As you’d expect from a Need for Speed game, the level of customisation available to you is incredible. The most import stuff comes under the Performance section – here you can upgrade your engine, transmission, suspension, tyres, turbo etc. The interesting part is that you can tailor each upgrade to your driving style, so if you like to have a surge of torque at your disposal (as I do), then you can tailor your rig to suit. Likewise you can tailor your turbo so that it comes on boost earlier in the rev range, but obviously that will limit the amount of raw power it provides. You can even tailor the bias of your braking to the front or rear, depending on whether you want to shave of speed as fast as possible or initiate some oversteer.
There’s also a plethora of cosmetic changes that can be made, simply to make your car look that bit different from everyone else on the street. To be fair the cosmetic changes aren’t totally pointless, since once the cops know what car you drive, it’s worth changing the colour and styling regularly. Also, if you’re going to be playing online regularly, you’ll probably want a car that looks as individual as possible, and with the amount of customisation options on offer, you really can create a car like no one else. Unfortunately for me, how my car looks is somewhat irrelevant, since I always drive from the bumper view, rather than hovering behind the vehicle. Winning races will unlock new upgrades, so you need to nip back to your safe house periodically to keep your car competitive.
How you play through career mode is a personal choice. The Free Roam aspect allows you to drive around the city looking for races, finding challenges and provoking the cops. However, if you just want to bust through the game you can jump directly to each race from the World Map. If you take the latter option, you’ll soon find yourself building up your cars, and taking over the city, but you’ll miss out on a key aspect of the game – immersion. Like Most Wanted and NFS: Underground 2 before it, the Free Roam mode adds a real sense of location to the proceedings. So much so, that I used to fire up Most Wanted and just drive around the city for a while without actually participating in any races. I often found this quite relaxing and therapeutic, and the night time setting of Carbon gives the whole experience an even more chilled feel. Of course if you want a happy medium, you can still select each race point on the world map and then activate your GPS, which will then guide you to the race rather than teleporting you to it.