The 2006 game in the Need for Speed series is an evolution of the gameplay introduced in the previous games. The career mode offers complete freedom in a city with a story mode supported by FMV cutscenes, as featured in Need for Speed: Most Wanted, but now also set in the Carbon Canyon, where racers duel for territory in the city below. There still are many police pursuits. At the same time, the focus on tuning and sculpting your car remains, as introduced in Need for Speed Underground. As you win money from races, you can visit garages and car lots to make improvements to your vehicle.
Enhancements are still unlocked gradually, but the cars have now been divided over different tiers. There are about 40 cars to unlock. Many of them have been featured in previous installments, but there is a new selection and this year’s edition introduces powerful muscle cars such as the Ford Mustang and Dodge Charger. Other features include the possibility to form your own crew, more detailed sculpting features, drifting races (introduced in NFS:U and replaced by drag races in NFS:MW) and the new car classes. The PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 versions offer online multiplayer, missing from the PS2, GC and Xbox releases. Up to eight players can race together, in the Pursuit Tag or Pursuit Knockout modes, with a few variations. Pursuit Tag is a race of one civilian car against cop cars. To become the civilian car, you have to tag it and then try to fend off the cops as long as possible until you are tagged again by other players. In Pursuit Knockout everyone starts as a civilian car, but the last one at the end of the first lap becomes a cop and needs to cause as much damage as possible to the other speeders. Another mode allows you to drive cooperatively (up to four players) in a single race.
The city and the surroundings in the career mode have been divided into different territories, controlled by gangs. You are either invited or challenged to race in the sections and claim them as your own. To do so, you have to impress the gang leader by winning races until he challenges you for a duel – first in the city, then over the narrow roads of Carbon Canyon. Scores are based on proximity. You need to follow the boss in the first race, and he is in pursuit in the second one. There are 4 boss duels in total.
The crew feature, with room for up to 6 cars, allows you to assign three roles to racers: drafters, scouts and blockers. These are supporting characters you can hire to help you win races. Drafters leave behind a coloured trail that makes it easier to find the way, scouts discover hidden shortcuts, and blockers try to cause mayhem to slow your opponents down. If you hire a scout, you get access to the new AutoSculpt feature. It enables you to modify the height of every part of your car through sliders, solely for visual effect. You can also buy full body kits.