Considering its release just one year after Need for Speed Most Wanted, the changes to Carbon are incredible. Re-used assets are apparent, but the developers have found a way to craft a brand new gameplay experience. In today's gaming climate, that's a stunning achievement.
That doesn't necessarily add up to a great title. However, in the case of Need for Speed Carbon, it can easily buck that trend. This is a consistent franchise, and new features always add up to another fun drive.
The first change is team based racing. At first, the mechanic falls flat. It seems out of place and somewhat pointless. For some, especially those adept at memorizing track designs, they might be for the entire game. For others, the ability to call in a team member and have them block an opposing racer in the lead to give you the advantage will prove invaluable. Other crew members can lower the bill when buying new parts or set up a draft to open up a brief speed boost.
In an odd design call, finishing first isn't always necessary. Should your chosen team member cross the line in the top spot, you still gain all the winnings. This immediately leads to a sense of easier play, an arguable improvement given how brutal Most Wanted would turn out in its final stretch.
Police chases return, as do the franchises basic race types. Two new styles are now available, one which is a success, and second that should forever be forgotten. Canyon racing is not the latter, creating an intense sense of speed and danger. One misstep could send your vehicle over the edge of a cliff ending the race immediately. To add an extra layer, you'll need to stick close to your opponent, or risk running out of time.
The second new addition is drift racing, featuring completely different mechanics from the standard driving. The controls take a turn for the worse, making it impossible to avoid an over steer. It's of course manageable with extended practice, but if you're in a situation where one of these is a requirement to advance, that easier difficulty rapidly fades.
Carbon still features a free-ride map, along with a GPS system that allows for immediate set up of races and challenges in your quest to gain territory from rival gangs of street racers. The series drops its dreary, muted tones for a brightly lit and heavily detailed environment. All tracks take place at night, which is slightly tiring and too close to the previous Underground edition of the series.
That's not the only recycled content. The video style is familiar on purpose to help the game mesh with Most Wanted as this is a direct sequel. Time constraints are apparent with recycled music, voice work, and an exact copy of the menu interface. Thankfully, the work went into keeping the gameplay fresh is appreciated.
Most Wanted completely fell apart online, and two new modes of play give Carbon the spark its predecessor needed. In one, the last place car at the end of a lap is turned into a cop and is tasked with taking down other racers to earn points. The second makes all cars but one police. That singled out car must avoid everyone. Once tagged, the cop car making the move becomes the racer. This is the type of online play that can breathe new life into the series when the career mode sputters out in drift racing.
With extensive customization (including an expansive ability to modify every part via sliders), Carbon is an arcade racer that nicely slides into become a game for car nuts and fans of pure racing. It had potential to break out into something completely fresh, but given the time frame, Carbon is a success worthy of the Need for Speed name.
Need for Speed is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Violence. This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS, GBA, GameCube, PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii and Xbox.