Friday, 12 June 2015

The Past and Times of Yore: Need for Speed Carbon, the last great underground

Release Date: November 3rd 2006
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Electronic Arts
Platform: Windows, Mac OS X, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable
Players: 1 and Multiplayer
Classification: ESRB: E10+

I must say I am loathe to review Need for Speed Carbon now but only because I have not yet reviewed the other two great Need for Speed games I have played as yet which are Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 and Need for Speed: Underground 2, which I have played previously so I’ll do a bit of a brief history for those games that I do hope to make a proper review in the future and my experience with the Need for Speed series itself.

Ahh the stillness of night NEEEYOWWW!

Though technically the first NFS game I played was Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit which when looking at some footage takes me back actually though this was back in 1998 when I didn’t really know how to player proper racing games (only knew Mario Kart lol) and didn’t have a gamepad, I also really didn’t have the best computer but the game back then was pretty rough with glitchy jaggedy sketchy graphics. The most fun I had out of the game was downloading custom cars which were anything from monster trucks to ridiculously fast hovercars and even a train, I now wish I could go back and try again just to see if I could play it right but I know just like with other old games you try to go back to it’d get old pretty quickly and would be pretty pointless anyway.

Ahh Need for Speed 3: Hot Pursuit, can't say it looked good, but was fun
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 pretty much spawned my love for semi-realistic racers, I say semi because although they had a lot more driving detail and realism then other more arcade style racers (similar to the Burnout series) they were still primitive with real-life details compared to the real simulators such as iRacing. But to me this was a healthy medium at the time the graphics looked amazing, a huge step up from the first Hot Pursuit, and I enjoyed racing properly and outrunning the cops or being one.

Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2, one of the best I've played, car detail was amazing, this Holden HSV has some pretty damn good colours hah
 It wasn’t until Need for Speed: Underground that the series took the turn into the underground tuner world where it was great fun taking a relatively normal car and upgrading it into a beast complete with custom paint, bodykits, wheels etc. I did have fun with the game but unfortunately did not enjoy it completely due to the difficulty and steep learning curve the first game of this genre took. It wasn’t until Need for Speed: Underground 2 came that I got to truly appreciate an underground racing game, Underground 2 had a great learning curve and the difficulty setting were much better as if you were having trouble you could easily set the difficulty to easy (unlike the previous game where it didn’t really change much) it also was one of the first to feature an open world to drive around which was awesome and so were the graphics for the time, it featured an ok story but great customisation and race types inc drift and drag the latter which was missing from Carbon.

Underground 2 had an amazing amount of customization options.
The latest Need for Speed game that I did play however was Need for Speed: Most Wanted the version brought back police chases and was mostly set in the daylight though didn’t quite have the feel that I liked as the police presence in the game felt too pressed, I much preferred the racing against the other racers though I must admit the blacklist was pretty damn challenging and the customization wasn’t the best.

Man I'm so tense!
 So on to Need for Speed Carbon, this and Underground 2 were hard to beat but I think I like Carbon better for various reasons, I suppose between the two of them they had the best formula for the underground racing out of any other game available. I started playing Carbon quite late after the release, as after playing Underground and Underground 2 on the Playstation 2 I needed another game where I could drive Exotic cars such as Lamborghini and Ferrari’s and needed something to replace Hot Pursuit 2, so I discovered Test Drive Unlimited and played for quite a while that before wanting to go back to something more underground, and Carbon was the newest available at the time (I think).

Test Drive Unlimited, my replacement for Hot Pursuit 2
There was a few things I liked about the game compared to Underground 2 and Most Wanted, firstly it was night again not day, which was more suited to street racing though a mixture of the two would have been ok, I liked the crews with crew colours and leaders and making your own crew, I liked the three different types of car classes and how they differed from each other, I liked the difficulty and difficulty curve, but most of all I liked the customization especially the Autosculpt feature which was lots of fun to use. As I said before Carbon is the last true Underground games of the series which involved the Player though it appears that the newest edition simply titled “Need for Speed” (Sigh it’s going to be the ‘Alien vs Predator’ series all over again) seems like it’s going back to the underground roots after the series went for a silly turn with Need for Speed: ProStreet which put me off the series until now.

