As reassuringly predictable as your gran getting a bit tipsy on too much sherry, settling down to watch The Great Escape and promptly snoring her head off over the Christmas period, EA's street racer is back again for yet another yearly outing. But in contrast to last year's Most Wanted title, where the thrust of the proceedings was clearly playing with the police, it's not so clear this time around what the main emphasis of the game is.
EA would have you believe that it's the canyon racing that's featured so prominently in the TV advertising, but that actually makes up a fairly small percentage of the title. Driving at high speed down a tight, curving road with only flimsy metal barriers to separate you from the fate of a base jumper who forgot to pack his parachute, the boss races see you in turn having to keep up with or lose your opponent. These provide some genuine edge-of-your-seat action, but they're pretty tough-going, and you'll find yourself reaching for the restart button on more than one occasion.
However, if you think they're challenging, you'll find the drift races set on the same courses are tricky beyond belief. So you want me to get my car sideways on a narrow road flanked by certain, horrible, plummety death? Thanks a bundle...
DRIVING TO DISTRACTION
Carbon boasts another throwaway storyline to sit alongside the driving, consisting of what appears to be a collection of out-of-work models driving a bunch of kitted-up supercars and tales featuring a police gun that apparently shoots beams of electricity. Ahem. Not that it's much of a problem - the often annoying characters play a pretty minor part in the game, and thankfully you can skip the cut-scenes (which vary from amazingly produced to downright laughable) and drown out most of their speech with the sound of your engine. If only real life offered the same options.
Where the characters do infuriate, however, is in the wingman system. New for Carbon, the system enables you to build up your own crew by hiring racers with different attributes who'll race alongside you. They offer in-race benefits such as highlighting short-cuts, giving you a speed-boost or blocking opponents' cars, but more often than not they tend to get in the way, push you into oncoming traffic and generally reduce your lifespan (and that of your gamepad) thanks to raised stress levels.
Despite these shortcomings, the game still offers the customary adrenalin-packed racing that fans know and love. About as realistic as that time you drunkenly raced shopping trolleys with your mates, the racing nevertheless provides bucketloads of fun. Drifts have returned too (not all of them are set in the tricky canyons) and there's lots of variety to keep your attention, with over 100 races in the career mode and yet more in the Challenge series and online mode.
However, self-professed experts may
find things a little on the easy side, with the career mode only taking us a day to crack. Still, the city is free-roaming and just driving about will see you notching up races with other crews and attracting some Most Wanted-style attention from the police, though this is a far more minor aspect of the game than in the previous title.
BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY
On the visual side, things feel much more like Underground than Most Wanted, with the entire game yet again being set at night and the soft-focus graphics being ditched for some old-school crisp detailing. Only this time around, things don't look quite as crisp as they did two years ago, and the lack of any major graphical improvement is a bit disappointing. The city still offers rich and varied locations though, ranging from neon-lit casinos to run-down industrial areas, and with plenty of short-cuts, it provides the perfect setting for the game. The obligatory tuning section is here too, and thankfully, this time the car selection has been improved, meaning you won't have to start your racing career in a Vauxhall Corsa.