Product Type: Electronic Arts PSP games
Newest Review: ... for deployment at the touch of a button. There are three different types of wingman; Brawlers who plough into opponents, clearing the ro... more
Need for Speed: Carbon - Own The City (PSP)
Member Name: tom1clare
Need for Speed: Carbon - Own The City (PSP)
Date: 24/07/10, updated on 17/08/10 (52 review reads)
Advantages: The city, fast and fun racing, quite a bit to play through, cars
Disadvantages: Graphics only so-so, soundtrack is hit and miss, glitches
The Need For Speed juggernaut rolled on as popular as ever in 2006 with its tenth instalment Carbon appearing in various guises on more than a dozen formats. Lacking the pyrotechnics of its HD counterparts, NFS Carbon: Own The City remains a solid and playable PSP racer with a few novel twists, but is let down by some technical frailties and a lack of variety in its race setups.
Taking inspiration from the likes of Gone In 60 Seconds and The Fast And The Furious, Carbon places you in a moody, permanently-evening cityscape tasked with winning street races. Along the way you'll get to buy and tune cars, ruin them with silly wings and ill-judged luminescent paint jobs, and capture 14 sections of turf held by rival city gangs. To add a little spice, the narrative sees you cast as a guy who has lost his memory after a crash that killed his brother. With an ever-increasing band of allies, you're tasked with getting to the bottom of who was behind the incident, beating everyone until you quite literally own the city. The premise is interesting enough, even if the plot is clichéd and poorly articulated, in short scenes that seem more like vague summaries than coherent dialogue exchanges.
Still, Carbon's not about storytelling, it's about racing and in this respect it's rather more assured. Street races typically see you battling with three other A.I. controlled cars, and due to the nature of the city, there's a multitude of routes that make full use of its locales. Only first place yields prize-money and progress, but you have 'wingmen' on hand to help. Up to two allies can aid you, each with their own special ability available for deployment at the touch of a button. There are three different types of wingman; Brawlers who plough into opponents, clearing the road ahead; Assassins that lay down spike strips with much the same effect; and Drafters, who create an exaggerated slip-stream vacuum you can drive in to gain extra speed. This wingman gimmick is not a bad idea and adds an element of tactics to the proceedings, though the dubious A.I. makes its usefulness limited. Your wingmen quite often crash when or spear into you, and they are prone to getting caught up in battles with other cars, meaning that they sometimes take an age to catch you up. Likewise, the fact the Brawler and Assassin moves can only be used on cars ahead of you is strange and drastically reduces their participation in comparison to the Drafter move.
The handling is okay on the whole, though it tends to wander quite a bit meaning quick jabs on the D-Pad are preferable to the analogue nub. Skilled cornering and ample use of the brakes aren't high on the agenda; it's more about speed and nerve, though EA's efforts to turn it into a kind of open-world Burnout (something Burnout later achieved itself with Paradise) runs into some problems.
Whilst the city is well realised, the free-roam function feels tacked-on. There's little incentive to use it, firstly because all of the cities challenges can be accessed directly from the pause menu and secondly because the locations feel weird and empty without the spectacle of a race. The roads are so lifeless that it's actually quite jarring when you do come across the very occasional, single vehicle drifting along, and they never seem to come in pairs or groups. Other than route-mapping, the only purposes of exploring the city is to find some bonus crates and to start a police chase, whereby escape rewards you in currency and reputation bonuses.
Despite there being several event types, they're surprisingly samey. Circuit and Sprint are virtually the same except the former takes place on a connected loop of road whilst the latter is point-to-point. Elsewhere, Lap Knockout is the same as Circuit only the last placed driver gets eliminated at the end of every lap. Escape and Delivery both give you the illusion of choice as to the route you want to take to reach your destination - though in truth it's always quickest to just follow the marker arrow. Knockout is the one really different game mode as it involves wrecking a set number of opponents by crashing into them, spinning them round, squeezing them against barriers and so on. The crashes are pretty weak - opponents just flash and disappear when their damage threshold is reached, but it's a good bit of fun anyway and the collisions are pretty convincing.
The racing itself is decent with some blistering speeds and fun wheel-to-wheel battles that remain engaging thanks to a smartly judged difficulty curve. With nearly thirty cars (half a dozen of which are exclusive to the PSP version), there's plenty to cater for all types, from the Mazda's and Pontiac's you set out with, to big-hitting manufacturers such as Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Lamborghini which become available at the business end of the game. The tune-up options genuinely make a difference and thus accumulating money yields palpable rewards, and it's a bit of a modder's dream as you can tinker with paint jobs, wings, rims and even windscreen tints to your heart's content.
Unusually for EA though, there are some bugs that mar the experience a touch. Own The City has a nasty habit of having a graphical layer fail to animate midway through a race; four or five times the road and barriers simply vanished, leaving you with the hopeless task of guessing where to position your car to avoid an inevitable collision with something invisible, failing, and having to restart. The faster races also became a bit jerky, even with the relatively modest field of cars. The city looks pretty good, with some nice environment details and generally lovely presentation. Surprisingly, it's the cars that are the graphical weak link; they look simplistic, with the various paint-jobs accentuating the overly pointy, angular texturing.
As is the way, NFS Carbon: Own The City has its own licensed soundtrack, and produces a customarily odd mix of fairly standard hip-hop and processed dance tracks. A moody remix of Goldfrapp's "Ride A White Horse" and Gary Numan's electropop classic "Are 'Friends' Electric?" are the most notable songs to appear, though the rather meagre track listing means you'll hear the same tunes rather a lot.
It has its shortcomings, but on the whole PSP fans will be pretty happy with NFS Carbon: Own The City. Whilst its race setups are unimaginative and technical foibles prevent it from making the richly detailed city as compelling a location as it should have been, a lot of work has clearly been invested in make a quality product. It's stylishly presented, features a dynamic range of cars and the hundred or so race challenges ensure an enduring challenge that you won't finish in an evening, even if it doesn't adapt to the small-screen as smoothly as Ridge Racer.
Summary: A thorough and enjoyable street racer, though not a definitive title for the handheld