Platforms: PS2, PSP, PC, Xbox, Xbox 360, GameCube, DS, GBA - Xbox 360 version reviewed.
I was a big fan of Need for Speed: Most Wanted on the Xbox 360. Despite the fact that Project Gotham Racing 3 grabbed all the headlines when the X360 launched, I actually enjoyed NFS more. Don’t get me wrong, PGR3 was a stunning game to look at, but when you’ve bought yourself a McLaren F1 after only a couple of hours of play, there isn’t much incentive to drive around those damn cones one more time. Yes, for me NFS: Most Wanted may have been a far more simple game, an arcade racer if you like, but it was also a far more enjoyable game.
Although the cars didn’t look as staggeringly realistic as the vehicles in PGR3, NFS: Most Wanted was arguably a better looking game. It wasn’t so much the cars (although these did look superb), it was more the environment that blew me away. NFS: Most Wanted had some of the best lighting effects seen in a console game, and the feeling of speed was second to none. Even the odd drop in frame rate couldn’t spoil the overall spectacle that this game produced. But it wasn’t just a pretty face, Most Wanted also give you a shot of adrenaline in the arm every time you played it, along with a career mode that kept you wanting to take the next Blacklist driver down, while keeping the cops at bay. So, it’s fair to say that I was quite keen to get my paws on Need for Speed: Carbon and see if EA had improved on the Most Wanted formula.
The first thing that struck me when I fired up Carbon was that EA definitely believes in the old adage “if it aint broke, don’t fix it”. It’s safe to say that Carbon plays very much like its predecessor, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many developers will change a winning formula just because they feel that they should. But for me, the idea of extending my Most Wanted experience into Carbon was exactly what I wanted. Don’t get me wrong though, Carbon isn’t just a rebadged version of Most Wanted, there are improvements and additions, but they are quite subtle.
Although the game engine is clearly the same beast we saw in Most Wanted, Carbon harks back to the Need for Speed: Underground era, where all the action happens at night. In some respect this is slightly disappointing since you miss out on all the beautiful lighting effects as you drive toward the sunset, or emerge from a tunnel and find yourself momentarily blinded. That said, things have moved on considerably since the Underground series, and the streets don’t look like they're constructed from polished glass, while the rain looks and feels like an environmental effect rather than pure eye candy. And although the autumnal, sun dappled lighting from Most Wanted is missing, the effects created by street lights, headlamps and shop fronts is no less impressive.