Review: Need for Speed: Carbon (Playstation 2)

In this review, we nail those pursuit breakers in the Playstation 2 game Need for Speed: Carbon. we find out if this racing game is worth a play.

This game was released in 2006. Our familiarity for this series only continues to grow.

Our experience with the series started on the original Playstation with Road & Track presents – The Need for Speed. That game got an OK score, but nothing amazing. Next up was Need for Speed II. That game got a barely passable score. We continued the series with Need for Speed III – Hot Pursuit. That game got an improved, though mediocre score. After that, we tried Need for Speed: High Stakes. That game continues the upward trajectory for the series, but still achieves a mediocre score. We wrapped things up for the original Playstation with Need for Speed – Porsche Unleashed. Unfortunately, that game bombed for us.

From there, we followed the series on to the Playstation 2 with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. That game really turned the series around and managed to earn a great score to boot. After that, we tried Need for Speed: Underground. That game got a pretty good score as well. From there, we tried Need for Speed: Underground 2. Unfortunately, that game continued the downward trajectory, but still manages to hold on to a pretty good score. Finally, we gave Need for Speed: Most Wanted a try. That game got a fairly good score, but still continues the downward trend. So, we continue the series to see if the next game manages to turn things around.

The first interesting thing about this game is the fact that it continues the general storyline. Having defeated Razor and escaped the police at Rockport, the protagonist heads for the city of Palmont. Evidently, the protagonist has been there before and has flashbacks of the last race he had. The police disable all of his opponents and manages to snag the prize bag. While every other racer is getting arrested, the protagonist manages to make his escape only to find the prize bag contains nothing but useless papers.

Cross (an antagonist from the previous game) then bumps the protagonists car (and bumps him back into reality in the process). Cross is now a bounty hunter and is trying to take down the protagonist. The protagonist is then tasked with escaping custody down a canyon road. After one particular bend, the protagonist finds himself sailing through a construction sight and slams into a truck, totalling his ride.

As Cross is getting ready to arrest him, someone else appears to intervene. Darius questions Cross and manages to convince him to not arrest the protagonist. Darius is surprised to see the protagonist coming back. Nikki also arrives and is furious that the protagonist has made a return. Darius then comes up with a plan and decides to get the protagonist back into the racing scene. Nikki is shocked, but Darius convinces her to go along with the plan.

Nikki then takes the protagonist and gets him to meet Neville. The player is introduced to three cars of his choice: Muscle, Tuners, and Exotics. The choice determines the game progression for the player. After basic training, the player is informed of the various crews seeking to take control of the city. In total, there are four crews vying for control of the city. It is up to the player to build up reputation and take over the city one race at a time.

A new feature in this game are wingmen. The player can only take one wingman into the race, but can hire three at a time. There are three types of wingmen: Blockers, scouts, and drafters.

The blockers (in my view, the most useful in the races) will impede an opponents progress by stopping them and spinning them out.

The scouts, when active, will turn on a trail for players to follow. These trails will take the player through the various shortcuts throughout the track.

Finally, there are drafters. Drafters will get out ahead of the player. When activated, players can tuck themselves behind the drafter and catch the streamline. One way of thinking of this is that it is basically a secondary nitro boost as long as you follow close behind the drafter. A trail will indicate where players can split into the streamline.

In each race, the player has an additional meter. This fills up exactly like nitro and speedbreaker: over time and on its own. If the meter lights up green, that means the player is able to activate the wingman and get them into action. As soon as the meter runs empty, the wingmen will be unable to help out until the meter gradually refills. If the meter shows grey, then the player can’t use the wingman at that point in time.

While wingmen are generally very good racers, they are not necessarily miracle workers. So, use them when it is most advantageous to go for it. For instance, if you and the wingman are 5 seconds behind the lead, you can activate that blocker. However, it is unlikely that the blocker is able to catch up to the opponent in question. Ideally, use the blocker while the wingman is at least ahead of the opponent. Even then, they aren’t perfect, but you are giving that wingman a fighting chance to do their job.

An added bonus is the fact that wingmen can also win races for you. If the wingman finishes first, even if you are dead last, it will still count as a win. So, for instance, you can get your blocker to try and catch up to an opponent five seconds ahead. That wingman won’t likely catch up, but in the process, that wingman will trip the speed trap and rack up some really good points in the process. So, knowing your wingman’s behaviour will give you an advantage over and above the intended use.

