Own the City might have its fair share of problems, but it stands out above other portable racing games for its convincing sense of speed and fresh ideas.
Certain platforms are commonly associated with specific genres. For instance, whenever I think of the NES, platformers come to mind, since that’s the era of Metroid, Castlevania and Mega Man. In the case of the PSP, genres are definitely varied, but the portable console saw the release of numerous racing games, including Ridge Racer, Burnout, Gran Turismo, Wipeout and some Need for Speed titles. Own the City falls into that category and while the game has its fair share of problems, it stands out above the rest for its convincing sense of speed and fresh ideas.
As most of you probably know, Own the City is the portable version of Need for Speed: Carbon, the direct sequel to Most Wanted. For many (myself included,) the latter was the pinnacle of the series, since the racing game introduced many refreshing ideas to the franchise. But without a doubt, the best aspect about the game was the map design, car models, the police system and of course, its ridiculous story that used colorful FMV sequences and hammy voice-acting, making it a bizarre and memorable experience.
Own the City’s story is different to that of Most Wanted, but it’s still ridiculous and full of cliches. In the portable game, you assume the role of a youngster participating in an illegal street race with his brother Mick, but there’s an accident. Months after the unfortunate event, you wake up in the local hospital where you meet a girl named Sarah. She’s your brother’s girlfriend and she tells you that your brother has died in the accident.
Apparently, there was a third car involved in the accident, so you’ll spend the entire single-player campaign racing random people until you find the person behind the car wreck. You belong to the 7’s crew and you need to compete against other crews to win territory and gain the ability to race against even more powerful racers.
Something that makes the game stand out is its Wingman system, which you can activate during races. There are different abilities as part of the Wingman system: Brawler disables a rival car for a while, Drafter allows you to drive behind a friend’s cars to draft, Assassin places a spike strip that blows the tires of the car that go over it and so on. It’s worth mentioning that most of these abilities take 30 seconds to recharge and they are quite effective. Although these abilities make the game much more riveting, they also make most races a breeze, since it’s easy to rely on them over and over.
In terms of structure, the game’s always the same. The map’s divided into different sections that are controlled by enemy crews and you need to win events to be able to challenge the leader of that turf. When you challenge and defeat the leader, you claim that territory as your own and move on to an adjacent one. Naturally, the game get more and more difficult as the game progresses.
As part of the single-player campaign there’s a variety of race types that include the following: in Circuit, you need to finish in first place to progress, in Takedown, you need to take down as many opponents as you can in the allotted time, in Sprint, you need to get to a specific point in the map before your opponents do, in Delivery, you need to deliver a rare car before the clock reaches zero and in Escape, you need to escape an enemy turf before time runs out. Apart from being able to race, you can also customize the cars you purchase or unlock and there are several customizable items that affect both the performance and visual aspect of your machines.
As I mentioned above, Own the City makes use of hammy voice acting and while that made sense in Most Wanted, it simply doesn’t fit here and feels boring and repetitive. In Most Wanted the over-theatrical voice acting and ridiculous FMV made the story “so bad it’s good,” but here, they are simple contrived and out of place. Additionally, there’s a good selection of songs from different genres, including rap, hip hop, rock and more. But the soundtrack isn’t that substantial, so you’ll find yourself listening to the same tracks again and again.
I feel like Carbon desperately tried to replicate the success of Most Wanted and this portable entry in the series is no different. Own the City has a bunch of compelling ideas that make racing in a smaller screen entertaining and engaging, but ultimately, the meager difficulty, anemic soundtrack and repetitive tracks make Own the City a title that will hold your attention, but not for long.