Need for Speed: Carbon PSP Review

Need for Speed: Carbon PSP Review

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2/13/2007 12:07:59 AM
Need for Speed: Carbon PSP Review

By Rich Dixon

"You got your 'Grand Theft Auto' in my racing game!" "No, you got your racing game in my 'Grand Theft Auto!'"

And so the argument goes, round and round, among people who played "Need for Speed: Carbon" and came away understandably confused. On the one hand, we have all the standard "Need for Speed" elements: fast cars, pretty landscapes, and a physics system that can only be described as "forgiving." On the other, though, we find a large number of elements that are firmly associated with the GTA franchise: free-roaming, gangs, and a touchy relationship with the police. Someone on the NFS team looked at all the money Rockstar was raking in and thought to himself, "Hey, I like money, too! We should try to get a piece of that action." And so "Need for Speed: Carbon" was born, but is it a marriage made in heaven or an unholy alliance? Read on to find out!

If you've played any one of the "Need for Speed" games, you pretty much know the score: it will do its best to make you feel like you're going fast. Really fast. Where a more sim-driven racer like "Forza" requires you to exercise skill in keeping the car on the road, "Need for Speed" has long dispensed with that in the name of fun, and "Carbon" is no different--indeed, the game plays as if you have velcro tires, and only the most clumsy driving will ever put you out of a race once and for all. Another hallmark of "Need for Speed" is really pretty environments, and "Carbon" may be the best of the lot. You race through a variety of environments, from the center of the city to its outskirts, and it all looks great. There's a bit of a cartoonish feel to the visuals that keeps it from vying with the photorealism of some racing games, but as a general rule NFS games thumb their noses at realism anyway, so why should the visuals be any different? It works, and that's all that really matters.

I'm not a hardcore racer, and I can get pretty frustrated with games that make it hard to keep the car on the road. In a nutshell, I don't play games so they can remind me of what I can't do, I play them to enjoy the illusion of being able to do stuff that I can't. That's why I tend to gravitate to games that help me keep the car pointed in the right direction, and "Carbon" is solidly in that category. Occasionally I bounced off walls or other cars, but I never had trouble getting the car back under control and there were only a couple screw-ups bad enough to knock me out of the race. If you're a hardcore simulation fan, no doubt this would drive you nuts. If you just want to have fun, though, you'll probably agree with me that it's a good thing.

The "gang" aspect of the racing is by far "Carbon's" most distinctive and original feature, and likely it will determine whether you enjoy the game. When you race, you start out with a couple sidekicks who have specialties in the race: they'll get in front of you so that you can draft on them, or they'll knock another car out of the race, and so on. As you win races and conquer territories in the city, you can upgrade your "crew" with the leaders of vanquished rival gangs. There's also a semi-RPG aspect to this, since winning races not only brings you cash and territories, it also upgrades the skills of your teammates. This feature added an element of strategy that I've never seen in a racing game before, and I have to give the developers props for originality. In general I found the feature entertaining -- there's something undeniably satisfying about sending a hitman off to take out a rival car who's dust you've been eating -- but on another level it's a little troubling. In theory you're racing against rival gang members, but I never saw them drafting on one another, and I never saw a rival car drop a bed of nails to blowout my tires like my crew members were doing to them. The fact that I had these capabilities at my disposal but the computer-controlled cars did not gave the whole thing an air of cheating, as if I was playing the bad guy in someone else's movie. That's not to say I wouldn't use my crew members to win races -- winning is the only thing, after all -- but I didn't feel really great about it.

In sum, "Need for Speed: Carbon" is a very well produced arcade racer that adds a new and interesting strategic dimension to the racing action. Hardcore racing fans probably don't need that extra twist -- they like their racers just as they are -- but if you're more on the fringe of the genre, you should check this title out. It could be that "Carbon" has a special mix of ingredients that you'll find particularly tasty.

Ratings (1-10):

Graphics: 9. The "Need for Speed" graphics engine has long been among the best on the PSP.

Sound: 7. The voice work could have been better, particularly the African American characters (all of who sounded like they were voiced by Chris Rock).

Gameplay: 8. Standard racing action, but I enjoyed the element of strategy that the wingmen add.

Story: 5. Story? Right. There was a story ... somewhere.

Replayability: 7. Allegedly there are multiplayer modes, but I could never connect to the EA servers.

Overall: 7.5. Fast, pretty, and polished, with a new twist on the arcade racing genre.

Need for Speed: Carbon PSP Review

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