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Need for Speed Carbon

Perilous canyon racing and crew rivalry the formula for what's looking the best NFS game yet

EA's balls-out racing series is blasting back and this time it's venturing out to the treacherous cliffs of canyon territory for racing with a dangerous twist. The stakes are high but Need For Speed Carbon isn't lifting its foot in hesitation. It's motoring on to being the most extreme arcade racer ever, and it might just succeed.

Games based on the street racing scene aren't exactly sparse. Many of them are full of clichéd stereotypes and cheesy scripts, seemingly based on what developers THINK being in the scene would be like. EA isn't playing a guessing game with NFSC. Scott Neilson, the game's producer, explains why EA is doing everything it can to make sure Carbon gets it right: "We have guys out there that actually do this stuff. We have a team of researchers in the racing scene, constantly finding out what's big in the US, Europe and Japan. We know what's new, and what's being considered as 'last year'." It makes perfect sense - the street racing scene, being an underground hobby, would be tough to keep track of if you weren't involved. You have to actually get in with the action to be able to recreate the lifestyle accurately.

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According to Neilson, the word on the street is that laws against street racing are getting tougher by the year, and occasional crashes are attracting an overwhelming amount of negative press to the scene. The consequences for getting busted are so severe that racers are looking for a way to escape all the 'heat'. As a result, they're gathering in the canyon areas outside of the city, where the feds tend not to roam. So canyon racing is born, and EA has locked on to the new trend with NFS Carbon.

This is the first time the long-running series has ventured out of the busy, traffic-filled streets since the Underground games made it all urban. NFS Most Wanted has small off-road sections through open parkland on the outskirts of the city, but that's not the same. It will be interesting to see how the hippety-hop 'street' style of the franchise and its modded road-burners will mix with the winding, out-of-town settings in this new game.

Neilson explains why the new setting serves as far more than a simple change of scenery for gamers: "You're racing on dangerous roads, with nothing but a tiny guard rail separating the road and a sheer drop." This adds a new dimension to the NFS formula because, as Neilson goes on to say: "You're not only trying to defeat your opponents but also trying to just stay alive."

A car actually smashes through a metal barrier in one screenshot, so it seems that if you leave the road there is little between you and certain death. NFS is going to be a game about guts - will you have the nerve to put your foot down and power round corners just a few feet from a sheer drop off a huge cliff? Have you even got the skill, for that matter? You could bounce off all the walls in the previous games, and a loss of speed would be your only punishment. That's not even a slap on the wrist when compared to the 1,000ft-drop you'll be facing if you screw up here.

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So the roads are higher and more treacherous, but that's not all. Races are going to be even more frenzied now, because instead of racing alone, Carbon will have you racing in a crew. Crew-based racing is another one of Carbon's bold innovations - multiple cars hit the track and face off against each other in teams, battling to get to the finish line in the lead. You may remember a similar feature in Juiced, which turned out to be rather disappointing because your team-mates made hardly any difference to your race. Neilson tells us why Carbon will do it a whole lot better: "Juiced had the idea - the core principle was cool, but the problem was with its execution of the idea. Carbon will focus more on crew rivalry. It won't just be a gimmick.

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