Title: Need for Speed: Carbon
Developer: EA Canada
My Recommendation: Rent It
Need for Speed: Carbon is the 11th game in the series and I have played all of the games extensively. In many ways this new version of NFS combines elements from those games as well as the last game, Most Wanted. Basically it takes the same feel of Most Wanted and adds in the tuning aspects of the Underground games. It creates a good game, but in many ways anyone who played the last game may feel a sense of deja vu.
The story for Carbon takes place right after Most Wanted and involves the same character. You've left Rockport and come back to an unforseen until now new city. It seems this is where you used to live and you left on bad terms according to your ex-girlfriend and the local gangs. They think you took a bag of money and set up the police sting that took out a bunch of cars, but over the course of the game you get new points of view of the crime and people start to believe you weren't at fault and that the bag of money was switched with an empty one that you took to Rockport.
I think the FMV cutscenes in this game are slightly better than the ones in Most Wanted where everything was too over the top. It seems EA dialed down the cheese factor with this game, although I have noticed other people think this is more cheesy. Outside of those things, the game plays much the same as Most Wanted, but this time you only race at night (borrowed from Underground).
The basic foundation of the game is the same as Most Wanted in how you go through your career. Instead of a blacklist you actually have a World Map that gives you races to choose in order to take over that section of the map with your gang sign. Gone are the point milestones that ruined the upper levels of the blacklist in Most Wanted, here it is all about the racing (sprints, speed camera, checkpoints) along with two extra modes: drifting and the Canyon Races against the gang bosses.
Drifting is an interesting game type and it has been seen before in the series. It is much different to drive the car in the Drift challenges than in the straight race challenges. The car is loose and the key to the race is to get the most points possible and beat the other cars (that are not seen). If you hit a wall you lose your accumulated points and you can also gain multipliers to your base score. The Drift challenges are pretty easy unless you are on a Canyon map where there are lots of twists and turns along with the danger of going off the cliff.
The boss challenges are different this year. At the end of each of the 4 sections of the map you will face the main boss of the gang. Usually you will race them in one race type and then you will go to a 2-part Canyon race that is won based on points via how close or far away you are from the other driver. It is in two stages. The first stage you are following the boss. If you are lucky enough to pass the boss and keep ahead of them for 10 seconds you win the overall race and don't have to do the second stage. In the second stage the points you earned in the first stage count down as you try to keep ahead of the boss. If you end up with positive points at the end (and don't fall off the cliff, which is an immediate loss) you win the boss challenge. The last two sections of the map are a bit harder than the first two, but they are far easier than getting to the next person on the blacklist from Most Wanted.
Also introduced in this game is a choice early on of what class of car you want to start with: Tuner, Exotic or Muscle. Tuners handle better, Exotics accelerate better and Muscle have a lot of power. The choice is important because you will be stuck with this car until you get enough money to pick up another car you unlocked from the Car Lot on the map. I personally started with a Tuner simply because they can overtake other cars in turns and later on I ended up with an Exotic because once tuned they can become speed demons which is very important in the later stages.
Another gameplay mechanic introduced in the game is your Crew. Along the way you can hire people to join your crew and help you in races. Each person is one of three classes: Blocker, Scout and Drafter. The first one helps block out opponents, the second one finds shortcuts on the track for you and the third one allows you to do a slingshot by drafting behind them. I found that the only worthy one is the Blocker. The crew members can also give bonuses to you such as more money by winning a race, ability to buy parts for less, etc. The AI for the crew works okay, but there are some problems. For the most part the crew member stays close to you, but there were times where they went way behind and could never help me. You can instigate them to do their job, but sometimes they will totally miss the opponent or they won't listen to your orders. It is very much a hit or miss situation, but I can say that they helped me a bit in many races.
Along with all this there are tuning options for whatever class of car you make. I don't get too into making my car look cool or anything (one of the reasons I wasn't so high on the Underground games). There is an AutoSculpt feature that allows you to change a lot of things about your car manually. Also when you upgrade parts you can choose the parts to be skewed one way or another and it will change your cars stats. I generally just stayed in the middle and didn't skew toward any side and I did pretty well.
I would also like to touch on the police action as well. The police and heat meter are back, but throughout the game I didn't feel as desperate with the police as I did during the milestone point achievements I had to make in Most Wanted. The police certainly chase you in this game, but the overall aggression on behalf of the police seems to be down a notch. I personally like it, although I do find that I can get out of chases much faster than I could in Most Wanted. Some amount of chase is exhilarating, but overdoing it like Most Wanted did at the end was a little much.
My final recommendation on Need for Speed: Carbon is that you rent it first if you've played Most Wanted. At the foundation the game is basically the same, but this time you are racing at night and the game flows more smoothly with the elimination of the points milestones from Most Wanted. I personally like Carbon better, but others may have different views. The one thing I will say is that EA needs to figure out something new for the franchise since the last four games can very much be fused together. The concepts may be somewhat different between the Underground games the the two latest games, but the overall feel of the gameplay is the same. I can only recommend a rent for this game since you can easily go without it and put your money toward another game coming out this holiday season.