BARCELONA, Spain--We'll admit it: We were late to the Need for Speed: Most Wanted party. After spending most of the Xbox 360 launch window playing racing games such as Project Gotham Racing 3 and Burnout Revenge, Most Wanted slipped under our radar. However, just a few minutes with the game recently told us that we had missed something special the first time around. After playing an updated build of Need for Speed Carbon here in Barcelona for X06, we can safely say that we will not be making that same mistake twice.
The build of Carbon we checked out let us play single races, and we explored the game's career mode for a bit, as well. The most impressive aspect of the quick race was the 19 other cars vying for the checkered flag against us. Most Wanted players will remember the very short cutscenes that accompany races in that game; they're still here in Carbon, and there's a real sense of drama and excitement when you watch that long line of cars queue up for the start of a race that will certainly feature a few exciting first corners.
Of course, most of those 19 other cars are merely fodder for your hot rod to slice through. In the handful of quick races we tried out, we were up front and battling for the lead within the first lap, though it must be said that the artificial intelligence of the top group of cars is no slouch. The track we played didn't have much in the way of shortcuts that are so ubiquitous in the NFS series, but we still had a tough battle on our hands trying to get in the lead position.
The race itself took place in your typical NFS setting: a dank and relatively dark urban-industrial area that was mostly devoid of oncoming traffic. Because the race took place at night, it lacked some of the sunny luminosity of the previous game's events, instead opting for a slightly edgier and more dangerous nighttime atmosphere that suited the game just fine. The car's controls (for the record we drove a suped-up Audi LeMans Quattro) were just as squirrelly as we remember them from Most Wanted. Nitrous controls and the ability to slow down time temporarily to navigate tricky sections of road were also in place. There wasn't much of a need to use any time trickery, however, as the general lack of traffic meant that we could zip through the course more or less unimpeded.
After claiming victory in the single race, it was time to take on the career mode. As in the previous game, Carbon's career mode is made up of a slew of different challenges that dot the map along a number of different sections of town. You can choose to enter these challenges either by accessing them on your map or, also like Most Wanted, exploring the world in free-roam mode and running into them while you drive around. Of the various challenges we saw noted on the map, some were familiar standbys, such as checkpoint, circuit, sprint, speed trap, and boss race, and some were new, including drift challenges and something called race wars. No, this isn't an Ice-T song; it's a new challenge mode found in Carbon that pits you against a rival crew. Presumably, this is one area in the game where the Carbon's team-oriented approach comes in to play, as you recruit a team of talented wingmen to help you take over territory from rival street racers. After we took the crown in the race war we ran, we were treated to a nice in-game cutscene, where a female rival drove up to us and advised us to, "go back where we came from." The bad news is that the cutscene drops the cheesy-yet-compelling visual style and hammy acting from Most Wanted. We miss Josie Maran already.
The other new challenge mode was drift, and it played much like a drift challenge in PGR 3. The challenge we tried out took place in a relatively small track shaped more or less like a figure eight. The idea is to score as many drifting points as you can by keeping the tail end of your car sliding and your rear tires smoking around corners. The longer you drift, the more bonus multipliers you'll rack up--keep a drift going for a while, and you'll earn some major points. The physics in drift-mode challenges has been ratched up to make for maximum sliding, and it's a bit tough to get a handle on right away. With a little practice and a lighter-than-normal touch on the steering wheel, we had the kind of drifts going that would make even Sean Boswell proud.
While Need for Speed Carbon doesn't look like a dramatic departure from Most Wanted, that might just turn out well, as the previous game in the series had a sweet mix of challenge, depth, and gorgeous graphics that kept gamers coming back, even if they were late to the party to start with. We have the same high hopes for Carbon and will be keeping our eyes out as the game approaches its release in late October.