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Review: Need for Speed Carbon

Some things in life are just too predictable. You know every year will bring another birthday, another Christmas, and another installment of every single one of Electronic Arts’ high profile franchises on every single platform out there. Is Need for Speed Carbon just another lazy incarnation of a popular series or does it hold its own as a full price title? Read on for our verdict.

The advantage of the umpteenth new game in a popular series is that at least it provides good reference material for comparisons. And thankfully the Need for Speed brand has been a strong and popular one for several years now, with its strong combination of fun arcade racing, hot pursuits, and a not too complex story so you can focus on the actual racing. Need for Speed Carbon presents no surprises in that respect: it’s got lots of fun arcade racing, some hot pursuits, and a not too complex story so you can focus on the actual racing. EA wouldn’t be a developer we’d expect to take risks would we?

In Carbon you play a street racer returning to his hometown, years after escaping from an incident where a lot of local street racers were arrested in a huge raid. Needless to say you did not exactly gather a fan club being the only one to escape the cops, but one guy remembers and trusts you and gives you a car to race the local gangs with. As you win races, you gradually take control over territories, eventually leading to a direct battle with the gang leader for final control over a whole district. Along the way you may get chased by the cops or be challenged, leading to high-speed chases through town, or you may need to defend your conquered territory against invaders. And then finally, after a cliche-ridden story with treason and everything, you manage to right the wrongs from your past by exposing what really happened that day. Blahblah, let’s skip to the racing.


Heaps of licensed cars are at your disposal to buy, tune and decorate

As usual, NFS:Carbon is the same old NFS game with a number of specific twists. For starters, the game takes place at night entirely. Predecessor NFS: Most Wanted was all daytime action, and surprisingly presented a far richer world this way with environmental effects, overcast races, rain and storms and everything. Carbon’s nightly setting doesn’t really hamper the game though, it’s just a different approach for a different game. As a matter of fact, the night setting does a nice job of demonstrating the new and updated graphics engine, as you race through the city’s shopping and gambling districts with immense amounts of neon lights shining on cars and surroundings. After some initial doubts on my end about the graphical differences, I eventually popped in my NFS:MW disc and most certainly Carbon runs at a better frame rate with barely any drops, and the graphics are definitely more shiny and detailed, looking great at high resolutions. The cars also have an actual damage model now and look quite battered after a hefty police pursuit, although it doesn’t affect the driving one bit as it should with an arcade racer. Good job on developer EA Black Box for taking advantage of next-gen power properly now.

More twists on the genre were applied to the racing itself. The concept of crew members is an original one, with new members becoming available as the story unfolds and capable local drivers flock to your banner. You can select up to three to be part of your crew at one time, and one can be chosen to participate in your races as a wingman. There’s in general three types of crew members to choose from, allowing you to use them once or twice during a race to either ram your opponent, create a draft for racing faster, or find shortcuts in the circuit. Additionally, the crew members provide benefits like improving your revenues, nitro capacity and the like when activated. A funny variation, although in practice you won’t spend much time tinkering the crew probably.


Don’t slip off the road… it means back to the drawing board

Biggest twist is in the boss battles. Instead of battling it out in the streets completely, you first take them for a spin in the streets, and if you win that the fight is taken into the canyons surrounding the city. Canyon matches see you racing down the mountains through small mountain roads, first you trying to keep up with your opponent and then the other way around. The closer you stay to him while chasing, the more points you get, and the more you stay ahead consequently, the less points you lose. If the net total of the 2 races is in your advantage, you win the territory. Although the idea is fun, execution is hampered by some design choices. Firstly, when you make a mistake during the second part or simply lose, you have to start with the first race again. This in itself isn’t so bad, except for the fact that many of the canyon road turns have “soft railing” allowing you to crash in the ravine, forcing you to start over immediately. This becomes more frustrating by the fact that you will definitely need to have a very powerful car to be able to complete the canyon race, and if like me you didn’t yet get a new car before the first boss battle this will be highly frustrating. And if you quit to buy a new car… you even have to do the street battle again! Definitely made me curse a few times as I found this out.

There’s more gripes like this about the game which seem to be aimed at frustration more than at enhancing the experience. Like mentioned above, you can get challenged to defend your territory, forcing you to do the exact same race again. Not only do these challenges occur far too often, I once got challenges after each of 5 consecutive races, they also get progressively harder as you advance in the game. Once I got into the final territory, I didn’t have money left to buy a high-class car immediately because I’d been playing with the tuning options a lot, and consequently I got raped on most races and challenges because my ‘outdated’ car simply couldn’t keep up. Seeing racers accelerate twice as hard at the start line than you can hope to do with your current equipment is just overly frustrating. At least the tuning was fun and well executed, extending its reach into ridiculously detailed stuff like the exact dimension of every part of a spoiler now. Just don’t buy any of the ridiculous Marketplace items, you can unlock them all by just playing the game alright?


