Now as we all know, EA are a greedy publisher. Their development team Black Box on the other hand are actually not that bad and it shows through Need For Speed Carbon.
Completely ignoring the controversy behind EA, I’m giving Need For Speed Carbon a fair chance. Need For Speed Carbon is available for many platforms but I chose the Wii version. Why, I have no idea, possibly because I just got a Wii at that point. So I’ll be reviewing the Wii version.
To start with we have the visuals. I honestly think that the visuals of Need For Speed Carbon are a vast improvement over its predecessors and still hold up well today. All the cars look nice and shiny and there are some great lighting effects on the paint work. The dark neon lit urban sandbox returns from Need For Speed Underground 2 which is good considering the bright, sunny Rockport kinda got tiring after a while, plus it provides a fitting environment to show off the game’s lighting effects.
I really like Palmont City a lot as it has a lot of cool areas, particularly in Silverton and unlike Rockport which had very few memorable landmarks, Palmont has plenty. This can help out a lot with the police chases as it helps to know where you are on the map and the visuals are a lot bolder and clearer due to the game’s darker environment allowing you to identify light easier. All in all though, I really think Carbon does well in the visual department.
But what really matters in games like this is the racing. First things first though I have to bring up the controls as they are easily the most interesting part of the Wii version. Unlike the other versions, the Wii version utilizes the Wii remote which requires you to tilt it to steer (kind of like a steering wheel). This can turn a lot of people off at first and can seem quite intimidating, its a bit like transitioning from the DK Bongo’s to the Gamecube controller in Donkey Konga, it just feels awkward. The bad thing is that there aren’t any conventional controller options, though there are still a few options here and there which require the Wii remote and nunchuck, I felt that the default controls were ultimately the least clunky of the bunch.
With that said, the Wii remote operates fine by itself. You use 2 to accelerate, 1 to brake and the best bit, A to hand brake. My god I can’t think of any racing game where I’ve ever used the hand brake as much as this, and it handles so smoothly too. This is partly due to the mechanics of the steering which are very fast and surprisingly responsive even on the Wii version. Cornering feels so quick when using the hand brake that you will conquer most corners effortlessly, it’s as if you never need to use the brakes. This does not make the brakes useless however as you will often use them on sharp corners or to stabilize your ride to stop it from sliding around.
In addition, there is speed breaker which can be used by pressing down on the d pad (or from a horizontal position, you press right on the d pad). Speed breaker is so ridiculously abusive though it’s not even funny. Like Nitrous, it regenerates over time, so you can use it on nearly every corner and it’s really fun to do so. This can be a good thing as it makes the game more accessible for newcomers to the series and ultimately makes the game more fun as it’s cool to watch your car drift around corners carrying the weight of all it’s speed. It’s as if they knew exactly how to make an engaging arcade racer.
As with previous installments, you have your nitrous to give yourself an extra boost, this can be done by pressing right on the d pad (or up horizontally) and can be useful at getting your speed back after a sharp turn. Something new however is crew abilities. Crew abilities allow you to either stop your opponent in their tracks or draft behind a crew member to gain some speed. As if speed breaker didn’t make it easy enough in Most Wanted, now you have another racer on your side who can win the races for you. Talk about hand-holding.
In addition, crew members have rubber band AI. This is usually a good thing since they stay with you, particularly if they’re a drafter but sometimes they get in your way and you end up ramming into their rear bumper with them complaining at you for driving like a lunatic when it was their fault. In addition, it can make a fun challenge to beat your teammate in a race as they generally play on the same level as you making them a tough challenge. Sometimes however your ally can be found all the way back in last place. Sometimes it’s because they hit a wall directly, sometimes a pursuit breaker blocks their way, this can even happen to the enemy racers too which is hilarious.
To step things up there’s the canyon races. These races are Need For Speed Carbon’s most stand-out feature. Canyon races turn off both nitrous and speed breaker, forcing you to drive with pure skill. The hand holding essentially disappears completely here and whilst the arcade racing mechanics might help a little, the tracks theme around tight corners and thin roads which are designed to intimidate the player. This makes canyon races some of the best this game has to offer, they’re intense and really fun. Essentially, canyons are the ultimate test of your driving ability in the Need For Speed series.
Canyon’s are tough but not tough enough for the Dodge Viper
Police chases make a return and they’re more or less the same as they were in Most Wanted with a few alterations. Police helicopters will no longer follow you on the map, why they removed them is unknown. Additionally, spike strips are not as effective as they were in Most Wanted and it’s possible to outrun the cops without tires as opposed to slowing down to 0 mph.
