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Need for Speed Carbon

Do all new console launches have to ship out with endless stripped-down ports? In the past year, we’re seeing this happen not once, but three times. What’s even more troubling is the fact that each new system that comes out is supposedly more powerful than the machines already on the market, so why do titles end up dropping features? It’s definitely not for new ones. But, the features missing in Need For Speed Carbon are quite minimal when you compare the PS3 to the Xbox 360.
I’ll cover the differences between the PS3 version and the Xbox 360 version before diving into the meat of the review, to save the time of readers who are already familiar with the title. The first thing people ask about is the motion sensitivity that the PS3 brings to the table, and once again it’s used in a way that has minimal impact on the game. As you are careening around corners and have maxed out your thumb sticks, you can tilt the controller to add an extra nudge of tightness to your turns, but the addition is barely registered. That is truly the only difference that can be considered a plus for the PS3 version; the other differences are negatives and count against the title.
For instance, one small mode is absent from this title that made it into the Xbox 360 version: Photo Mode, in which you can take pretty pictures of your car at any time. Why this is missing is beyond me. Also, graphically, the PS3 version is a little muddier than the 360, and it’s most apparent when you hit high speeds and the motion blur kicks in. Oh, and let’s not even get started on how a racing game really demonstrates the lack of rumble in a title.
Carbon is the spiritual successor to Most Wanted, and in fact the story elements from both games tie together tightly. In reality, though, is a story mode needed for a racing game? Seeing as it’s used to unlock cars and upgrade options, it’s almost a necessity before diving into online play or taking on a friend in the split-screen action. To progress through the story you select a race location from a city map that is divided into territories and sub-territories. Each section is ruled by one of the street racing gangs, and should you win a majority of the races in a given area you will gain enough attention from the boss and will be challenged to a racing duel.
Boss races are split up with a city section and a Canyon race. Canyon racing is one of the new modes added to the title, and it’s a nice diversion from the standard fare of checkpoint racing and straightforward beat-the-pack racing. Canyon races consist of two parts: in the first, you follow an opponent down a winding canyon road, earning points for staying tight on their tail and on the road. In the second, the other car is on your tail down the same road, only this time points are deducted as you are tailed, so if you stay above a net value of zero points you’ll win the challenge.
The other new race mode is a drift race, which really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering the boom in popularity drifting has gained. While this mode does look very cool as you fly down a mountainside at top speed whipping around corners, I found it the weakest of all the modes. The controls that worked well in other modes went out the window, and a whole new feel for your car needs to be learned. Based on street racing, the Camaro I was driving seemed like a heavy car and would take some effort to maneuver around corners, but once I was in a drift race it felt as if I was controlling an air-hockey puck.
During the story mode, you unlock different safe houses around the city, along with new team members who will join you in a race. Three different roles are available for your crew: Blocker, Drafter and Scout. Blockers prevent people from passing you or will help clear a route for you when called upon. Drafters hang out in front of you, creating a draft where you can slip into the stream and get a boost of speed as you slingshot out. Scouts, meanwhile, lead you through the course, showing you all the shortcuts you may have not already seen. Sure it’s an interesting concept having teammates, but the usefulness of them wears off quite quickly as you buy faster cars and tweak them to meet your desires.
Tweaking not only comes in the form of performance upgrades where you can add various enhancements to add speed, drifting ability and acceleration, but in some creative augmentations as well. The coolest tweaking feature is the Autosculpt mode, which lets you manipulate almost any external feature on the car with the analog sticks, making things larger, smaller, rounded or boxier. This level of customization is fantastic and makes it exciting to hop online and see just how outlandish some people can make their cars.
From a presentation standpoint, the game makes use of human actors set in the CGI world, but it seems to add a mask to eliminate any form of blemish, making them seem CGI as well. This ultra-smooth look translates over the perpetual nighttime as all the cars are quite shiny, highly reflective and just a hair outside of looking photorealistic thanks to the stylistic approach. The audio in NFS is top notch, featuring a fun soundtrack that keeps the excitement rolling throughout the game. Even the voice acting is done well; let’s hope that that is a trend that transcends all genres of gaming.
Given that there is actually a fairly substantial selection of racing titles at launch for the PS3, it’s hard to say this game is better than the others. Sure there’s some great customization and some decent modes of play, but something just feels “off.” The fact that the graphics are actually worse than the 360s is a real blemish, and the controls, while passable, aren’t spectacular enough to warrant a purchase. The sixaxis addition is once again laughable, with only slight turning enhancements available. This definitely is not the best Need For Speed title that’s been produced, but they took bits and pieces from it and tried to add more to the game, which deserves some credit.

Overall: 7.5
Not a bad game, but something about it seems off. The autosculpting rocks as a feature, but the stagnant gameplay is not exactly propelled by the story mode.

— Jeff Paramchuk

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