamborghinis and Corvettes, eh?).

You’re not told anything, at all, about the controls (or anything else, for that matter), so if you’re the sort to not read manuals or your used game didn’t come with one in the first place you have to pause and dig through the menus in order to find them.  The main problem I have with the controls on the X-Box is that they aren’t really customizable.  You can use one of ten pre-set configurations, but you aren’t really free to re-map them as you see fit.  If you’re not used to modern-ish driving games, or if, like me, you grew up with racing games on systems like the Genesis, it takes a lot of getting used to.  The triggers are your acceleration and brake/reverse, and there’s no way that I found to map those to the face buttons, which I’m far more comfortable with.  On the PS2, those being mapped to the face buttons are default.  Coming at it from older racers, I’m much more comfortable using the face-buttons for acceleration and braking/reversing so find the lack of true customization somewhat irritating.

If you get to the end, the chase ends and you watch a cut-scene (like many of the rest in the game, non-skippable, which is somewhat annoying if you’re coming into this for the second time or more) which basically states that the police will keep their eye on you (we’ll get into that a bit in the Story section).  Then, because your car was wrecked in the race, you get to pick one of three cars representative of three “classes” to start your career with: A Mazda RX-8 (Tuner), a Camaro SS (Muscle), or Alfa Romeo Brera (Exotic).

After you choose your car, you’ll be shunted into a race so you can be taught about your “crew” and how to use them.  They come in three flavors: Blockers, Scouts, and Drafters.  Blockers will target your opponents and do their level best to smash right into them, Scouts will zip ahead to find shortcuts for you, and Drafters will position themselves in front of you so you can “draft”, which basically means that you take advantage of reduced air pressure to go faster.

Personally, I find the Blockers to be the most useful, with the Scouts the least useful.  You can usually spot the shortcuts on your own, and sometimes you’re going too fast to make use of them even if you do see them.  Drafters are alright, though I personally found them a bit more difficult to use since most “tracks”, being just sections of the city, are too winding to use effectively most of the time.  Blockers get out of your way and actively take out an opponent.  Not a bad deal.

In general, the crew are almost as much, if not more, trouble than they’re worth.  There aren’t really enough straight sections of road to make use of the Drafters, and the Scouts tend to zoom ahead out of sight.  The Blockers are about the only ones that are worth anything.  That said, all of them can even be a hindrance to you.  Numerous times I’ve been smacked into and even surpassed by my own crew member.  Before I settled on Blockers and siccing them on my opponents every chance I got, I’d come in second quite a few times—behind my own crew mate.  Once, as we were both trying to hug the inside of a turn, a crew member even managed to get me with a P.I.T. maneuver, which, as demonstrated here, is not fun when you’re on the receiving end.  Especially when it’s someone ostensibly on your side.

Last thing to say about the crew and I swear I’ll move on—they do not shut up.  Whomever your partner is for a race, they talk incessantly.  If they’re not “helpfully” telling you that you’ve got an opponent on your bumper, they’re telling you that they’ll do what you told them to do, are doing what you told them to do, and then they’ll tell you that they just did what you told them to do.  For example, you tell a Blocker to go after the opponent he’s got targeted, and he’ll smart off with some comment that is supposed to be humorous (I think) but the fourth time you hear it you want to rip his larynx out.  Then as he gets closer he’ll tell you he’s going to make his move.  If he succeeds he’ll make another “humorous” quip at their expense or about how awesome he is, and if he fails he’ll ramble on apologetically.  It’s aggravating because, again, they do not shut up.

Okay, yes, moving on as promised.  For the tutorial, you’re initially working with someone who will fulfill all three positions just to demonstrate, and afterward you’re given another one, Neville, as your first official crew member, who happens to be a Blocker.  Each crew member also comes with a secondary advantage; E.G., one will make parts cost less, another can lower your “Heat” rating (more on that later) and so on.  You can have up to three crew members in your entourage, but only one active at any time, however.  The secondary bonuses aren’t contingent on them being active, just that they’re “hired”, in your crew.

One thing that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense is that you can only have three crew members “hired”, part of your team, but you can eventually choose from up to six.  What doesn’t make sense is that there are no repercussions for “firing” a crew member other than losing their secondary bonus.  If you need them again, fire another one and hire them back.  With no repercussions, no true need for weighing how much you want to hire this or that crew member, it feels like a mechanic that either wasn’t fully developed or was simply there as a badly-done attempt at realism.

