EA is not making many good games right now. More specifically, EA Sports. NCAA 2006 had a game-stopper of an error for the PSP version. Madden had issues with fatigue and their Hall of Fame mode. At first they were ignored but eventually corrected (even if they were a bit of a pain to fix). The Xbox 360 version of FIFA 07 was horribly gimped compared to its last-generation brethren. And most recently, NBA Live has come under fire for some pretty spectacular gaffes on EA’s part (you can see my favorites in this video). Then, when things couldn’t get worse, they announced that they’d be releasing “strategy guides” and “Classic Stadiums” on Xbox Live Marketplace. For Microsoft points. As in points you paid real money for. EA isn’t doing a very good jump of winning over gamers.
So I decided to see if EA could at least get a next-gen racing game right. I played a lot of Need for Speed: Underground and I love Burnout 3, both under the EA Games umbrella. So how would Need for Speed: Carbon stack up?
What exactly is the premise behind Carbon? As far as I can tell, it’s a street racing game where you a part of a “crew.” You race with your crew against rival crews for control of neighborhoods. Based on your performance in the different races and drift competitions, you can challenge a rival in a race through the canyon (one of these being named “Carbon Canyon”). You win the race, you take control of that neighborhood. Makes sense, right? Honestly, do you need a reason to race really fast cars?
The demo is pretty straightforward. You have three cars to choose from: a tuner, a muscle car, and an exotic car. The cars are customizable, but with a different manner of customization that I don’t really like. Instead of using off-the-shelf, real life parts, you can adjust how different components of the car looks using a bunch of sliders. You can adjust the look of your rims, the bumbers, the hood, things like that. I prefer the garage where you buy actual parts and customize your car that way. I’m sure they didn’t provide all the customization tools with the demo, but the ones they did include didn’t woo me at all.
Once you pick your car and customize it to your liking, you then can compete in three events, a race with your crew, a drift competition (those familiar with the Underground series will recognize that) and finally a challenge through the canyon. The race with your crew is pretty straight-forward. You can use your crew to either race ahead and try to finish first or fall behind and block cars as you race ahead. I wasn’t sure how the mechanics of using your crew worked, so I just raced ahead and won the race. Nothing too exciting. Same for the drift race. Same old, same old.
The canyon race was actually fun. You start off trailing your opponent and you rack up points the closer you stay to him. Halfway through the race, you switch places and he’s behind you, chipping away at the points you just earned. Finish the race with points and you win. Pretty easy, right? Well, the race through the canyon is tricky. Instead of using walls and railing as your own personal gutter bumpers, keeping you on the road, if you hit them too hard, you’ll crash through, plummetting to your death. It adds an extra dimension to the race, which frustrated the heck out of me but I came to appreciate it.
I started out the demo using the “muscle” car. I’d recommend against that. It handles like a dump truck. In fact, the collisions you cause in the game are poorly modeled. I’d hit a wall and lose control, but not in the direction or with the force I was expecting. It didn’t feel like I smashed into a wall. It felt more like I was bounced off the wall with a random amount of force. I didn’t care for how the collisions felt. The controls overall felt pretty good but not great.
The demo looked great (I’ve never seen such detailed asphalt in a game) and had the usual crap soundtrack that EA is famous for. It was easy to get the hang of things but overall didn’t impress me. At least not enough to buy Need for Speed: Carbon. Certainly worth a rental, as the canyon races were fun, but not enough to warrant a purchase for me.