Need for Speed Carbon Xbox Review

May 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox, Xbox

Another Christmas is nearly here, and another Need for Speed game hits the shelves. But what have EA got to spice up the formula this year? Take a slice of Burnout, season with Grand Theft Auto and stir in plenty of Project Gotham Racing. How does the final dish turn out?

There’s an ongoing storyline about your return to Palmont City, but you don’t need to have played Most Wanted to get into the main “career” mode. You’ll spend a lot of your time on the world map, looking at the various territories and finding events to compete in. You can either jump straight to an event, or set the GPS and drive there in Free Roam mode.

The key to beating the career mode is gaining territory – protect your own territory from challenges, while winning events and beating “bosses” to gain new ground. Building up your crew improves your vehicle and your chances. The new “wingman” feature lets you choose one of three types – Scout (finds you shortcuts), Blocker (blocks off an opposing car) and Drafter (lets you slipstream to gain speed) can all help you win the events.

Of course, being an illegal street racer has one major drawback – the police. Each area of the map has a “heat” rating, indicating the police presence. Spend too much time racing in an area and the heat will rise, making things trickier. Getting spotted by a police car leads to a Pursuit, with meters onscreen indicating when you get away. Get busted, and it’s time to pay a fine based on how much damage you did, and repeat offenders will get their car impounded. The longer the pursuit lasts, the more serious the tactics the police will use, from roadblocks to spike traps. Watch your map closely and you can find “pursuit breakers”, objects to smash into and block the road behind you. The sneaky racer can also use these to good effect.

If you’ve had enough of the cutscenes, jump into the Challenge Series and take on different styles of race to earn medals. The new Canyon Duels take place on narrow winding tracks with the ever-present danger of breaking through the barrier and taking a dive… Other events include Speedtrap, where a cumulative total of speeds achieved through the cameras wins, Drift events with the back end of the car sliding all over the place, and nail-biting Checkpoint races.

As you play through the game, you earn Reward Cards… or more correctly, you earn pieces of a card for certain events as they happen in the career or challenge modes (getting busted, beating a challenge event, a pursuit lasting more than ten minutes). Get all four pieces of a particular card and this will unlock extras.

While the graphics are rather good, there is just so much black onscreen as you race between pools of light. Each area has its own unique streets and buildings, including the obligatory “Chinatown”, but it all feels so samey. The pre-rendered cutscenes work well, but there are noticeable jagged edges to the car models in the pre- and post-race sequences (rendered with the game engine). Music is fine, consisting of the usual collection of recent and old tracks seemingly thrown together at random, with some nice incidental music too. At least you can turn off tunes you don’t like. Radio chatter (from your wingman or a police scanner) gives some help during races or pursuit (you can “hear” when a roadblock is being set up in front of you) but the same phrases soon repeat.

Multiplayer is one of the more disappointing aspects of the game for original Xbox users. The splitscreen runs adequately, but there are no Live or system link games. Presentation is slick, but heavily influenced by Project Gotham Racing – even down to the “track” icons in the Challenge Series. It will also take a while to get used to the Customisation options, particularly the Autosculpting of body parts.

The main problem is that there is nothing to hook you in, and it all feels overly familiar, like you’ve played it before. The bland storyline and repetitive nature of the challenges is made worse by the excessive difficulty of the boss races, and the pursuits soon become boring as you use the same Pursuit Breakers time and again. Fans of the series would be better off with the 360 version though, for its online racing and the lure of gaining achievements. The chequered flag may be coming down on the old Xbox, but this won’t be remembered as one of its finest moments.