You may ask why I picked up the PC version and not the 360 version. It comes down to the fact I could get the PC Collector's Edition for $40 versus getting the 360 Collector's Edition for $70. The PC version may not end up being as smooth as the 360 version, but for $30 difference I think I can get the same kind of excitement out of the game.
I liked last year's Need for Speed: Most Wanted after taking a break when the series went Underground for 2 versions. The only problem with the game last year was once I got high on the Blacklist (probably above #10 if I remember) I had to start grinding for points in the cop chase events in order to meet the prerequisites to take on the next Blacklist member. Eventually I would reach a high point in my wantedness that the cops were almost impossible to lose. I would get up to the points I needed and then try to get away from the cops and found myself getting busted and losing all the work I had just done. I think I got to #3 on the Blacklist and called it a game because it was simply too tedious to do the point grinds; I just wanted to take on the Blacklist opponents.
In Need for Speed: Carbon, EA is billing it as a perfect fusion of Most Wanted and the Underground iterations. The gameplay and storyboard of the former; the tweaking and nighttime races of the latter. At this point I would say that Carbon is a better game than Most Wanted. It supercedes the cheese that was on display with the story/FMV sequences with a good story and better directed FMV sequences (so far). Most Wanted felt like a soap opera where as this one so far feels more like Fast and the Furious (which may or may not be viewed as a soap opera, but at least it is a better done soap opera).
The gameplay is much the same as in Most Wanted with the addition of a gameplay addition in being able to use racers in your gang to help you win a race. This addition is not perfectly implemented, but when the wingman AI works correctly it can mean the difference between winning and having to restart a race. When the AI doesn't work correctly you will find that you are all alone in trying to win the race. The enemy AI seems to have been jacked up a bit and now there are more opponent cars on the road than there was in Most Wanted. The cops also make a reappearance here as well, although they haven't really crossed paths with me since the scripted event early in the game to show you that cops are certainly in the game again. From what I've heard the cops battles are not as interesting as in the last game, which could be good in my mind honestly after taking the above into account.
You are in charge of your own gang and you can hire and fire up to 3 wingmen (or women) that can help you in races. The key to the game is having your gang take over sections of the map while also defending your own territory from invaders trying to take over. The nice thing is that there is an easy teleport to the next mission you want to take by clicking on the mission and going straight to that spot or you can decide to drive through the city to the next mission. The game is very non-linear in that the map opens up to you quite a bit and you have to pick and choose in order to grow your territory.
Eventually you will move in on the territory of the major gangs and have to take on the gang leader on a race in the Canyons which are rife with sections where you can crash right through and fall off the cliff. There are two rounds to these battles. The first one is you chasing your opponent and trying to keep close to him or overtake him for 10 seconds. If you do the latter you automatically win the overall race. If you fall off the cliff or allow the opponent to get far enough away for 10 seconds you lose the race. The second stage is the opponent following you. The same rules apply as in the first race. It is very difficult, but it can be done and is more exciting than the simple races you did in Most Wanted.
As you go through the races you unlock upgrades for your car. In fact, at the beginning you choose what type of car you want to start with: Muscle (powerful), Exotic (top speed) or Tuner (best cornering). Eventually you will see car shops where you can pick up other cars as well. You also have options as you upgrade to how you want to skew the parts, such as top speed vs. acceleration. It's pretty easy to understand. You also have Autosculpt available to you to change how your car looks in case the heat gets high for you (the meter makes a comeback from Most Wanted.
There is another mode of gameplay that is added to Carbon and that is the Drift modes. In this mode your car has very loose controls and you attempt to drift through the course and get the most points possible (with multipliers) and beat the other cars (that you don't see) in overall points. This mode is pretty boring, but you can also find yourself behind on points and have to pull off some amazing multiplier drifts.
So far I have to say I am impressed by this game and I'm liking it more than Most Wanted at this point. That could of course change, but we'll see. I'd also say this game is probably shorter than Most Wanted simply because I'm already up over 20% complete and I've only played a little over an hour. I don't ever remember being that far complete in Most Wanted that quickly. I probably won't play online, but I may rent the 360 version to do just that. I find racing games online on the PC just don't work as smoothly as they do on a console system. I recommend a purchase of this game if you like arcade racers at all.