Anyway, after that race, you’re chased by police which itself is another tutorial, this one on, obviously, dealing with the police.  During a race, you will likely annoy people enough to call the police, which, conveniently, you can hear about since you apparently (I say “apparently” because it’s not really explained) have a police-band radio.  Sometimes they’ll be able to pin-point your car’s make and model and sometimes they won’t.  If they do, it’s much more likely you’ll run into the police during your race.  Either way, the dispatcher will usually give your location, and an officer will say he’s heading that way.  That doesn’t mean you will always run into the police, either.

If you do run into them you have two options—you can bash into the police, or simply try and evade them.  Generally speaking, the second option’s usually the better one.  You will want to try and take out the police cruisers, but that shouldn’t be the focus.  There are plenty of hazards around the city to use against them—things like sculptures to ram through, scaffolding, and so on which will rain down things onto pursuers (this tactic also works against opponents in races).  You can ram into them and do damage, but focusing on that instead of getting away is more likely to lead to you being boxed in or otherwise unable to escape.

Either way, you eventually lose the police, and when you do Neville will tell you to meet him at the safe house.  A G.P.S. sort of thing will pop up, an arrow at the top of the screen that point you in the right direction.  This one works much better than in the previous game, Most Wanted.  In that one, it pointed to specific (and invisible to the player) spots on the road and if you didn’t hit them, the arrow would stay pointing at it for quite a while.  Here it’s much more smooth, updating itself far more often, and will even point out shortcuts to take.  That will help you learn them for things like races and to evade the police throughout the game.

When you arrive at the safe house, you pick your crew logo and name, then you’re told about the territories.  Basically, each crew controls certain territories in the four sections of the city, and you can win your own by completing races in each one.   Control all of the territories, and the “boss” of the crew that owns that section of the city will challenge you.

Before we get to that, let’s talk about the types of races.  You have quite a few: Circuit, Sprint, Drift, Checkpoint, Speed trap, Canyon Sprint, Canyon Checkpoint, Canyon Drift, and Canyon Duel.

Circuit races are you racing around a track a certain number of laps, and the first one to complete the laps wins.  Sprint races are about getting from point A to point B as fast as you can.

Drift races—well, if you’ve never played a Need for Speed game before, perhaps you’ve seen The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift?  It’s basically that.  If you haven’t seen that movie, have never played a Need for Speed title before, and haven’t really watched much real racing—well, it’s kind of what the name implies.  You’re “drifting” along a track, which is to say that you’re basically skidding somewhat sideways.  The objective is to gain points, which are obtained by good drifts.  “Good” drifts are ones where you don’t smack into walls, don’t completely lose your speed, and so on.  You don’t have access to Speed Breaker (more on that later), but you do have access to your Nitrous (more on that later, too) if you’ve purchased it.

Drift races are also rather polarizing in gamer reactions.  The shift in game play mechanics is dramatic, to put a severe emphasis on sliding (which is why, it seems, that you don’t have access to Speed Breaker here; the physics of it are imparted to help you drift, though not the speed differential).  That’s understandable, really, and on its own that’s fine.  However, they’re just so frustratingly difficult.  Since the mechanics are so different, and no one tells you the exact rules or even gives pointers, you really have no idea just what the game wants you to do, which is get big scores by linking big combos.  To do that, you need to keep your speed up, drift through certain zones, and basically never, ever crash into a wall.  If you do, the combo ends and you’re given whatever points you’d accumulated.  Can’t say as I’ve placed first very often; typically I’ve come in second or even third, though more than a few times I’ve come in fourth—that’s dead last.

Checkpoint races are similar to Sprints, though instead of just a start (point A) and goal (point B) points, you have a points in the middle.  So it would be from point A, to B, to C, and so on.  It’s just you in that race, and the goal is to hit each checkpoint as fast as possible.

Speed trap races are similar to Checkpoint races in that you have points between the start and goal.  However, instead of worrying about time, you have to worry more about speed.  The goal is to get the fastest time at each trap, since your speed totals are added up.  Whoever has the highest accumulated speed total at the end of the race wins.

Canyon Drift, Canyon Sprint, and Canyon Checkpoint are mostly the same as their in-city counterparts, only set on one of the courses in the canyons that surround the city and you’re guaranteed to not run into the police.  The tracks are much more difficult since they’re usually filled with more and sharper turns, and you can literally fly right off of them at parts, presumably to crash and die a fiery death miles below, though that obviously isn’t shown.