Shiny cars reflect the colorful lights of the city nightlife nicely

If the career mode gets boring you might consider taking a go at the Challenges, but I recommend you don’t after you made some progress in the career. The Challenges could’ve been more appropriately called Tutorials, since all they do is present you with races that you also need to do in career mode, but then with a preselected car. Once you got the feeling for a fast race car in your fingers, being forced to use a slow car that steers like a cow in thick mud is not an enjoyable experience. Online mode more than makes up for the lame Challenges though, and is quite well executed. The lobbies work nicely, and there’s a nice variation of race types to choose from, including some original new ones that let you play hide&seek with police players chasing the street racing players. I was also surprised at the fluency of the online play, despite my WiFi connection having some serious ping and packet loss problems at the time. Strangely my experiences with split-screen racing were completely the opposite: it felt slow, looked crap, and had obvious framerate problems. Although it’s understandable that split screen performs less than single player full screen, I’ve never seen this kind of discrepancies before.

The Achievements of the game deserve some attention too. We’ve known EA before for just packing 5 Achievements in a game of 200GP each, and give them for “score a touchdown” or “catch a pass” or other ridiculous stuff just to get rid of them. Not so in NFS:Carbon, which has the full list of 50 Achievements. Unbelievably, it’s highly probable that you won’t be getting a single achievement at all before you complete the career. That’s right, no progressive achievements as you play the game’s main mode at all, unless you take the time to engage in 12-minute police pursuits, tag heaps of police cars and the like. It’s good to have those, but why on Earth there are no Achievements in between is beyond me. Even better, there’s some absolutely retarded Achievements in there, with the grand prize going to Moderator Challenge which gives you 25GP for beating an EA Moderator in an online race. How did that get in there while the far more doable and realistic viral achievement was forbidden?


The delicious Emmanuele Vaugier plays a respectable part as Nikki

As you race through the city, a continuous stream of sound and music blows out of your speakers. The musical selection is very different from Most Wanted’s rock/metal tracks, this time presenting you with a wide range of techno-ish music, with a surprise appearance of Gary Numan’s 1979 classic “Are Friends Electric?”. When the cop heat gets on though we hear the same old up-tempo music as before, which could’ve used a bit more creativity. Same goes for the sound effects, which present some nice screeching and engine rumbles but are nothing out of the ordinary.

In the end Need for Speed Carbon is a worthy but predictable successor in a fun franchise, and if you ever liked a game in the series before you can’t really go far wrong if you pick this up. Although it doesn’t do anything revolutionary or ambitious at all, it’s a solid arcade racer to last some cold winter afternoons until the more ambitious games like PGR4 and Forza 2 come along, and it has all the classic Need for Speed feeling about it you either love or hate. I must admit I liked it despite its obvious shortcomings, and had a good time while it lasted.

Final Score: 7 out of 10 - Above Average (How do we rate games?)

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43 comments on 'Review: Need for Speed Carbon'

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Comment by Sam Jackson on 2006-11-03 04:33:40 | Reply

Nice review bro.

will be picking this up after work.

Comment by trj156 on 2006-11-03 05:22:45 | Reply

this would be good for split screen with a few friends, but i can’t imagine much else.

Well like I put in the review, split screen was one of the biggest letdowns. It was definitely sluggish and looked crap, while the full screen game is far better both offline and online.

Comment by trj156 on 2006-11-03 05:27:34 | Reply

well, my friends and i get very bored.

Comment by The_Glovner on 2006-11-03 13:52:00 | Reply

Try crack, that keeps the boredom away.

Comment by The_Glovner on 2006-11-03 13:52:26 | Reply

I’ve heard it’s all the rage with the kiddies these days.

Comment by Nekro on 2006-11-03 05:24:43 | Reply

This game is worse than Enchanted Arms. How come it gets a higher score? This game insults racing games, even the dire Full Auto is probably better than this

Huh? I’ve played both, and I highly doubt Enchanted Arms would’ve gotten even Nino’s 6 from me, but that’s why he did that review and not me (I’m no JRPG player). Carbon is a solid racer, definitely “above average” by all means. If you don’t believe that, go pick up a game like Import Tuner Challenge. Carbon is a solid arcade racer with good graphics, it just doesn’t do anything surprising or innovative.

Comment by Nekro on 2006-11-03 04:43:48 | Reply

When I play driving/racing games, I like the car to feel as if it has at least some kind of friction in it’s wheels. But then, I like Ridge Racer 6 to a degree, certainly a better game than this too. Each to their own I guess.

