Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Need For Speed Carbon Review

I was watching TV one night when a commercial came on for Need For Speed Undercover, and I thought to myself, "Hey, that looks pretty good!" It got me thinking about the Need For Speed series, when it occurred to me that while I'd totally ignored the original PlayStation/3D0 era of Need For Speed games, I've bought every Need For Speed since the PlayStation 2 debuted except for last year's Need For Speed Pro Street. There were reasons for that. While Hot Pursuit 2, the first of the PS2 era, had awesome exotic cars and insane tracks, and the rest of the Need for Speed series had arcade-style street racing and car customization, Pro Street was a hybrid arcade-sim racer. I loved Hot Pursuit 2, and I loved the Underground series. I really loved Most Wanted, and I even enjoyed Carbon. Something about Pro Street just didn't grab my attention.

From the commercials, though, Need For Speed Undercover seemed like a return to Need For Speed Most Wanted. And I was hungry for a racing game after all the shooters and what not I'd been playing. The reviews weren't so good, though, but my desire to play a new Need For Speed held out (I also bought Pro Street to complete the collection).

Of course, after playing for awhile on the Xbox 360, I got sidetracked by Gears of War 2, and Fallout 3, and Crysis Warhead, and so on and so forth. I wound up selling my Xbox 360 copy to buy some games, and and just now got around to playing through the PC version. But I digress.

Ultimately, I'm not sure what the reviewers are carping about. Yeah, the story is pretty lame and predictible, but do you really need a story to race fast cars? The selection of cars is great, including both the Evo IX and the Evo X (I'm a HUGE fan of the Lancer Evolution family of cars from Mitsubishi), the Shelby GT500KR (aka the new KITT on Knight Rider), Nissan's new GT-R, and the Bugatti Veyron, aka the fastest car in the world until just about a year before the game's release. The city is huge, with three distinct areas. Reviewers complained that you don't have a reason to drive around since you can jump to any event from the GPS map, but I personally think that's great, since it puts you right into the action. New race types Outrun and Highway Battle join series staples like Circuit, Sprint, and Checkpoint, although I do miss Speed Trap events.

Some of the reviewers have claimed the game is too easy, but I have to wonder if those reviewers actually finished the whole game. I found myself dominating early events, but as I scraped together enough cash to buy a car when the next tier of cars became available, I found the competition to be pretty tough until I could afford to upgrade my new purchase. Perhaps those reviewers took advantage of a new feature in Undercover: the ability to use real money to immediately purchase cars and parts that are either still locked or you don't have the in-game cash for. Not something I'd actually recommend doing, though. Especially on the PC version, when you can simply use a trainer if you're that desperate.

There are a few things to complain about. The most obvious, the one that you'll notice right away, is the ridiculous amount of lens flare. That leaves the car models too shiny to often notice the incredible amount of detail that went into the car models, and it makes the scenery run together in a big orange, brown, and blue blur. Speaking of detail, was it just me, or did the 360 version look noticably better than the PC version? Finally, I might be a minority here, but I actually don't care for the cops. Nothing was more frustrating in Most Wanted than completing all your objectives for a cop mission, only to spend the next hour trying to escape from them and ultimately getting caught. While the cop missions don't seem to be as controller-tossing frustrating as they were in Most Wanted, they do seem overly aggressive. Often I'd blow by the one chasing me, only to find another just materialize ahead of me. This is especially irritating in the middle of the game, when you have missions that require you to lose the cops AND get to a certain point in a certain time.

On really nice thing about Undercover is that it doesn't overstay its welcome. Just when you think you've seen enough of Tri-City and are starting to go through the motions, you'll find yourself doing the games final "jobs."

In any case, disregard any reviews you read except for this one, because all those "professionals" that gave the game a 5 (IGN) or some other poor score are simply full of crap. Even the 7's (Game Informer, Gamespot) are probably off-base (although one could argue about the merits of a number-based system, which is why I don't use one). Undercover might not be quite up to the excellence that Most Wanted was, but it trumps both Pro Street and Carbon, which makes it the second-best NFS game on the Xbox 360. IGN's "buy Midnight Club LA instead" doesn't even take into account that NFS and Midnight Club don't offer the same kind of experience and never has (I should mention that I'm not a huge fan of the Midnight Club series).

The bottom line is this: if you're a fan past Need For Speeds, Need For Speed Undercover is a great game and worthy addition to the series. If you're expecting Burnout, Gran Turismo, Ridge Racer, or Midnight Club, go buy Burnout, Gran Turismo, Ridge Racer, or Midnight Club, because Undercover, as the title clearly states, is a Need For Speed game.

Final Score: B

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