The scenery is also very different, in some cases offering a spectacular view of the city from above.  One last difference is that you don’t have your crew member.  On the one hand, they’re mostly just this side of detrimentally useless, anyway.  On the other, the Blockers really do help to some degree, so the loss of a crew member is noticeable, though not exactly something to give up the race over.

When you race a boss, the first thing you’ll do is race a normal race in the city.  Everything you’ve faced before was nothing compared to the boss.  You could have a souped-up car from heck—they can keep pace with you no matter what you do, and on top of that, the boss will use shortcuts.  Up until the first boss challenge, opponents don’t generally use shortcuts, so you’re lulled into thinking you have an edge.  The boss takes that edge and smashes it with a brick.  If you win that race, you’re automatically shunted into a Canyon Duel—but we need to digress for a moment.

You have two things which ostensibly are aids—Nitrous and Speed Breaker.  Nitrous works almost exactly opposite the way it does in real life, for any car-buffs out there.  In real life all nitrous oxide does—basically—is to get your car up to its normal maximum speed more quickly.  (Which means that, yes, you can take a car that normally finishes a race in, say, thirty seconds and get to the finish line in twenty or less, but that’s because it gets up to speed quicker, not that it goes faster; for an in-depth look at the real-world process along with some notes on why it’s rather dangerous, see here.)  In Carbon, like its predecessors and like the Fast and the Furious movies, it acts like a “warp drive”.  It slowly refills over time, but there’s an emphasis on “slowly”.  It does add more than just raw speed to the game, though; it actually helps with a bit of strategy.  If you accidentally over-crank into a turn you can use it to help even you out if you need to.

Speed Breaker is basically the game’s version of Bullet Time.  Everything slows down to an incredible degree, and your car gains a lot more mass.  That makes it a bit easier to take sharp corners, as well as punch through a roadblock. Used in conjunction with the Nitrous, you can pull off great maneuvers and sharp turns without losing a ton of speed.  On the other hand, the two of them together isn’t always the perfect solution, either.  With your car so much more massive, the Nitrous doesn’t add as much of a boost.  So, there’s more strategy to it.

Now that we’ve gotten those out of the way, Canyon Duels are what happens when, as mentioned above, a “crew boss” challenges you.  First, however, there’s a race around town, and if you win that you get to the Duel itself, which is basically two versions of one race.  First, you’re chasing the boss, and you get points for how close you stay to them.  It’s reversed in the second portion, with the boss is chasing you.  The boss gets points for how close he can stay to you.  You win if you have the most points after both stages, overtake the boss for ten seconds in the first stage, lose them for ten seconds in the second, or force them off the cliff in either.  Conversely, you lose if the boss has the most points, loses you in the first stage, overtakes you in the second, or forces you off the cliff.

The Duels are extremely difficult, for numerous reasons—first, foremost, and most incredibly obnoxiously, (and here’s the reason for the digression earlier) in both sections of the Duel you’re cut off from your Nitrous and Speed Breaker.  The two things you’ve likely come to rely on by that point are taken right away from you, which can be a shock when you get to the first boss.

The Duels are also a sharp, stabbing pain in the tuchus partly because if you need to restart, you’ll start it all over.  Even if you aced the first stage and bombed the second, you’ll still restart at the first.  That will lead to a lot of frustration, since a big factor is “rubber band A.I.”

What that means is that, basically, your opponents will never be too far from you, unless you have a good Blocker doing their job.  On the one hand, this is beneficial since even if you crash nose-first and come to a complete stop, there’s a chance you can catch up.  On the other hand, it’s detrimental since there’s no way you can really just zoom ahead and let your opponents eat your dust.  On the third hand, that’s likely supposed to keep races harrowing, never letting up on the adrenaline.  On the fourth hand, it leads to frustration since the slightest mis-step will let them overtake you.

You won’t notice it much at first; you’ll be able to take over initial territories without running into it, but once you take over your starting area and unlock two more areas, you’ll encounter it often.  It’s the police who exemplify everything that’s wrong with that concept since they’re rife with it from the get-go.  You could drive the fastest, most souped-up car you can possibly have—and the police will still be faster.  You can be zooming pedal-to-the-metal and be burning Nitrous like it’s going out of style, and the police will still be able to stay bumper-to-bumper.

On the whole, that actually wouldn’t be so terrible, were it not for the fact that you really can’t go long without running into them—and by “long” I’m talking about a race or three.  Considering races are such a huge part of the game, you will be running into the police, and frequently.  Then there’s just running into them while you’re out enjoying the Free Roam, just cruising around.  If you have any Heat, at all, you’ll be in a pursuit often if you aren’t careful.