You could get some interesting results with the autosculpt feature
I didn’t actually know this before but after reading the wiki I realised that the original street racer Player that you play as through the Underground, Underground 2, Most Wanted and Carbon games is the same person and is actually originally from Palmont City. As the game starts with a flashback of a race/deal gone wrong in Palmont City with the characters from Carbon, it’s then said that the player flees the city before going to Olympic City (NFS Underground) Bayview (NFS Underground 2) Rockport (NFS Most Wanted) then apparently heads back to Palmont where everyone is talking about what happened  when they left (though you have no idea about this at the time). So anyway the player (aka you) is driving through a Canyon in Palmont City after escaping Rockport with your reclaimed BMW M3 GTR from Razor when Cross who you may know from Most Wanted appears and rams you into oblivion wrecking your BMW. He then tries to arrest you for the bounty as he is now a bounty hunter specifically to try and stop you, before Darius shows up in his Audi Quattro Le Mans and gets rid of Cross. He then says to you that he’ll get Cross of your back if you take out all the other Gangs and take over their Territories in the city, there are four main crews in the city currently along with a leader and type of cars they drive who you did your original ill-fated race with. 

21st Street Crew - Angie – Muscle Cars

Bushido - Kenji – Tuners

TFK - Wolf – Exotics

Stacked Deck - Darius – Various

Intro video and introduction showing the current story.

There are also several minor crews who own turf which you take over, they can also challenge and take over other crews turf including yours. So anyway they have every right to be pissed off you with inc Nikki (who is apparently your former girlfriend but is now with Darius) though she agrees to help you and introduces you to Neville and gives you your first car which you get to choose from a Tuner, Exotic or Muscle style and then shows you the ropes. This bit takes place in an area called San Juan which I only found out now isn’t accessible in free roam, it’s basically just used for the tutorials and has some quick race events. The usual Nitrous and Speedbreaker make a return for this game though as with Most wanted I did forget to use most of the time which is more realistic in anyway even if it does make it easier for getting into shortcuts/dodging cars police etc. You are also shown the games crew racing features, basically you have 3 types of crew members you can take out on the track:

Blockers – Block a designated car to help you

Drafters – Create a slipstream for you to  “slingshot” your car from sort of like another Nitrous boost

Scouts – Find shortcuts for you which are marked on the map after found.

Nikki creates a "Draft" in front of me (I never really learned to use this properly)
You start off with Neville who is a blocker which I didn’t find too helpful, a lot of the time they have trouble keeping up and can’t reach rival cars to block them (often saying they just can’t reach them) Drafters are just too complicated for when you’re trying to race, I know they could be good when used properly but they muck up your racing line and you end up crashing into them. Personally I just used Scouts throughout the whole thing, Sal at first then Yumi (yum!) later, because of a few reasons: 1. They find out the shortcuts which are immensely helpful. They consistently drive ahead of you but although you end up crashing into them sometimes I found that half the time they ended up winning the race for you and a handful of times I wasn’t even in second place so it saved me, and 3. Yumi is damn sexy. Neville and Sal join your crew independently Colin, Samson and Yumi (and eventually Nikki) all join from other crews most of which do after you have defeated the crew leader.

Yumi's intro video, fwaorr!

Crew members give other benefits too and have an ability when they are an active crew member and another that affects race and winning races. You can only have 3 crew members active so unfortunately you can’t use all of their abilities.

Fabricator – These guys allow the use of the autosculpt feature, you need to recuit both Colin and Sal to make full use of autosculpt.

Fixer – Neville and Samson give you more money and less heat from the cops after each race.

Mechanic – Interestingly these are both girls (Yumi and Nikki) and they give you either more or a discount on car purchases which is very useful when purchasing the higher end cars.

