There's certainly fun to be had with this late-night street racer, but some issues hold it back from what it could be.
(-) drifting mechanics often malfunction and can even ruin the fun; using the wheel is spotty during menus
Midnight Club was a sheer disappointment. The game has an ultra stylized late night world, filled with ambition, which you could drive around and explore. But the title was weighed down by many faults that drug the entire experience down. There was terrible vehicle handling, awful voice overs, the list simply doesn't end.
You can probably stop me and see where I'm going with this. Need For Speed Carbon is pretty much what Midnight Club ought to be, an enjoyable racer in the dead of night, filled with bright lights and fast cop chases. Carbon gets a lot of things right, which is proof that Black Box really knows how to develop an arcade racer that is just plain fun to pick up and play, but Carbon could never impersonate the biggest and best racers out there. It has it's own share of offenders, but the round experience is decent enough that anyone who's already a fan with find more than a little to like about this early launch title.
People are really emphatic about the street racing business. They try to compete against each other to prove their worth, disregarding any attention they may spark up from the local police department. You'll get these tad bits of story information in the form of some unconventional cut-scenes, where your character's identity is given very limited reference, and you watch a raunchy lady in a sexy tan skirt and raincoat, Nikki, escort you through the tutorial. It's always been a trademark of Need for Speed to feature attractive woman all over the gameplay experience, and Carbon does it the finest yet by featuring some more attractive woman holding the flags at the starting line, then bending over real tight to signal the start of the race. Later on in the story, you'll get some offers by others to join you in a clan, including the aforementioned beauty, and they'll aid you during the race with some kind of action, like running into the other enemies or lending you a slipstream.
During the game, you'll take part in various racing missions in Palmont City to claim ownership of the territory against your competitors. You'll be doing this through winning basic competitions, like sprints, circuits, and check-points races. But other race types are more exotic, like a rival boss fight, then you'll go on the intimidating canyons and have a duel, where you're supposed to follow the enemy driver first as closely as you can, then after that repeat the process but this time you're in front, and you need to avoid them following you as closely. You'll need to participate in the boss fights, but luckily you don't necessarily have to win each event, at least to unlock the rest. Because the map is divided into numerous sections, each having three race events. If you successfully complete two of the three, then you'll claim ownership of that particular part of the map. But rivals could challenge you again at any moment, and you must defend that position, because if you forfeit or they win, you'll lose the space you occupied. There's an impressive 10 to 12 hours worth of content to play through your first time, not even counting the very replayable quick race mode or some standard split-screen multiplayer (Need For Speeds on Wii have never had online support, and this is no exception), and you can still access free roam, a quintessential feature in a NFS title, so you can explore the city at your own pace or get into a cop chase.
One thing repeated entires in this series really stress on is the importance of style, and Carbon may be the most stylized game in the series yet. The menus and interface are colored with a neon blue tint. The game also looks really impressive, bright lights in the cities are well acquainted by the late night theme of the game. While you will get occasional frame rate hitches, the draw distance and technical performance is actually pretty okay, so making gripes about the game's appearance would only be made by someone who's grown used to the game on a higher current gen platform, or just a picky person. The soundtrack, as you might suspect, is full of no-named hip hop and rock artists that do their part with the action, but stay out of the way most of the time. You're fellow driver in your club can also be pretty motivational, interacting with you via CB intercom during the race, telling you to speed up, or keep up the good work, depending on how you're doing.
Having all of this on offer, it's easy to appreciate Need For Speed Carbon, but unfortunately there's one big slide that comes close to crippling the game. It's necessary in most racers to have an effective drifting mechanic, as racing would be overly simple without it, but Carbon really fails miserably in this area. While you can choose between automatic and manual set ups, and you can activate the drifting on will, the car will still tend to drift on its own if you turn too sharp, and get stuck like that for as long as three seconds, and as a result you'll miss a dreadful curve or even do an entire 180 degree flip and face the wrong direction! This can completely dismantle the fun of the game, because you'll lose events without making any sort of mistake. This really should have been left in the incubator a little longer before release, because the unpredictability of the drift mechanic can potentially turn some people off who are unable to tolerate this severe of a malfunction, and thus prevent them from enjoying the other aspects that the game gets right.
Considering that this was the first Need For Speed to ever land on Nintendo's motion sensitive console, they added more than a few unique control options, all which involve some movement between the remote and nun-chuck. The only one worth using to the common player though, is the remote alone, preferably inside the wheel. This turning mechanic is just shy of the ideal amount of sensitivity, and judging that this game was developed well before the wheel was introduced, that's impressive. Though using this control scheme will contaminate the menus, which make it pretty clear that the game wasn't intended to be played this way. Because you'll need to press buttons that assume you're holding the Wii Remote vertically, like up on the d-pad and A to select, and judging from how often you'll need to access to the menu, this can add up overtime and give the player something else to moan about besides the broken drifting mechanics.
There's certainly fun to be had with this late-night street racer, but some issues hold it back from what it could be. A little more time to round out some of the rough corners would have made a world of difference. Having a drifting mechanic as wholly unreliable as this is inexcusable, and the multiple minor annoyances with the controls don't help matters. But anyone who likes arcade racing enough can still find a great deal of fun out of this package, with plenty of race modes to keep you busy, some ultra stylized cities and graphics, and what's not to like about some sexy woman strutting their legs and some practically intentional close-ups at their delectable hind-quarters? Need For Speed Carbon is the solid action racer that it needs to be, and it still provides enough moments of amusement to warrant at least a look.