Need for Speed Carbon: Own the City

Control is a multifaceted word – you know, the kind that gets a lengthy entry in the dictionary. But that's why it's possibly the assortment of letters that best suits Need for Speed Carbon: Own the City.

You see, the whole game is based around the premise of control. Having lost your brother in a freak, mysterious street racing accident that meant you've spent the last six months in a hospital bed, you shake off any notion of grief, muscle depletion issues (or indeed potential trauma from having crashed head on into an oncoming lorry) and get behind the wheel of a car, intravenous drip barely disconnected, in search of the driver responsible for your sibling's untimely powerslide into the grave.

So you're clearly a man in control of your actions. But, really, it's the city that needs ruling – while you've been dreaming the months away, rival gangs have taken over its 14 districts.

Reclaiming the territories is a case of engaging in a set number of racing events, ranging from lap-based circuit stuff, point-to-point sprints and lap knock-out rounds to crew-based variants. Specifically, these include Escape (get out of a rival territory before time runs out while being chased by opponents), Delivery (be the first to reach a drop-off point) and Crew Takedown (crash and bash a set number of competitors by depleting their health bar).

How you manage your progression is up to you, but once the required number of events has been won you face off against the rival gang leader. Beat them and the area becomes yours. At this point, it's not unusual to have an adversary ask to be recruited into your band of petrolheads, assuming you have acquired enough respect points from your racing activity to entice them to do so.

Given the premise of the game, not surprisingly you get to control them, too. These 'wingmen' join you in certain races and, when they're not doing silly behavioural things that can cost you a race, very useful they turn out to be. They come in three flavours and on command will unceremoniously persuade a competitor into the armco, provide a speed- and traction-boosting slipstream for you to follow, or deploy tyre-bursting spikes to put another car out of contention.

Working out which wingmen to take with you (only two are allowed) and, indeed, when to use them (once in action they will need to 'recharge' before being available again) is part of the strategy and it does lend the game a certain depth.

As does the ability to now roam the city as you see fit. Admittedly there is little incentive to do so – the streets are ghostly empty, antagonised cops will chase you (though that sounds more exciting than it really is), occasionally rival drivers will challenge you to an impromptu race, and 30 crates containing bonuses such as concept artwork and cash are scattered for collection – and you can drive yourself to events or save points if you'd rather not use the more immediate menu method.

At some point you'll have to use the menus. You won't otherwise be able to buy a new car from the 29 licensed models on offer, for instance, as well as it being the only way to subsequently upgrade it. Now a familiar component of the Need for Speed franchise (and, seemingly, every racing game these days), you get to pimp various visual and performance elements of your ride. These unlock sequentially as you progress through the game, but unfortunately do so in a way that seems overly contrived.

Equally forced is EA's implementation of the game's online mode, which the publisher continues to make unintuitive due to a convoluted sign-up procedure. And while the offer of up to four-player sprint and circuit racing is commendable, not being able to engage in the other modes feels, again, controlled.

More accessible is the handling model, which sticks to the series' typical ride 'n slide dynamic, meaning even the most inexperienced virtual racer should be safely speeding their way around town within minimal time. They may eventually grow a little tired of the both the restrictive and repetitive nature of the game's structure but this should come after a substantial amount of miles have been travelled.

But for those already familiar with previous Need for Speed iterations – and despite the introduction of wingmen and a free roam mode – that point will come a lot sooner in the journey. For them, then, the ultimate exercise in control will be to resist the temptation to pick up a copy this festive season.

Need for Speed Carbon: Own the City

Technically solid – if increasingly familiar – racing action but set within a dynamic that often feels unnecessarily controlled
Joao Diniz Sanches
Joao Diniz Sanches
With three boys under the age of 10, former Edge editor Joao has given up his dream of making it to F1 and instead spends his time being shot at with Nerf darts. When in work mode, he looks after editorial projects associated with the Pocket Gamer and Steel Media brands.