As for the game itself, this game follows along the open world concept where you can drive anywhere you like in the city. While you can drive from event to event, the pause menu features an ability to jump to any location or event of your choosing. This reduces the risk of running into police who will pursue you and build up your cars heat. Unlike the previous game, there’s not very many immediate benefits for escaping the police outside of avoiding impound strikes and fines. So, ideally, the jump to feature is probably your go-to feature if you are already familiar with the handling of your car and the city.

The city is divided into four areas. Each area is controlled by a particular crew. In order to take over a district, you need to beat two races. Generally speaking, there are usually two or three races available in a district. In districts with three races, two victories will still take over the district even though that last race is not yet beaten. Ideally, though, you’ll want to complete that last race both for the ability to unlock parts as well as the cash.

As you take over more districts, competing crews (typically the smaller ones) will attack your district from time to time. Jump to the race and defeat them in order to defend your territory. Otherwise, you run the risk of having territory taken away from you.

When you take over every district in the area, the crew that held the area will give you a challenge race. Win in the two (or three!) race challenge in order to successfully conquer the area. Conquered areas are still vulnerable to attack, but you do complete a chunk of the game in the process. In addition, defeating the boss of the area will unlock an additional wingman for you to use. Defeat every boss in the game and you’ll win.

As for the races themselves, this is where the new changes start to whither away. Like the previous games, there are new race types, used race types, and modified race types.

The only new race in this game is the canyon duel. Most canyon duels are boss challenges, but not all. This race is largely a sprint race. The difference is that there are two stages. The first stage is with your opponent ahead of you. The goal is to follow as close to your opponent as possible. If you fall behind far enough, you’ll get a 10 second warning. If you fail to catch up, you lose.

On the flip side, if you overtake your opponent for more than 10 seconds (hard to do even on the easiest races!), then you will win the race and skip stage two.

Otherwise, your goal is to rack up as many points as possible before the end of the race. The closer you are to your opponent, the faster your score will accumulate. Be warned that crashing into your opponent means a 5,000 point penalty.

After the race is over, you enter stage two of the race. In this stage, you are in the lead. Similar rules apply. If you pull away for more than 10 seconds, you win the race. If your opponent overtakes you, then you lose the race. Otherwise, it is all about points.

You start the race with the amount of points you earned from the previous stage. You need to gain as much distance as possible from your opponent. The closer your opponent is to you, the faster those points go down. If you run out of points before the finish line, then you lose. Cross the finish line with any number of points and you win the canyon duel.

Note that you can’t use nitro in these races.

Otherwise, races are largely the same as the previous games. Canyon race is simply a sprint race with four cars. First to the bottom wins.

Additionally, there are regular sprints, circuit races, speed trap challenges, and checkpoint races (was toll booth challenges in the previous game).

Making a return are drift races. These races are taken from Need for Speed: Underground 2. There are downhill and circuit drifts. The thing is that these races are modified largely from a physics perspective. Instead of points being awarded purely for angle and speed, points are awarded for more drift length and clean sections.

Speed helps you rack up points faster as there is a speed bonus. The maximum is 100MPH. Any speed after that is simply unnecessary for the most part. As you drift through a section, you’ll be awarded a point modifier. A clean section will increase your score by 1X. The more you are able to chain your clean sections, the higher the multiplier. You can also earn multiplier bonus for a perfect entry as well. Note that circuit drifts have drift sections. Cross the end of a section, and the multiplier will take effect.

While that makes it sound like the drifts are very easy, it is not. If you hit the wall at any time, then your multiplier bonus will be removed, leaving you with just the regular points you earned from the drift. While this isn’t that big of a deal in early races, this means the difference between winning and losing in later races.

If you stop drifting for a long enough period, then you break the chain. Your multiplier will take effect and you’ll be forced to start building a brand new chain.

Circuit drifts also have bonus areas like in the previous game, though it is noted that they only offer minor assistance to racking up points in the grand scheme of things.

A race removed from this game is the lap knockout.

Like most wanted, you can modify your car. You can increase your top speed, acceleration, and handling. This is through parts you can unlock. A slight modification to this system is the introduction of tiers. Each car not only has upgrades you can apply to them, but you must also unlock those parts for the three separate tiers as you upgrade your ride to something with a higher performance base of stats. These performance parts are unlocked through career wins.

Additionally, you can unlock visual upgrades and new cars from these wins. visual upgrades are also partially unlocked via the separate challenge races. You need to win golds to unlock the extra visual upgrades. Visual upgrades will lower the heat of your vehicle, though in the grand scheme of things, it is largely not worth it. You’re better off upgrading to an improved car which resets the heat completely.