Thinking about “Heat”, that’s the gauge that shows how much the police want to take you down.  It comes in two versions, a personal one for you specifically, and a general one for the “zone” you’re in, with each “zone” being the small territories you take over.  How high the zone Heat is determines how likely you are to run into the police during a race (excepting Canyon races, as those are the only ones where you’re guaranteed to not run into police).

The personal version comes in different levels, from one to seven.  Level one is the easiest level to deal with.  They’ll just throw normal police cruisers at you.  Level two gets a little more difficult, with “unmarked” vehicles tossed into the mix, which take a little more damage.  It goes on up to level seven, where you have insanely large and well-armored trucks barreling right for you (which, of course, can go just as fast as you can, interestingly—and annoyingly—enough), helicopters in the sky keeping an eye on your every move, and more.  So much more.

Once you get some money, you’ll be looking to upgrade your car—and the main thing to remember is to utterly ignore the visuals.  Money is not easy to come by, and while, yes, altering how your car looks does lower your Heat level, it’s cheaper in the long run to just pay off the fines as you go.  A thousand dollars per Heat level is cheap compared to how much money you’d have to sink into the looks of the car to get the Heat level sufficiently lowered.  To go from level two to level one, it cost me over three grand.  It’s far cheaper to just go to the car selection menu, select your car, and pay off your fines before they get too high in the first place.

That said, if you play it smart you can save some cash by using your starting car as long as you possibly can.  That may entail repeating races a few times until you just barely win, and it will mean very strategic usage of your Blockers.  Like your Nitrous and Speed Breaker, they have a meter which depletes as you use them, and refills slowly.  If you use all three aides tactically and don’t really bother buying anything for your car but the performance packages, you should be able to save a decent amount of money.

Speaking of money, you gain cash by winning races.  The first time you enter a particular race, you can earn thousands.  After that, if you go back and go through that race again, you’ll be getting piddly amounts.  This is where a crew member like Neville comes in handy.  The two Blockers, Neville and Sampson, affect how much money you earn.  Neville gives you an extra two hundred if you win whether or not he races with you, and Sampson grants an extra ten percent, but only if he races with you.  Grinding races to earn money means you’ll have to be careful about which crew members you have hired.  When you need to grind money, make sure you’ve got the two Blockers.

Again, money is not easy to come by, especially if you dump it into performance upgrades (though in the form of “packages” like Most Wanted, this time around you don’t get any real in-depth tweaking though you can fiddle with the packages a little; more on that shortly) and keeping your fines paid off.  If you make the slightest financial mistake—purchase too many aesthetic upgrades only to find out that you need a higher-tier car, say—you’ll likely be looking at a lot of grinding for money.

When you do get around to upgrading the performance of your car, you’ll be purchasing “packages”, as stated in the last paragraph.  You can tweak with them a little to fine-tune how they affect your car, but it’s a very simple system, and pressing a button tells you in clear terms what each package does and which way to tweak it depending on what you want.

For example, upgrading the Engine package, like the other packages, presents you with a slider-spectrum-thing.  Torque on one end, Horsepower on the other.  Below it are nine squares arranged in a three-by-three grid (most are three-by-three; a few have fewer options) to pick from.  Each row affects where the pointer on the slider ends up, and you can select one from each row.  Keep all three selections in the middle, and the pointer stays in the middle.  Move one to the left, the pointer moves to the left; move the second to the right, the pointer will go a little bit back to the right.  On a three-by-three grid, you have twenty-seven possible positions for the pointer.

In the Engine example, the more toward the left, the Torque end of the spectrum, you place the pointer, the more, well, torque you get, which itself means that your car will get up to speed quicker, but lose some of its top speed.  The more you move the pointer to the right, the higher the top speed will be, but it will take longer to get to it.

That leads us to the three car types, mentioned at the beginning of this section of the review—Tuners, Exotics, and Muscles.  Which initial choice you made alters some choices later; E.G., if you selected a Tuner and get to the point where you want a new car, the dealership will only have a Tier Two Tuner, the other cars will be Tier One.  All three types handle differently, much differently.

That said, though, getting back to upgrades a few things will be common across the classes.  By and large, you’ll want to focus a little more on acceleration rather than top speed, since there simply aren’t many straight-aways.  On the other hand, there are some, so you don’t want to completely ignore the top speed.  Just how much toward which direction or the other you go depends on your playing style and your car class, but in general you’ll want to be a little more worried about acceleration.

