Need for Speed Carbon: Own the City is, for all intents and purposes, an entirely different game from the Need for Speed Carbon that's currently appearing on the Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 2, and so on. The basic conceit is much the same--you and your team of street racers take on other crews in a bid to take total control of the city--but a lot of the details are different and many are better for it.
http://image.com.com/gamespot/images/2006/313/reviews/933688_20061110_embed001.jpgThere's some cloak-and-dagger business going on in Coast City's street racing scene.
Own the City is ultimately a revenge tale, which starts off with a flashback to the event that triggers your character's vengeance. During a street race that both you and your brother, Mick, are competing in, something goes horribly wrong. The accident leaves you in the hospital with some nasty amnesia and Mick dead. But it seems that there was a third car involved, which was no accident at all. Six months later when you get back on your feet, the scene has changed dramatically. So you take to the streets to find out who's responsible for your brother's death with your old racing buddy, Carter, and your brother's ex-girlfriend, Sara, by your side. It's a surprisingly resonant story that takes a little time to flesh out and define some of the core characters. It also has some good twists and turns that really help to steel your character's resolve. The story sequences are pretty slickly produced, with some distinct-looking comic-style art and voice work that tends toward the better side of average.
In its apparent continued effort to expand the Need for Speed geography, EA has set Own the City in an all-new fictional town called Coast City. Like Bayview, Rockport, and Palmont City before it, Coast City is a large, sprawling metropolis with a lot of unique districts. There's plenty of run-down grit in the industrial, junkyard, inner city, and rock quarry areas, but they're not far from the lengthy tracts of winding highways that make their way up into the chilly surrounding mountains. On the other side of town, you'll find the more refined side of Coast City, with a sleek glass-and-steel high-rise district. It also includes a cozier residential district, a nice college campus, and the city's airport. Even if this were a full-fledged console game, the size of Coast City would be respectable. It's got a level of detail and an organic layout that gives you a really strong sense of place. The distinct feel of each district also gives the whole game a lot of personality. But all of that detail comes at a price because at higher speeds, the frame rate can get a little choppy.
Coast City is effectively your playground, and you can tool around as you please. You'll occasionally run into rival racing crews who can challenge you to a race on the spot, as well as cops who don't take too kindly to street racers. Whether you're in a race or just out on the town, there's not a lot of traffic in Coast City. What's there also looks a little cheap, which takes a little away from the game's reality. Your real objective is to take the fight to the rival racing crews throughout Coast City. Each district is controlled by a different crew, and there's a set list of race events that you have to win. If you win a number of events, you'll get to take on the crew boss. If you beat the crew boss, you'll not only take control of that district but also unlock new cars and upgrades for purchase. There's a fairly focused progression to the main story mode. You'll only have access to one or two districts throughout most of the game, limiting which events you can take on at any given time. Typically, though, there are usually more events in each district than you need to win in order to take on the district's crew boss. So there is some flexibility as to which races you take on because of the extra events.
http://image.com.com/gamespot/images/2006/313/reviews/933688_20061110_embed002.jpgAlthough the cars handle nicely, the types of races can get monotonous after a while.
There's little variety to the types of events. You can expect a number of standard circuit, sprint, and knockout races. There are also escape events where you have to get out of a crew's turf in a limited amount of time while the crew gives chase. The delivery events challenge you to outrun a group of challengers to a specific delivery point. The escape and delivery events are pretty similar in practice and both come with a fair amount of frustration. You're guided to your goal in these modes by an onscreen arrow that will point you to your specific turns as you approach them. The problem is that the arrow generally doesn't start to turn early enough, so you'll often blow past your turns on the first run-through. Even worse, the arrow doesn't always point you toward the fastest possible route. It's only through repetition and memorization that you'll win many of these events. The most unique events are the crew takedown events. These are surprisingly reminiscent of the takedown events first seen in EA's own, aptly named, Burnout 3: Takedown. Here, you're given a limited amount of time to knock a number of rival crew cars by slamming into them repeatedly. This also provides generally a good change of pace from the rest of the game's typically speed-obsessed events.
Even if the event types aren't fantastic, the handling on the cars makes up for a lot. There's a great selection of real-world cars to purchase and customize, including many of the tuner, muscle, and exotic cars found in the console versions of Need for Speed Carbon. Each one also comes with unique and generally appropriate handling characteristics. Cars that you unlock in the career mode become available in the game's multiplayer mode, which lets you compete in circuit and sprint races both locally and over the Internet. It also means that you'll need to play a good deal of the game single-player before you get online. Our online experience was a little laggy, but it's pretty well fleshed-out. It also has a ranking system that helps ensure you'll be taking on similarly experienced players.
Regardless of where you play Own the City, it's not an overly technical, realistic racer. You can pretty much plow through any peripheral traffic and scrape your way around corners without so much as a scratch. The collisions are also a little inconsistent. Sometimes you'll see bumpers passing through each other when cars are rubbing and, on occasion, a bump will cause the other car to go flying through the air. It does, however, take some discipline. You're also not going to be powersliding your way around every single corner. Although it's a little slow to start, once you trade up to something with a little power, the game's got a great sense of speed. It's also fantastic to drive to the darkly energetic licensed soundtrack, which is accentuated by the sense of speed. It's too bad that a lot of the engine sounds are kind of whiny, but the eclectic, thematically consistent blend of straight-ahead rock, grimy hip-hop, and futuristic electro more than makes up for it.
http://image.com.com/gamespot/images/2006/313/reviews/933688_20061110_embed003.jpgThey're far from perfect, but the wingmen can give you a tactical advantage when you need it most.
One of the features that really sets Own the City apart from other street racers is its team racing mechanics. In many of the events that you'll take on, you'll be allowed to take up to two wingmen with you onto the track. Each wingman will play a specific role. Brawlers can knock an opposing car out for a few seconds, while assassins can incapacitate it for even longer by laying down spike strips. Drafters will give you a short speed boost by cutting in front of you and letting you slipstream behind them. As you slowly take over the city, rival crew members will become available as wingmen. You'll find some also have unique subclasses, such as fixers, who will earn you a little cash bonus when you win races; and mechanics, who will provide you with a performance boost when they race with you. It's pretty surprising that the wingman mechanics in Own the City are actually better realized than what was featured in the console versions of Need for Speed Carbon, but it's still not perfect. For example, brawlers and assassins can only target cars that are in front of you. So if there are multiple cars in front of you, it's difficult to pick a specific one. When they're not active, the wingmen smartly stay just behind you. But once you give one of them the go-ahead, they seem to have little regard for your car. They'll often bully their way past you and slow you down when they're ostensibly on their way to help you.
There's already a ton of accomplished racing games on the PSP, but the core driving in Need for Speed Carbon: Own the City is solid enough. The unique features are also interesting enough for it to warrant a look from street racing enthusiasts. It's different enough from and, in some significant ways, better than the console versions of Need for Speed Carbon that fans of those games will find a whole new game to enjoy in Own the City.