As Palmont is a more cramped space, with lots of corners, there are a lot of quick exits to escape from the cops, and without the helicopters, the police will have a harder time finding you. This makes the cop chases in NFS Carbon a lot more forgiving than Most Wanted and are still just as enjoyable though they can sometimes be a pain. That being said, police pursuits have no impact on your career progression and for the most part you will rarely encounter them, especially not as often as you do in Most Wanted. It is cool to see them return though and not be completely ruined like they are in more recent NFS titles.
Police Pursuits are just as exciting as they were in Most Wanted
Another returning feature is the drift challenges from Need For Speed Underground 2 which have replaced the Drag races in Need For Speed Most Wanted (which I personally hated). Drifts couldn’t be more fun with the Wii remote, not to mention more challenging and rewarding. I swear your arms will hurt after a while as drifting requires you to corner some really sharp turns without touching the railings. The higher the speed the more points you get.
I personally find drifts to be really fun though I can understand how they can be a huge turnoff to some. Still, I find them a lot more bearable than Drag races which were a glorified car frogger simulation with manual transmission (automatic all the way, sorry, I just suck with manual transmission, it’s the main reason why I never learned to drive IRL).
“Cornering feels so quick when using the hand brake that you will conquer most corners effortlessly, it’s as if you never need to use the brakes”
And that pretty much covers the general game play experience of Need For Speed Carbon but that’s not the only thing Need For Speed Carbon has going for it. Like all good street racing games, you gotta have some good car customization. It is something the Need For Speed games have been lacking for a while now and Carbon is arguably the best of the bunch in this category (though some argue pro street which I personally disagree with despite them being very similar as to me, the cars look a lot better in Carbon which makes the customization feel more desirable).
Like previous NFS titles, you can customize your rims, hoods, add a few vinyl’s here and there but what stands out the most is the game’s autosculpt system. This allows you to freely adjust the shape and size of your cars body to give it its own look. In addition, the number of vinyl slots is now limitless. This is the one thing that annoyed me the most about NFS Most Wanted, the fact that you could only pick one vinyl which was stupid as Underground 2 allowed you to have up to 4. Carbon rectify’s this problem by giving you limitless design possibilities. I guarantee you will never see two of the same car in NFS Carbon… unless they’re deliberately designing the same car.
Unlike the other games in the series, Need For Speed Carbon comes with its own original soundtrack. Instead of just throwing money at licensed music (which they still do with their EA Trax), they actually managed to design their own to accompany it. So if you don’t want to listen to licensed music, you can just turn it off and still listen to the game’s OST. I actually really like the OST as it’s intense (the cop chases still use the remixed version of The Mann), particularly the music that plays in the canyons which has a lot of heavy percussion.
The biggest issue with NFS Carbon is it’s length. The career mode is sadly very short, there are only 4 boss fights (each with both a circuit and canyon race) and the career can be a little too easy to beat. With all of its hand holding features like the speed breaker and your crew, the game can easily be beaten in a few hours. The final race however is really tough and it can really suck for people who have a low acceleration car as your opponent is driving the best car in the game with perfect handling down one of the game’s most twistiest tracks.
To make up for this, there is a lot of replay value to be had in NFS Carbon. Aside from the career mode there is also the challenge series. Though it doesn’t offer half as much content as NFS Most Wanted, it’s still there and has you driving some cars that are unavailable in career mode which is cool. In addition there are reward cards which are basically in-game achievements which reward you with new car parts, visuals and cars to unlock in Quick Race (the game’s multi-player). I actually went out of my way to get all of the reward cards in the game and it was a lot of fun replaying the game again each time to get them (though I set up a new alias as I wasn’t fond of losing all my pimped out cars to complete some of the reward cards).
The Wii version doesn’t have online multi-player but split screen is still there and can still be fun with a friend. It’s pretty bog standard and sadly there is no coop free roam like in Midnight Club 3 but it’s still quite fun for a little bit though you’ll eventually get bored and move on to something else.
All in all, Carbon is a solid entry in the series and is my personal favorite. As a racer, it’s up there, but it ain’t got nothing on F-Zero GX.
Advice to all Wii version owners: Play in first person perspective, trust me, it makes a huge difference. Oh and stick with default controls and learn them. You will grow to love this game.
Lifespan: Very Short
Licensed Cars? Yes
Would you replay? Yes
Remember to purchase a used copy!!!