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Need For Speed: Carbon

Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Games
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2; 2 - 4 (Co-op), 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Racing/ Racing (Arcade)/ Racing (Simulation)


Graphics & Sound:

The graphics in Need For Speed: Carbon look very good, from the nicely reproduced car models, to the aftermarket parts you can add, to the environment and the special effects. Possibly the coolest visual aspect, however, are the AutoSculpt car modifications that are available. These mods have sliders that allow you to manipulate different aspects of the part. For instance, on a rim, you can change the diameter, the offset, and the width of the tire. On a hood, you may change the material (either normal or Carbon Fiber) as well as the depth of various inset cutout areas. This is a really cool (and satisfying) feature, which simulates being really rich, really well known, highly influential and interested in cars, a la Jay Leno. As far as I've seen, there isn't a place that offers AutoSculpt parts to the masses.

The graphical style in Need For Speed: Carbon has a hazy look to it, but in a stylistic way. In the full motion video sequences, this takes the form of a graphical style that is similar to that of Sin City, where there is a sort of "Graphic Novel" ambiance. In game, this haziness takes the form of speed blurring effects and lighting effects. These effects do nicely; you'll notice them a lot at first, but after playing for a bit, they seem very natural.

The music in Need For Speed: Carbon is separated into three categories: HipHop/Grime, Rock and Electro. There are around 10 songs in each list and, as with most games that feature EA Trax, you can select which tracks you want to play and whether they should be used everywhere in the game or only during gameplay. In addition to this music, however, there is some music that is specifically for certain parts of the game. For example, the downhill runs have a distinctly Japanese cinematic score that plays, and seems to be responsive to how well you're doing. When you come upon a tight curve, for example, the music gets a bit more tense. Some may not like this music or the fact that they can't change the music played during these races, but I find the music to be very fitting of the particular style of race.

Personally, I think the PS3 version has better graphics, but both the PS3 and 360 versions really look good on their respective systems.


Gameplay:

Need For Speed: Carbon feels very similar to Need For Speed: Most Wanted. First of all, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as Most Wanted is not a bad game. However, there are a lot of similarities between these games, so Need For Speed: Carbon is primarily a visual upgrade with a few gimmicks and tweaks to keep it interesting.

One cool feature of Need For Speed: Carbon is the new Pursuit Knockout mode. Much like the normal Knockout or Elimination races that racing gamers are likely to be familiar with, the game is for 1 lap less than the number of players. At the end of each lap, the last player to cross the finish line is eliminated. The twist in Need For Speed: Carbon is that instead of being removed from the game, eliminated players get switched to a high-performance pursuit police car and earn points by slamming into players who are still racing. Not only is this amazingly fun, but you're not restricted to driving the same way as the remaining racers (since you're no longer racing) and you can drive through the artificial barriers that the racers can't drive through (since you're essentially playing as a playable NPC; you are the A.I.).

Tweakers out there will enjoy the customization options offered in Need For Speed: Carbon. The AutoSculpt feature allows you to really create a custom one-of-a-kind car by modifying different aspects of various aftermarket exterior parts and body kit items. The visual customization is pretty decent, as well. You can apply vinyl to your car, choosing from a wide variety of stock vinyl. While you can't create your own vinyl from scratch, you can combine some of the existing vinyls to create your own design. Additionally, you have the ability to modify the scale, rotation, color and skew of the vinyls that you choose and can place them wherever you like on the car. A "Mirror" option allows for quick and accurate placement of vinyl graphics on either side of your cars. The inability to copy and paste layers, however, makes more involved vinyl projects more time consuming than I would have preferred, however.


Difficulty:

I found the challenge in Need For Speed: Carbon to be engaging, yet reasonable. I never really got frustrated trying to get past anything in the Career mode. There's a lot to do, mind you - especially if you want to work towards unlocking things by earning rewards cards.

Playing online in Need For Speed: Carbon is a different story, and is something you'll want to put off until you've really tuned a powerful car. Perhaps your second car. Or your third. There are some fun modes online, but as it often is with online modes, you need to bring your "A" game - you're likely to be up against opponents with lots of experience and highly tuned and overly powerful vehicles. Oh, and they're likely to know all of the shortcuts, as well.

If you want to challenge yourself and hone your skills before trying your hand at the online modes, you can try out the "Challenge Series" - a series of specific racing challenges that specify your goal, your vehicle and your location. The challenge is predefined and is designed to be just that - a challenge. You'll need to give your best performance... and a bit of luck won't hurt, either. Play in the "Challenge Series" for a while and the other races in Need For Speed: Carbon (whether online or off) will seem a bit easier.

Another tip to making Need For Speed: Carbon a little easier to play is carefully plan you upgrades. When you're first starting, you'll probably want to purchase upgrades as soon as you unlock them. Later, you'll want to choose wisely on upgrade purchases; upgrading your current car may get you more performance, but purchasing a new car and switching to it may take the heat off by putting you in a car that the police aren't already looking for.

Add in the "Risk"-like aspect of fighting for territory, and you have a game that can be easier to play if you play "smart". You'll want to think about your decisions rather than just blowing your money and randomly choosing races. Those who are looking for a mindless racer may be disappointed with Need For Speed: Carbon; there's more to this game than that.


Game Mechanics:

Need For Speed: Carbon works well on the 360. Although I'm not a fan of the shoulder-button-for-a-gas-pedal thing, the PS3 has followed suit, so there's not a difference between the 360 and PS3 versions on this aspect. Luckily, it works out pretty well for controlling your cars. In fact, the 360 version seems to handle better than the PS3 version - more notably in online races.

I experienced a few technical issues with Need For Speed: Carbon on my 360. The game locked up on me on two occasions, and in the Challenge Series during some long pursuits, something got messed up with the graphics and the concrete textures on the edges of the roads went transparent (or otherwise stopped being rendered). I don't know if this is a game-specific issue or if the high rendering demands of Need For Speed: Carbon's Challenge Series races was causing my 360 to get too hot, but I felt it deserved mentioning.

The aspect of fighting for territory is interesting and the AutoSculpt feature is enough to sell the game for car enthusiasts looking to see what they could do with their cars, but I think one of the coolest aspects of Need For Speed: Carbon is the chatter. When you're racing with a wing-man, their dialogue is done in character, is useful and - most importantly - is timely. I've seen other games that attempted to have crew members communicate with you during gameplay, but their dialogue typically is delayed to the point of being useless. Another place that the dialogue feature is used in Need For Speed: Carbon is when there are police actively pursuing you. Your car is equipped with a police scanner, so you can hear them as they relay your car's description and call for reinforcements and such. This really helps the game to feel submersive and realistic.

The overall production value of Need For Speed: Carbon is high, and there's enough challenge to last for quite a while, with the Career mode, Challenge Series and the available online matches. I highly recommend Need For Speed: Carbon to anyone looking for a more in-depth racing game that allows them to tweak their cars. Fans of shallower racing games that require less investment in time may want to look elsewhere.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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