In the PSOne days the Need for Speed series basically stood for mediocrity, EA released wave after wave of Need for Speed games until no-one really cared anymore. Then a few years ago EA resurrected the franchise that looked like it was dead to bring out Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, which was a massive commercial success. Ever since then EA have been bringing out a new Need for speed title every year, this year Need for Speed: Carbon has returned to the night time races of the old Underground series, but is Need for Speed Carbon: Own The City any good or is the series beginning to decline?
Own The City is surprisingly different from the console versions. The game begins with you driving behind the wheel of a car. You're then in a massive accident mid race. The action then flicks to six months later, you wake up in a hospital with no memory of what has happened. A girl named Sara leans over you but you're not sure of who she is. Shortly you find out that the person you were racing against was your brother, Mick. Sara was Mick's boyfriend. An unidentified car purposely crashed into Mick and you and the only solution is to form your own team and find out exactly who tried to kill your brother.
This time around you're not working on your own and Own the City puts a large emphasis on team racing. In many events you're able to race with two wingmen. Each wingman has a different role. For example, Drafters can give you a little more speed by driving in front of you, brawlers can (creatively enough) smash into an opposing vehicle and render them useless for a little while and assassins can drop spike strips, you'll need to be careful with spike strips because you can also take your own car out by driving over the spike strips. As you progress you're able to recruit a few more wingmen as well, so the wingmen certainly come in handy.
Own the City is set in the fictional town of Coast City. In true Need for Speed fashion there are many different districts and uniquely themed areas in Coast city such as the airport or the rocky areas near the mountains. You can drive around Coast City as you want, but as implied by the title, the objective of the game is to try and take over each rival racing crew until you literally control each area of the city. Each area is "owned" by a rival crew and you need to complete a certain number of race events to challenge the boss. Much like in Most Wanted if you beat the boss you'll unlock cars and upgrades. So whilst the career mode is lengthy, it hasn't really changed all that much, you basically just need to fulfil a criteria, beat a boss, upgrade your car and move onto a new set of challenges.
There is a large variety of race events to take part in, including your standard circuit and spring races. There have been a few new race types added including Crew Takedown, Escape and Deliver. In deliver you need to be the first to get to an area and in escape you'll need to get out of a rival crew's turf in a set number of time. One of the best additions to the game is the crew takedown race. In crew takedown you'll need to knock your opponents out of the race before the time is over, sure we've seen the mode before in EA's other racing series, Burnout but a good gameplay mode is a good gameplay mode no matter which game it is in.
The game also supports online play, as well as ad-hoc multiplayer. You can play either circuit or spring races and you can race with the cars that you've unlocked in the single player campaign. There is a ranking system as well and we had no issues at all starting a race, although there wasn't always a lot of players online to race against.
Gameplay wise the Need for Speed engine hasn't really evolved that much and is near identical to the gameplay engine from Need for Speed Underground Rivals. This isn't as much of a problem as you'd think as it's still a lot of fun sliding around the corners and jumping over the hills. When things start to get intense the frame rate will drop, although this doesn't happen all that often. The roads are pretty bare too, there isn't enough traffic which makes Coast City feel a little bit like a desert town at times.
Visually the game is pretty impressive, the whole open world aspect is something to be commended and the different districts of Coast City all have their own unique look. The cars don't look that great though and could have had a little more detail. The audio is about what you'd expect, with some basic engine noises, although the voice acting is surprisingly decent. The actual soundtrack is great and even features Wolfmother, who seem to be appearing on just about every video game soundtrack these days. If you're not pleased with the audio selection then you can actually play MP3's directly off your memory stick, which is really handy. The single player campaign is lengthy and there are plenty of things to be unlocked during the campaign. However, After completing the single player campaign there is really no reason to come back to the game unless you're really keen on the multiplayer.
Need for Speed: Carbon Own The City for the PSP still has a few problems, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable racing game that should fulfil your street racing needs. The gameplay engine really does need a makeover, but Own the City is still a very enjoyable racing game.