I think the main thing to remember is that the NFS series makes no secret of its arcade style, like PGR as well. That means a damage model is decorative only, it doesn’t give realistic car handling and you can crash into a wall at 230Mph. That’s entirely different than the realistic racers where you can actually wreck your car and it will drive crap when you’ve taken a bump in the side. It just doesn’t have the pretensions to fill such demands.

Comment by Nekro on 2006-11-03 04:51:48 | Reply

I’ll just wait for Burnout 5.

Comment by sCHOCOLATE on 2006-11-03 07:09:12 | Reply

Why was there no mention of the Need for Speed Underground games(both 1 and 2) that this game was “carbon” copied from. There’s nothing original about Carbon at all! Night driving a “unique twist” in the series? Are you serious? The NFS:U1 rendering engine and Carbon’s engine are, for all intents, the same. I smell an EA payoff!

I highly doubt EA would pay for a 7, which is by my knowledge the lowest grade the game has received so far :)

I think you are slightly overreacting though: I meant something else with the word ‘unique’ actually, because I’m mainly comparing the game to its only predecessor on NEXT-GEN machines (Underground games aren’t exactly fair). I thought that would’ve been sufficiently clear by the fact that I’m comparing it directly to Most Wanted’s daytime setting in the very next sentence, but I’ll change the text to make that clearer.

Also, I go to great lengths in the review to emphasize this game is nothing more than “just another Need for Speed game”. It just happens to be a damn successful franchise because it’s well executed in general, and Carbon is no exception. It’s a decent racer, above the average if you know some of the real junk that is released sometimes (ahum).

a good split screen is a must, sorry to hear it sucked

Comment by sCHOCOLATE on 2006-11-03 08:33:12 | Reply

Considering EA would “offer” to have us pay for codes, I wouldn’t be surprised what grade they might pay people for. ;)

Not so much a criticism at Xboxic or you Curry(though I sounded like it). I’m just numb to the fact that EA games frequently carry a higher price tag than other titles and for what? Significantly richer gameplay? Industry-leading quality? Genre-busting originality?

I’ll give them kudos for the Auto-sculpt feature, but the driving interface, car handling and track design in Carbon is Underground 3(with a different name). I buy a driving/racing game for the enjoyment of driving/racing. How the car looks comes second.

And OverG, for a flight game, isa perfect example of what could have been special but what ended up being less than satisfactory.

I understand the EA criticisms and I agree to a large extent. I just try not to let such “feelings” interfere with my impartial review of a game :) I liked the game, I found it a definite improvement over Most Wanted, and I graded it as such. Whatever you can say about its developer, the NFS series is popular for good reason. You say you buy racing games for the enjoyment of racing: well NFS delivers in that field.

Over G serves as a perfect example that we’re all but afraid to grade a game low if it really is crap. Totemball is another fine example ;)

Comment by NOrderOnlyCHAOS on 2006-11-03 10:01:17 | Reply

i’ll wait for FORZA 2, which is a ‘real’ racing game…

Comment by The_Glovner on 2006-11-03 13:55:31 | Reply

How long must we wait now?

Morelike Need for Framerate: Carbon.

It’s a shame they went back to the ugly look of the underground series too, who’d have thought an entire town could be made of neon?

Comment by Jasonic on 2006-11-03 10:18:34 | Reply

Shame, NFS Most wanted was so very good and this one…Not so much. Just the way I see it. Like the others, I’ll wait for Forza and PGR.

Comment by Joeri on 2006-11-03 12:33:28 | Reply

I noticed that the demo on the marketplace suffers some major framedrops. Does that also appeals to the final version or did EA do some work to fix this? Maybe I will buy this title, but only if there aren’t any major framedrops.

Due to some practical stuff I spent half my playtime for this review on a CRT SDTV, where I noticed the occasional but rare framedrop. The second half was done on a 1080i LCD HDTV, on which I didn’t notice one single framedrop. Rather strange :) Anyway, that’s much better than the demo was yeah.

Comment by Voyager2k on 2006-11-03 14:14:33 | Reply

Can I have your copy please curry ? :) Demo and final game (rented) both had exessive framerate problems. Tried them both on a 32″ SDTV (Sony) and 40″ HDTV and that makes no diffrence at all.

Especially at tight turns the game nearly slows down to a stop, then picks up again. To be fair I have to say that this only happens with the world environmet graphics. The car rendering itself looks perfectly fine which makes this very odd. It’s like the world is rendered with low priority threads and your car is a high priority thread. Dunno how else to describe it.

Also the blurr effect seems to kick in quite often in places where the framerate goes down, even if you drive at very low speeds (as far as that is actually possible).

Controls are also much worse than NFS:MW which was reason enouhg for me to return the game same day I got it. I was not the only one disappointed by it, tho. Rental store, after checking it out, returned all xbox360 copies of the game to their distributor which actually is a first for them.

Rating NFS:C at 7/10 is very generous still, even tho it really is the lowest rating the game has received so far.

