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Need for Speed Carbon

It's huge, and crew-based racing is a welcome addition - but is it enough to please racing fans?

Clarkson hates Japanese cars. He reckons they're soulless and plasticky. And he's got a point. Those new Mazdas, Hondas and Nissans are a bit samey, but then that's the case with most cars. Loads of soft, inoffensive curves and sensible colours so their sensible owners don't stand out too much from the crowd.

So you've got to wonder what he'd make of Need for Speed Carbon, a game full of samey-looking cars and which itself isn't so different from other NFS games.

See, before NFS started getting ASBOs and going all Underground on us, they were actually pretty good driving games with plenty of their own individual character. But the last few years have seen the series get a bit carried away with the whole The Fast and the Furious thing, with the actual racing hidden beneath layers of thick, gloopy gloss, tenuous plots and more car parts than an out-of-town Halfords. At least with Carbon the modding tendencies have been scaled back to allow players to focus on buying decent cars, then a few upgrade kits. There's still scope for improving your car's performance, but not so much that it's an entire game in itself.

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The bright lights of the big city are left behind in Carbon, and the game moves to take in the lethal bends and twists of Carbon Canyon. The fuzz seem to have taken notice of the massive increase in DIY racing in recent years and have clamped down even more than in Need For Speed Most Wanted, forcing competitors out into the valleys. Of course it's still dark, and those blinding neon flashes and blurs, painful on the old peepers as they can be, are missed in the country. The racing taking place on these canyon roads is truly breakneck, recalling the Japanese trend for hardcore downhill duelling games like the rock-hard Kaido Racer, and running wide on a bend often means smashing through the safety barrier and down to your doom.

The game's free-roaming Career map is divided into four main areas, each containing around 15 events offering rewards such as plush new vinyls or performance-enhancing kits, not to mention a hefty cash prize. Carrying on the recent Need For Speed trend, races are entered by driving around the city and looking for one of those big gay stars to drive through to signal your entry. However, you aren't limited to these predetermined events; driving through the city takes you through various rival crews' patches, and rather than giving you a friendly beep as you mosey past, you're challenged to the vehicular equivalent of seeing who can piss the highest up the wall - a point-to-point sprint. Other events include speedtrap sprints, circuit races and checkpoint runs. And then there are the drift events.

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NO-GOOD DRIFTER
Drifting in Carbon is, frankly, shit. Some drift events are almost impossibly difficult to do well in thanks to the weird decision to coat drift tracks in virtual Vaseline. Any other top driftbased racer you care to mention lets you make like a four-wheeled crab manually, or in other words it gives you control of what your car does. In Carbon that's not always the case. Oh sod it, let's not pretend. It's hardly ever the case, and trying to amass a decent points total is ridiculously tricky.

Imagine Peter Crouch, pissed, wearing lubed-up rollerskates on ice and that's very close to what Carbon descends into in its drift-based sections. They're not fun, and it makes you wonder why EA actually bothered bunging them in. You'll often find an outrageous fluke is necessary to take first place in a drift event, and they're the events that'll have you going back over and over again to try and complete the game.

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