Need for Speed Carbon: Own the City Review

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Game Title: Need for Speed Carbon Own-the-City
Developer: EA Canada
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: PSP
Download: 810 MB
NA Availability: Digital Download
EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: No

I’ve long since thought about doing a retro review on one of the PSP Need for Speed games.  Criterion’s Need for Speed: Most Wanted is my go-to racer on the Vita and finding another open-world experience in the series’ PSP games wasn’t easy.  The PSP version of Undercover has free-roam, but it’s not on the North America PlayStation Network for download, and most of the ones that are have course-based gameplay without any sort of open world to explore.  Other racers h. , ave free-roam, like the Midnight Club games, but in Need for Speed, it’s more difficult.

I looked back to the first PSP NFS game I played and found my answer.  One of the first Need for Speed games EA made for the PSP and Nintendo DS had the course-based gameplay along with a free-roam city for you to explore.  And that is the game we are going to talk about today.

Here is my retro review of the PSP title, Need for Speed Carbon: Own the City!

Story

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Own the City is separate from the console version of Carbon.  In OTC, you play as the brother of the leader of a local street-racing crew, trying to take over every piece of turf in the city.  In the game’s intro, you are shown racing with him as a mysterious car intervenes with the race, resulting in the death of your brother and a lot of time for you in the hospital.

As you wake up and are told what happened, your brother’s old crewmates and girlfriend take you to his grave and set you up with making a new crew.  And then you set off to race and gain reputation so you can find out who intervened that day and ended up causing the death of your brother.

The story of OTC is actually quite emotional for a NFS spin-off game.  It’s not what you’ll find in Carbon on the PS2, but it’s a very interesting and different take on the plot of a racing game.

Gameplay

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Like its console counterpart, OTC is an open-world racing game with arcade and customization elements thrown into the mix.  As you progress the game for the next story event, you will be buying and upgrading cars, roaming the city, and taking part in races to gain reputation to retake that territory and move onto the next.

First up, how does this game differ from the console version?  You know the plot is different, and other parts are, too.  Own the City has the same soundtrack as the console Carbon, but has only a little over half of the cars.  OTC has around 30 cars at its disposal while on the PS2, there were easily 40-50 cars available.  For a handheld racer in the PSP gen long before Gran Turismo PSP became a thing, this wasn’t bad, especially with all of the visual enhancements you could do with each car.

Now let’s get to progression.  Everything progresses and slowly unlocks, from the car library to the actual world itself.  Players of the 2012 Most Wanted game will remember that the entire city of Fairhaven was accessible from the get-go, but that is not the case in OTC.  Basically, you have turf and you’re limited to what turf you can wander into.  At first, the free-roam city will be relatively small.  As you take over territories, where you can go will slowly grow until you have a huge city to freely explore.

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Progression is based on money and reputation.  As you win races, you get money and reputation.  Money is used for buying faster cars as well as customization parts.  Once enough rep is earned, you get cutscenes and new major races for advancing the game’s story.  OTC’s customization is a little more advanced than Most Wanted’s but it’s got nothing on games like last year’s PS4 Need for Speed game.  If you want to be a professional ricer with mods, this isn’t the game to do it with.

The biggest feature of OTC that sets it apart from other racers is Crew.  In every race, you will be racing against opponents, but will have a member of your Crew with you in the race.  Each Crew Member has a Class and Power that you can use.  Some Crew members can ram targets opponents into walls while others can lay down spike strips to disable any car that it comes into contact with.  It’s very different, but a feature I’ve always loved about the game.

If there was one thing I would say I don’t like, it’s the variety of environments.  You see a lot of the same kind of roads and buildings for the entire game.  In Most Wanted 2012, there was city, forest, an airport, bridges, etc.  In Carbon, a lot of it looks very, very similar, even when you’re up in the mountains vs in the middle of town.

Length for the game is also something to be praised.  Own the City is borderline longer than the console version of Carbon.  NFS Carbon on PS2 may take you around 12 hours to complete while OTC took me around 15 hours to complete.  It is not every day that a handheld spin-off has more length than the original console version.

Controls

First of all, this is one of the few PSP games that are not compatible with the PlayStation TV.  As such, we should not expect it to ever be without hacking since only one PSP game ever received an “Update” and that was LittleBigPlanet.  Sorry for PlayStation TV owners, but this is one handheld game that is going to stay on-the-go.

Outside of that, the controls are not too difficult.  The Left Analog Stick is used for movement and the D-Pad can swap music tracks.  X is held down for acceleration and Square for the brakes.  Finally, Circle is used for locking onto targets when your Crew is able to use their special power during a race.

Presentation

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Visually, this is a PSP racer so don’t expect something gorgeous.  There are a lot of jagged edges and many car details are pretty rough.  It’s definitely one of the game’s lesser features, especially with Gran Turismo PSP showing off the handheld’s capabilities in a much prettier sense.

Music there isn’t a lot to say.  Carbon had a fun soundtrack, especially with Joker and the Thief.  There is a large variety of music so you won’t hear the same thing every time you set out and do a race.

Performance-wise, I have nothing to really complain about.  Load times aren’t very long and gameplay runs pretty smooth from start to finish.  EA knows how to make their games run well, and this is a nice example of it.

Summary

Need for Speed Carbon: Own the City is one of the only open-world racers that released on the PSP.  Although the car list is only about half of that of the console release, there isn't a good variety of environments and the visuals are no vision of beauty, this will definitely scratch that free-roam racer itch if you’ve already had your fill of the Vita version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted. 

7/10

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  • Lester Paredes

    I’ve always liked Ridge Racer on psp. No open world though. Have wondered about getting this one on psn, thanks for a review!

    • Planning on it, though my next retro reviews planned are on the 3DS side (to review the rest of the Shantae series), but I will definitely be doing more PSP reviews in the future.

      • Lester Paredes

        Awesome. I may qualify as a Vita and PSP fanboy, but the 3DS/DS are fantastic systems as well. Keep ’em coming!

  • Lester Paredes

    Also, I think you should do more retro reviews. There are plenty of great PSP games that play on vita, and plenty that I have no idea what the hell they’re all about. Lol

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