District wins will unlock bonus parts as well.

In previous games, you’d have three different locations. There was the safe house, the auto-body shops, and car lots. In this game, the safe house and auto-body shops are basically consolidated into one location. This leaves safe houses and car lots for you to buy new cars. The different locations do not unlock additional parts or anything – it is largely a convenience factor if you are focused on getting from location to location in Free Roam mode.

One problem I highlighted in the previous game is the elastic effect on opponents. While this issue persists in this game, the wingmen do help counter this effect – especially blockers. So, this problem is dulled somewhat through this feature.

The difficulty curve is improved in this game. Yes, this game is easier, however, there are no real difficulty spikes to speak of and the difficulty is much smoother overall. So, I don’t say this is improved necessarily because it is easier, but because it doesn’t jump suddenly.

The jump to event feature is nicely done. I’m not entirely sure why jumping to car lots isn’t permitted through the world map in the safe house, but this is a minor issue. I’m on the world map 95% of the time anyway. For the remaining times, I can just leave the safe house and jump to the car lot if I need to. So, this issue isn’t that big of a deal for me.

The overall track layout is improved overall. The differences, however, d have pros and cons. On the pro side, it is a bit easier to drive thanks to the smoother turns and less objects on the road. Unfortunately, this does make it more difficult to escape police because you are largely on long and windy roads with fewer intersections.

One thing I will say that isn’t the greatest is the fact that if you hit a pursuit breaker right before a speed trap, your speed will drop because of the dramatic camera switch. As such, it makes races much more difficult, if not impossible, thanks to a simple camera change. So, the game is a bit buggy on that front. Fortunately for this game, this is a problem that doesn’t occur that often.

The changes in drift mode did make the drift mode less fun. I get why the changes were made, though. The changes made drift mode much more realistic. So, instead of doing nothing but fishtail techniques, the focus is largely on fast slides coming around bends. Not a huge downfall here, but I think I like the Underground version of drift better.

One thing I think is sorely missing in this game is truly unique races. What races are here are largely just rehashes of already existing race types. The canyon race is the only really innovative race here. Otherwise, it is largely the same type of races found in previous games. What is here is pretty decent all around, but there isn’t much here that screams bold, new, and innovative. That innovation is largely left to the territorial fighting you’d think was somehow inspired by Dune 2 for the most part.

Generally speaking, I came into this game thinking that this would be a less than impressive game. A lot of the reviews were seemingly less impressed by this title and the people I spoke to said that this might not be all that thrilling of a game. Surprisingly, I’d say this game does manage to turn the series around somewhat. Different features are improving and kinks are getting ironed out more. While it isn’t the most innovative game I’ve seen in the series, it still holds its own. Yes, it has some minor issues, but the gameplay is pretty solid.

Graphically speaking is decent enough. Some effects are simply carried over from previous entries such as the nitro boost effects. The camera shake from going over rough terrain or hitting particularly huge speeds is interesting, but nothing I haven’t seen before. The constant night does make for repetitive scenery, however, the variances and features are well done. I also think the added mix of live acting is pretty good. So, while it is decent all around, the game doesn’t boast mind-blowing graphics either.

Audio is something I am happy to see improvement on. Ever since the first Underground, music has been gradually declining in overall quality to the point of just being mediocre. This game, however, changes things nicely by mixing in some original music for a lot of the races. The licensed music does return here, but the original compositions take centre stage. As a result, the original music actually steals the show to the point where the licensed music is barely noticeable. The only problem here is the fact that there could have been more music to keep things varied. Otherwise, it’s a pretty solid effort.

The sound effects are also decent enough thanks to the voice acting. While carried over from the previous game for the most part, the added lines from wingmen adds new life to the library. So, it’s a very solid effort on this front if you ask me.

Overall, this franchise has been languishing somewhat in the quality department ever since Underground 2. The downward trajectory did make me think that Hot Pursuit 2 and Underground was a flash in the pan and that quality wasn’t going to return. This game, while not entirely innovative and has its flaws, does manage to turn things around for this series for the better. A big thanks goes to the improved difficulty curve as well as the interesting map feature. The graphics does manage to keep things decent enough, but the big improvement is the audio with original music and new lines on the voice acting front. While I hesitate to call this a great game, this one offers enough to make me think that things are turning around for the better for this series. So, a pretty solid game all around.

Furthest point in game: Beat the game. Earned 6 golds, 6 silvers, and 7 bronzes in the challenge mode as well just for fun.

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 76%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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