For the record, this is a “Semi-Review” because I have not beaten the game, nor have I gotten 100% completion. What I have done, however, is get 55% completion of career mode, which is enoguh to give me a good grasp of single player, more or less.
Need For Speed: Carbon is the third-to-most recent installment of EA’s Need for Speed racing series (as of this writing, Need For Speed: ProStreet and Undercover have come out, to middle-of-the-road to bad reviews). The series has generally focused over arcade style racing over the more simulationist style of the Gran Turismo series and the newer Forza Motorsport, while staying more grounded in reality than, say, the street racing missions of Grand Theft Auto or even the first three Midnight Club games. This game continues with the over-the-top narrative style of Most Wanted and, (to a certain extent) Underground 2.
Like with Most Wanted, you’re set up in a new city, at the bottom of the heap, having to work your way to the top. As with Most Wanted, you’ve got a score to settle – in this case several years previously your character had to eleave the city under suspicious circumstances involving a street race (duh) and a large bag full of missing cash. What changes in Carbon is that you’re not going alone – when you career mode, in addition to picking your car, you name your crew, and get your first crew member.
Crew members come in 3 types and you can take one crew member with you on most races. There are blockers, which will trade paint with competing racers to knock them out from in front (or keep them behind), scouts, who will check ahead of you for shortcuts, and drifters, who will allow you to drift off their slipstream to get a boost. Plus, crew members can win races for you – if your scout, drifter, or blocker gets across the finish line before you, you’ll still get the win for your team, and you still get the money. Your team members can still get in the way, mind, but it is nice to have a second shot at getting the win.
The game also includes a new feature, called “Reward Cards”. As you go through Career mode and go through challenge events you will earn “Reward Cards,” which are like achievements, except basically you’re the only person who’ll know which one’s you’ve completed. As you complete certain sets of four reward cards, you’ll unlock new wheels, cars, visual components and other parts.
As far as race types go, Speedtrap Challenge, checkpoint, drift, sprint and lap races include from Most Wanted, as well as a new race type Canyon Duel, and several variations on drift and sprint that use the canyon. Canyon Duel is divided under two legs, hunter and hunted. In hunter, the player persues the other racer, and tries to pass the hunted – the closer he gets, the higher his score is. In the next leg, the player becomes the hunted, with the other racer persuing him – with the catch that as the race goes on, the player’s score decreases – when it runs out (or if the hunter passes him and the player can’t get ahead again) he loses. Canyon races, in both duel and for drifting in the canyons, have one added catch, the edge of the canyon – certain turns will have wooden barriers instead of metal or concrete guardrails which your car (or your opponent’s car) can end up crashing through. If you go through, you lose the race.
This brings me to the negatives – starting with drift racing, particularly through the canyons. In Most Wanted, drift racing was somewhat forgiving. You could mess up and still win the race. In Carbon, things have become much less forgiving in all aspects – if you mess up at all while drifting you lose and lose big (though fortunately, you can still skip all the drift events – at least for the first half). Also, if you have one primary car that you race with and have heavily upgraded, if your car gets impounded (and sent to the crusher), then, unless your backup car is in the same tier and upgraded to the same level – you’re screwed, hard.
Oh, and your car will be impounded, because police chase are also much less forgiving – often, you’ll hit a pursuit breaker, and take out the cars directly behind you, and reach the cooldown stage (where you’re nearing the end of the pursuit), only to have another police car come up in front of you and starting the cycle all over again. If you reach a hide-out, the cooldown section will complete in a fairly reasonable time, but however, you still have to reach the cooldown section without going within line of sight of a police car. Ultimately, it’s worth it to skip driving through the world-map and going directly to the event… but if you do that, you miss out on getting reward cards for accepting challenges from racers of rival crews for impromptu races – and even then, on occasion, the police will pick up persuit in the middle of the race and then continue to chase you after the race has completed, starting this whole mess again. You can get “Get Out Of Jail Free” cards, and additional Impound strikes by winning boss races, but there are only 4 bosses in the whole game, as opposed to significantly more bosses in Most Wanted, which got you more impound strikes, more get out of jail free cars, and more “Pink slips” which you could win for free additional cars that already were suped up which could sit in your garage, in case you did lose one of your cars. So, ways to save the “lives” of your cars come much more sparingly, making life ever more difficult.
In conclusion, Need for Speed: Carbon wants to be as fun, arcadey, and enjoyable, but, frankly it’s not the best game in the series. That position still lies with Most Wanted. If you’ve got a 360 – get that game. Otherwise, get Midnight Club: LA. I don’t have it yet, but the other games in that series were better – and that game’s got trophy support anyway.