Back in January I decided that I needed a racing game, not necessarily to seriously sit down and play, but to play as a way to unwind from the “real” games I was playing, the platformers, the first-person-shooters, the adventure games. The other temptation of the racing game was that I could listen to the music that I had installed on the Xbox’s harddrive while I was playing. I blast music while driving in reality, why not while driving virtually? (I pretty much do not listen to music while playing games as in most of the games I play sound is an intergral part of the experience.)
My problem with racing games has always come from two angles; Either they are so simplistic and cartoony that they are a joke, (Some of the early “Burnout” games) or they are so complex and realistic that they have a learning curve of several hours (Hello, “Dirt”). To come to grips with this dilemma, back in January I spent a week taking advantage of Gamestop’s return policy – if in 7 days you are unsatisfied with a used game for any reason, including just plain not liking it, return it for a full refund – and purchased 4 or 5 racing games including the 2 mentioned above. The unreturned survivor ended up being ‘Need for Speed: Carbon.”
The first thing that jumped out at me were the graphics. The game was released for not only the three next-gen systems but also PS2 and the original Xbox. I’m not sure what they look like on the other systems but on the 360 the glowing pastels and night-time lights that make up the Miami Vice inspired city – including a rip-off Vegas – are gorgeous and lush, and actually sort of calming to look at. The cars themselves are shiny, glowy street-racers out of The Fast and the Furious that reflect the street lights and look very close to real.
The game is in no way up to par with the graphical capabilities of the most recent racers – such as the aforementioned “Dirt” or the upcoming “Fuel” which I am infinitely curious about, but am not setting my hopes too high as my experience with racers in general has been disappointing – but it is beautiful to look at, and is modeled in such a way that it gives the player the sensation of speed, speed, speed.
Next we have a story – a real honest to goodness story featuring real actors that are video-gamed up and given a pixely sheen to complement their cheese skills. I like a good (or bad for that matter) story to go with my gaming and the fact that in the six or seven games I tried this is the only one that had plot-pointed cut-scenes is an interesting side-note.
I will confess that I didn’t finish the game and as of now sit at the half-way point of 52%. I will also confess that I probably won’t finish it.
A couple of notes: The first boss, Kenji, is frustratingly hard and took me several attempts to defeat -while subsequent bosses are beatable in 1 or 2 tries. After Kenji, the game flies by until you hit about the 50% point – and then, even though you’ve upgraded your autos as much as is allowed, it is still a white-knuckled, crap-shoot with every race. This is, no doubt, fun and a challenge, but I have definitely gotten it out of my head that I will ever get to the end of the game. Keep in mind, that often when you finish a selected race you will find an enemy street gang forcing you into a race for territory you’ve already won, and often, they will win it, setting you back even more.
Lastly, I would like to address advertising in videogames. I sort of like advertising in videogames. I still think the Red Bull can on the side of the stage in Guitar Hero III is kinda cute – and to match that, in Need For Speed: Carbon we have a Progressive Insurance SUV driving around the streets of our fictional city.
This is all well and good until you are intensely racing, in the lead by just a millisecond, nearing the finish line after 4 minutes of intense concentration, and Mr. Friggin’ Progressive SUV pulls out in front of you from a sideroad. You slam into him, and your enemy blows by both of you to win the race. Really? Really Progressive? That’s how you want to advertise your product? By completely making the player lose the race for no good reason except your truck has to pull out at the most inopportune time? Interesting.
I’m wondering if Progressive’s marketing bosses actually know that they paid money to be in a videogame not as some side presence, reminding the player of their real-life insurance options, but as an active character – so to speak – hellbent on cutting in front of the player and earning nothing less than undying, gamer rage. Tip for advertisers in videogames: Seriously, play the game and see how your product is being used – if it is being used against the player you may want to reconsider spending that marketing $$$.
Smirk, over and out.
Need for Speed: Carbon Trailer
Bonus: Fuel Trailer due out in June- (for reals, 5000 sq miles of terrain!)