Your crew window allowed you to organize which members you wanted to be part of the crew providing their career and race bonuses (if active)
You then need to create your crew identity, to start off I didn’t really bother doing the whole crew thing I just made a logo and gave a crew name racing with crew members but not thinking about it really. I think I’ve played the game at least 3 times now maybe 4 and using each car type once though I think it was the first time I tried the Muscle Car class I had noticed in the past that each crew had their own colours and paint type. So I decided I’d do it with my crew as well which was quite as there are 3 tiers of cars and once you obtain a car that is a higher tier so does your crew, meaning that you not only had to repaint your car in the crew colours but all your crew members too, well at least the ones you were using. The territory part is pretty self explanatory, you start with no territory and have to win races to gain ground (while other crews do the same thing) and eventually challenge the crew leader of that area, you also start in a different area depending on which car you chose. As you fight for territory you’ll take over areas though sometimes the smaller gangs challenge you to take them back and you have to defend your territory which is kind of annoying sometimes as when you just want to finish up.

So basically you’re on a mission to take over territories for Darius until things get ugly later on, your other enemies apart from the rival crews is the Police who make a return but are fortunately not as prominent then in Most Wanted, they still give chase close to the end of some races and you are forced to evade utilizing Pursuit Breakers once again. Your cars can gain heat which makes them more prone to police pursuits though you can bring down the heat by using crew member abilities, impound strike markers or get out of jail free cards that you obtain from beating the crew leaders. You obtain a number of rewards card when you take over each territory, you can choose two cards from the set which give you more car upgrades or the set with gives you random things like impound strike markers, free cash and/or the pink slip to your opponents car. I personally picked all the latter ones as you obtain the car upgrades anyway and it equalled more money as you could sell the cars.

Police chases make a return but are easily avoided or evaded, heat can be lowered especially when using the right crew members.
Racing in the game is not too different from before there are your usual circuit and point- point sprint races,  the sometimes difficult speedtrap races which I remember from both Most Wanted and Test Drive Unlimited 2 and the Checkpoint races which is basically time trial. To my great excitement Drift races make a return to the game since Underground 2 and there are two types, arena and canyon. Arena is the same as before set in a drift arena which you do two laps and Canyon drift is basically the downhill drift from previously except there is a danger of falling off the edge. Speaking of Canyons there is also the new Canyon duel mode where you duel the crew leaders after beating them in a circuit.

Faceoff with Kenji before the street Race

How Canyon duel works is that you start off chasing your opponent and trying to get as close as possible to them, the closer you are the more your score goes up (extra for shunting) if you happen to pass them you win automatically. On the way back down they are chasing you and your score is going down so you must get down the bottom before it runs out. I found this mode pretty challenging but fun at the same time, managing to pass and outrun some bosses in the process. The game modes consist of the Career mode, Quick race, Challenge series and the Reward cards, the challenge series is a set list of challenges encompassing pretty much everything you do in the game and the reward cards are like achievements, both of these unlock more content to use in the game and career mode.

Canyon Duel with Wolf, doesn't take me long to pass him

With the controls, I used the same setup I had from Test Drive Unlimited. Using my Logitech PS3 style controller I used one stick for accelerating and braking the other for steering, speedbreaker, handbrake and crew member activate were all on the top and the triangle button was for look behind (this is what mucked me up a bit when first starting to play GTA5 as I was repeatedly jumping from moving cars). The difficulty of controlling the cars depended on the type of course, the tuners cornered well but had low top speed, the muscle cars accelerated the fastest but weren’t quick in the corners though I found they were very tailslide happy which actually worked and I didn’t have too  much trouble with them in the Canyon runs. The exotics had the best top speed and I liked them the most as they were the best all-round.

Muscle cars aren't good on cornering but I fared ok.
The car customization in this game was one of the best yet rivalled only by Underground 2 which possibly had the largest selection of customization options available. One good thing about Carbon was that you could fast-track your performance by selecting the “optimise performance” which basically gave your car the highest all-round performance available for the car which is great for people like me who are all about visual customization and don’t know anything about tuning. You can actually upgrade and edit your performance yourself for example if you’d like to have a separate car specifically for drifting as it wouldn’t matter how fast/slow it was as that’s not what drifting is about but I prefer to just have it done automatically so I can use the car for everything. Carbon introduced the Autosculpt feature for car customisation, this was quite fun to do as you could basically choose a set of bumpers, side skirts, wheels ,hoods etc and which would then morph into the shape when you moved the sliders bars across.