I’m really surprised by your experiences, since reading other reviews via MetaCritic clearly shows I’m not the only one that noticed the improvements.

All other games working fine?

Comment by Voyager2k on 2006-11-03 20:03:30 | Reply

Of Course, but then again … hardly any 360 games so far are entirely free of framerate or popup problems. It’s a matter of how sensitive you are to these things and how quickly you get used to them to the point of not noticing them anymore. I am quite sensitive to any kind of stutter, no matter if it’s a game or movie with bad ntsc->pal conversion or a hdtv with bad deinterlacing/scaling … these things kinda hit me in the face while other ppl never notice them.

As I explained, after looking at it a bit more closely I came to the conclusion that your car, other cars and the environment are rendered independetly and are kinda layered on top of each other which then leads to the described effect of the car beeing drawn at rocksolid fps while the “background” slows down a lot. That’s why it is so obvious in tight turns (if it happens) I guess. It’s hard to describe because you probably won’t notice it as much if you focus on your car (which most ppl probably do).

NFS:MW had framerate problems too, but those were very diffrent and much less annoying because everything was rendered at the same priority. If it slowed down, everything did.

In NFS:C, if it slows down, it’s the background (City, Sky, Landscape, other cars) and NOT your own car which is furthermore covered up by the excessive blurr that happens even at low speed.

I believe that was done on purpose to cover framerate problems.

Would be much easier to “explain” if I could make a video to illustrate but unfortunately I can’t.

Well I understand what you are saying, and all I can add is that NFS:C definitely plays and feels noticeably smoother than MW. I got out my MW copy specifically for checking up on that.

Yes, you put in the Vaugier picture!

Good show, you almost made me want the game :|

Comment by J1980 also welljasona on 2006-11-03 16:05:08 | Reply

I liked Need for Speed Carbon: its something to do I suppose ! God I need a girlfriend badly…

Comment by Nekro on 2006-11-03 16:06:16 | Reply

How bad is the elastic effect in this game? Better or worse than Burnout Revenge? It’s one of the ‘features’ I’m sick to my back teeth with. From the demo it was pretty damned bad.

What exactly do you mean by “elastic effect”?

Comment by J1980 also welljasona on 2006-11-03 16:48:02 | Reply

he means the way the screen blurs at the sides and the way the road catches up with the car really quickly. In game effect as if you are going along at about a million miles per hour - I think? If that is what he means - then yes the elastic effect is pretty bad. In fact I didn’t realise every level in this game was in the dark until after I bought it - visually its not that much impressive. Most Wanted had better visuals

Comment by mu on 2006-11-03 16:54:30 | Reply

the elastic effect is when ai racers “magically” catch up to you when they are very far behind. usually faster than would be even possible in real race conditions.

- mu

Comment by J1980 also welljasona on 2006-11-03 17:00:31 | Reply

oh god was that all !!

Comment by Nekro on 2006-11-03 18:37:31 | Reply

yep

Based on mu’s explanation: I have finished races with 15+ second differences to #2 so it’s definitely possible, but I do think I’ve noticed your opponent’s prowess scales slightly based on your qualities, so that they race better when behind and worse when leading. Not entirely sure though.

Once again EA bring us ground hog game, not a lot of refinement, not a lot new. I know its sort of hip to bash EA right now but with this game they don’t help them selves. I’ve been a big fan of The Need for Speed series but after NFSU the quality of each game has dropped(technically at least). I want the old NFS back(ok TDU is pretty close) but I want games like NFSHP, NFSPC, and NFSHS not this sloppy cartoon using the NFS IP. n.b I have only played the PC version with my 360 pad as yet but I can’t see there being many differences. That said Most wanted was addictive as hell. ¬_¬

Most Wanted had a higher addiction rate than Carbon, definitely. The milestones and the random police pursuits made it more of a “quick 30 mins game” than Carbon.

It was more a “long 2 hour game” for me, I think they got pursuit right in that one.

Yeah what I meant was that NFS:MW had more the tendency to drag you in for 30 minutes of play regularly, while I’m mostly done with Carbon now that I’ve done the review after 2 allnighters with the game :)

Comment by Jasonic on 2006-11-04 10:17:22 | Reply

Agreed..

hey why are you guys insulting the game….as far as the indian gaming circuit for simulation gamers is concerned..this game rocks and is a different touch towards racing and when compared to nfs mw this is better man !!!! take a break and think positive about the hard work ea has put into the game to create and program the most efficient simulation by nfs ever !

Comment by The_Glovner on 2007-01-18 10:57:55 | Reply

Take a break and understand that EA has never put hard work into any of these games but just churns out the same shit year on year.

I can’t believe there is people out there willing to defend a company like EA.

Comment by kubako on 2007-07-22 12:08:44 | Reply

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