That (sort of, admittedly) segues into talking about tactical playing as a whole.  The entire game is structured such that your best bet is to plan and plot each move carefully, weighing everything at your disposal and only after careful thought moving forward.  If you can sit there all day, every day, and play you won’t have as much of an issue—but if you can’t, if you can only devote an hour or three at a time, you’re going to want to use that time most efficiently, getting the most out of your experience, and that means strategically plotting everything you do.

The last thing to mention is one of the most oft-promoted aspects of the game—customizing your car.  It’s saved for last because, while the system is robust enough to allow for some truly unique creations, it also costs money and patience, neither of which many will have in abundance.

As said before, money is hard to come by, and the patience comes in from dealing with the police, racing opponents, your own crew—pretty much the rest of the game as a whole, really.  Even when you do get money, you really want to worry about performance over aesthetics, so customization won’t be something you’ll get a chance to delve into all that quickly.

Once you do (and have the appropriate crew members, as some unlock the ability to Autosculpt certain items) you’ll likely want to mess around with the Autosculpt—but you won’t get that ability for a few races, until you hire your second crew member who unlocks them as his secondary hiring bonus.  The Autosculpt system is an interesting thing in that you take a part—bumper, hood, roof scoop, and so on—and you can tweak its looks.  Make it bigger here, smaller there, raised here, and so on.

You do that via sliders.  Highlight a slider in the list, and the relevant “zone” in the part will become trimmed in neon-ish, pulsating cyan.  Options are given in numbers, from zero to a hundred.  Most start out at zero, though a few start at fifty.  Play with the sliders and you can extend this zone, raise that one, make this one concave, that one angled; there aren’t usually many options for any one item, but combine them all and you can make a very interesting, nearly if not unique car.

On top of that there are the paint options.  There are numerous styles, from Metallic to Gloss to Candy and much more.  You have a very good variety of specific colors to choose from; not quite as good as being able to input a specific hex value, but not too far from that.

After all of that you have the vinyls, designs you can apply to your car in layers.  You can alter the color of the vinyls, as well as their dimensions, and there is a large variety to choose from.  If you work to unlock everything, you can come up with almost any look for a car you can imagine.

Like with most Need for Speed games, the story here is light on plot.  It basically follows Need for Speed: Most Wanted.  At the end of that game, you rode off into the sunset after having made that fictional city of Rockport your own.  Here, you’re heading from Rockport into the equally fictional Palmont City.

You’ve apparently been here before, though you’re often told that “a lot has changed” since your last visit.  The story, such as it is, is told through live-action cut-scenes (that thankfully can be skipped) where the camera is your perspective.  What the camera sees is what “you” see, where you’re looking, and so on.  It could have been a lot better, but it wasn’t.

The story, again such as it is, revolves around you returning to Palmont City after leaving Rockport, where you’re swept up in taking over territories to prove yourself again to everyone, recovering stolen money, and in the end win back your ex-girlfriend.  It’s about as deep as it sounds, really, which is to say that it’s about as deep as a kid’s wading pool.

That said, in-depth storytelling was never a focus of the series, so that’s acceptable.  At the end of the day, the story serves as a reason to get you out and racing, and that goal it achieves quite well.

It’s Need for Speed, so you very well know that the game will look beautiful.  When applying iridescent “pearl” paint, the car shines beautifully.  Fiddle with the colors right, and it looks like one color from one angle, a different color from another, and you can even create the “ghost pearl” effect, where decals and such seem to disappear based on your viewing angle, similar to this motorcycle gas tank.

The “pedestrian” vehicles look good, though of course not as good as the racers’ cars.  They look better than expected, though, similar enough to their real-world counterparts.

The city looks pretty good, really, though you won’t be noticing all that much.  When you’re whipping through the streets at a hundred miles an hour while trying to dodge around opponents and your own crew members, as well as narrowly avoiding walls in a sharp turn—that doesn’t leave much time or mental energy to spend on appreciating the view.

You can get a better look if you just drive around in “free roam”, and if you do you might well notice that the city looks like it was designed for one thing—racing.  The streets don’t really make sense as planned; they work wonderfully for racing, but not for an actual city.  That’s not really a huge detraction or anything, but something interesting to perhaps think about as you zoom around.