Using the vinyl editing options you could make any vinyl a body vinyl really though technically you could see the difference when stretched.
Basically the way it works was that the part would start off basic looking then would get more and more cut/warped as the bar went across and if you pushed the bars all the way to the end that was the maximum the part could be changed. For example a spoiler could have 3 bars, one which changed the height of the spoiler, once which changed the length and one which changed how much it dipped. I used this mode in moderation though as maxing out these features often made your car look pretty damn silly, impractical and over-the-top however there were some very awesome designs and I loved seeing how some parts turned out for example the autosculpt bonnets for some Muscle cars often had pop-up engines.

The classic muscle cars had some of the best looking autosculpt hoods available.
As well as the autosculpt there was the usual aftermarket parts though the only difference was the wide body kits that were only available in the aftermarket section, and unfortunately you couldn’t quite mix and match bodykit parts between the two sections. This kinda sucked as when choosing a bodykit it automatically gave you a certain shape/size of exhaust tip for example but you couldn’t then edit the size of it as this option was only in the autosculpt section but this was a minor detail. The visual menu included a wide range of car paint including, gloss, metallic, matte, candy, chrome and pearlescent . The Vinyls probably got the biggest transformation as you could now move them around the car as well as mirror, flip, skew and rescale them, making pretty much any single vinyl become a body vinyl if you wanted it to, you also have the option to reorganise the layers as per usual. Apart from that though there is not much else apart from wheel paint, window tint and the ability to adjust the ride height, features still missing from Underground 2 were Neon and Spinners and also the very intricate detailed things Underground 2 had like Hi-Fi Systems, NOS Purge colouring, Custom Gauges, Split Hoods and Custom Doors. This was a shame cause unlike Most Wanted this game was entirely set in the night-time. Still it didn’t detract too much from making an awesome looking car, most of the time my cars had the same colours and similar design style as I was trying to simulate the crew colours to the crews had but adding my own personal touch for example my last tuner crew had a shark logo and were called “JAWS” XD and the colours were blue and light blue.

This is a shot from the end of the game where I have taken over all territories, proudly showing my "JAWS" crew logo
The graphics in the game were good for the time that they came out, though there was an awful lot of motion blur and screen shake used. Though I guess it did create a pretty good illusion of speed and chaos specifically because driving at 200km/h plus things might start getting a little blurry and very shuddery, the whole thing looked ok though it was perpetual night but that was ok as that suits the Underground style, the cars looked good and the special effects even more so. Some of the scenery and civilian cars a little basic but looked ok as you were speeding past them most of the time. The cutscenes in the NFS Underground series are some of the most unique I’ve seen, their so heavily CGI’d that even the live action actors look like they are CGI (which may have been the point I guess) also everyone seems to be wearing very noticeable designer suede jackets which looks kind of funny. The cutscenes are also quite funny with Darius mispronouncing Cross’ name as “Crock” and “Craw” and basically any scene with Neville in it.

Amusing scene with Nikki, Neville and Sal

Music was quite interesting with this one as the game had quite a large soundtrack which is played through the menu’s, cutscenes and when in free roam mode though when you are actually racing or being chased by police the game’s original score is played which in most races was actually context sensitive as it got more dramatic towards the end of the race. I liked the artist tracks of the game as I knew some of them inc (Ladytron and Lady Sovereign) and they worked well with the game’s cutscenes. The sound effects were fine, had no problem with them, a lot of sound (especially the police) was brought over from most wanted but that was ok.

The original score was very good especially in the opening scene of the "Race Wars" events
 Overall I’d hate to make this a comparison between Underground 2 but both games have their merits in different areas, Carbon has better and more recent graphics obviously though I would actually like to see how the PC version of Underground 2 looks with all the graphics cranked up to full. Carbon has the better storyline and much better cutscenes with actual live acting as Underground 2 just had moving storyboard art and the addition of the crews and the tuner, muscle and exotic class work well, I actually much prefer classic muscle cars then the SUV’s which Underground 2 had. Underground 2 though it didn’t have the autosculpt feature it still had a more detailed level of customisation for your car and also a larger list of game modes inc Street X and Drag. However Carbon was enough and compiled with an awesome storyline and career mode and all the extra bits it needed was a great package and one of the best of the Underground series.


I like this shot a lot, looks slick.

Here in our cars

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