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Need for Speed Carbon

Stepping into Carbon's driver seat, we get hands-on with EA's latest NFS game

We've played NFS Carbon. We had to fly all the way to EA's office in Vancouver, Canada, for the privilege. So there.

NFS Carbon is sweet. If you like your arcade racers or got into any of the previous NFS games, you're going to like Carbon. Last month we ran a huge preview revealing all the juicy new features in the game, including the new canyon races. We also revealed that there would be three main car classes in the game - Japanese Tuners, European Exotic and American Muscle. We've taken a car from each class for a spin, and can reveal that they each offer vastly differing driving experiences.

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The American Muscle cars are hardcore. They've got raw power in the two rear wheels, so they're deadly fast, but they also slide about like nobody's business. They go sideways round every corner and are super heavy too, so their steering response is slow. It's like driving a big lorry on an ice rink - making small adjustments and corrections with the steering is near impossible. But if you've got the skills to control them you'll look like the daddy as you blister ahead of the pack in style.

The Japanese Tuners on the other hand, are the complete opposite. We drove the Mitsubishi Evo VIII and it was light, nimble and super stable on the road. You can get a bit of slide going on but unlike in the Muscle cars, these cars are brilliantly responsive - even when going sideways at 100mph. The downfall is their top-speed. Tuners are the slowest of the group, although not by much. This class will be the preferred choice for most players.

We're usually all about the Tuners too, but this time the Exotic European class racers were our favourites. To start with they look awesome - so sleek and shiny, while the soft purr of their engines is like sweet music to our ears. They stick to the road like they're on rails, which is great for stability but the lack of skid-potential means you really have to slow down to get them around tight bends. But drive these beauties right and you'll reach the most insane top-speeds in the game. Pump the nitro through them at these speeds and you'll rip a hole into the universe. Almost.

But even in these cars, getting ahead isn't easy. The AI-controlled cars were extra competitive in the version we played, always ready to pounce if you made a mistake. EA said that its AI was still unbalanced and needed tweaking - let's hope their aggression is toned down a bit because they were ramming us all over the shop. That's alright on the city course we played, but we can't see races of this brutality lasting long on the canyon courses, where deadly cliffs loom round every corner.

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We managed to fight them off, though, with the help of our team mate that provides assistance at the touch of a button. As revealed in our preview last month, NFS Carbon will put heavy emphasis on crew-based racing, allowing you to hit the streets with a partner that will help you out - Pathfinders race ahead and show you the route through a shortcut, while Drifters pull in front of you and allow you to slipstream them for extra speed. In the version we played we had a Blocker, who loitered just behind us, ramming anyone who tried to race up your rear. But he didn't do it for the entire race. That would make the game too easy.

Notice the little power bar in the top-right of the in-game screenshots? That indicates the availability of your partner. When it's full you can call your helper into action for around 10 seconds. As your partner does his stuff, that power bar drains down and he'll stop when it's empty. Then you have to wait until it's fully recharged before you can use him again. It's a neat little feature, although we hardly used it at all. When the other two crew members are added and the tracks get trickier, hopefully the crew-based mechanic will play a much more significant role in the race.

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