The major problem with the city is that it’s boring.  It looks great, but there’s no real variety, no sense of a true community.  Most Wanted created that sense fantastically, with each bit of the city feeling distinct enough, like a real city.  There were little touches, like the college or baseball stadium, and others.  Carbon doesn’t really have that, so all of the neighborhoods really look the same.  That sameness makes it boring to look at, boring to drive through.

I have to say that I really don’t like the soundtrack very much.  I found most of the music boring, but it seems to be a popular selection, so you might well enjoy it.  I tend to just turn off the E.A. Trax thing, but on that score your mileage will definitely vary.

Aside from the music, the voice acting is over-the-top, campy, but not necessarily in a good way.  It sounds more like people sitting in front of a microphone faking enthusiasm and in some cases not doing a great job, in others doing too good a job.

The vehicles are where the game shines, sound-wise.  Each engine sounds distinct, from their roar as the player floors it to their clicks/thuds as they change gear.  The screech of the tires as you drift around a corner is exquisite.

There are a lot of things to do in the career—and outside of it there’s even more.  You have the Challenges to play through, which are series of three versions of a race.  You play through the “bronze” version and you unlock the silver.  Play through that and you unlock the gold.  Beat that, and you unlock a car part, paint style, or some similar.  You go on the tracks they choose and in the car they choose, which makes the concept live up to its name.  It’s a true challenge to try and race with, say, a Muscle car if you’re best with a Tuner.

There are also the Reward Cards.  Each are made up of four segments, and you earn a segment during normal game play.  For example, one segment can be earned for having a hundred thousand dollars, another can be earned for having your safe house garage filled with Tuners.  Some involve how many police you take out in a chase started in Free Roam.  There are many ways to obtain Reward Card segments, and if you get all four segments to a card, you unlock a unique part, a car, or some such.

If you want, you can just cruise around, re-entering races you’ve beaten or accepting challenges by random rivals that roam around the city, though with the lack of anything interesting to look at and the likely chance of running into the police, it may not be a very attractive idea.

Final Recommendation
I want to love this game, I really do.  It’s hard not to, really; the racing is intense, the customization, while not quite as in-depth in the performance areas as in previous games, is still delightful, especially in the aesthetic areas.  Yet—it’s hard as heck if you aren’t a skilled gamer or if you don’t have the patience to grind races for little money to get more performance packages or to get a better car.  Even the cheat codes won’t help you.

That’s the thing of it, really—this game is geared for, if not specifically made for, people who are skilled racers or are at the least incredibly patient and can devote a lot of time.  Those are things many casual gamers just don’t bring to the table.

Another problem is that the game is ultimately boring.  The races are all the same, which isn’t helped by the sameness of the city itself.  The Challenge Series races are simply nuts for the gold races, and the only reason you’ll want to replay through the career from the start is if you’re a masochist.

Unless you have a friend who’s beaten it and can copy their data over, it’s just not worth it.  I can’t recommend it.

Game Play: AVERAGE
The driving itself is stellar.  It’s an arcade-y scheme without feeling too arcade-y.  On the other hand, you will run into the police a lot, and between the repetitive races and the insane A.I., you might have to purchase another television/computer monitor to replace the one with a controller/keyboard-shaped hole in it.

Story: BAD
There’s more depth to Carbon‘s story than Most Wanted‘s, but that isn’t saying very much.  The over-the-top acting by actresses who were hired to be eye-candy and actors trying way too hard to be “tough guys” doesn’t help.

Graphics: GOOD
Everything looks beautiful, from the customized cars to the random “pedestrian” cars to the city itself.  You’ll be dazzled if you get far enough to really mess around with the paint and vinyls.  The creations you can come up with are simply gorgeous.  On the other hand, the city is boring.  It’s all the same.  There’s no real variation, nothing that really makes it feel like a real city.

The voice-acting is over-the-top and simply unbelievable and the music is bland.  On the other side, the cars sound fantastic, everything from the engines themselves to the gears shifting to the squeal of the tires—everything connected to the driving, including even the sound of crashing into another car, sounds wonderful.

Replayability: BAD
There’s plenty to unlock, both in the Career and the Challenges—but you won’t want to.  If you even manage to beat the thing, it will be through determination, if not downright stubbornness.  Going through even more will not look attractive, even though there is a plethora of things to obtain.

Final (not an average): BAD
It’s a great, even fantastic, game for what it is, but what it is is not for the casual gamer.  Unless you have a lot of time, patience, and a heck of a lot of skill, the only reason to get this game is because it’s free and you have a friend whose data you can copy over.


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