Need For Speed unites gaming snobs like Bon Jovi unites musical snobs. It's so easy, fashionable even, to sneer at the EA modo-car franchise, its mainstream appeal and the constant yearly updates. But just as the dancefloor fills during the opening tones of Livin' On A Prayer, every Christmas the entire world goes Need For Speed-bananas, with the racing game welded permanently to the top of the sales charts. And in both cases, there's also a sizeable amount of the hardcore joining in on the fun.
What some people forget too is that Need For Speed is usually pretty good. Last year's Most Wanted, with its mix of frantic cop-dodging and knucklebleaching urban races, delivered furious arcade racing action on the 360 from day one. Despite the plaudits, Black Box aren't content to sit on their tailpipe - Need For Speed Carbon might be using an updated version of the Most Wanted engine, but it's a different experience.
Taking its name from California's real Carbon Canyon area (a real area: an NFS first), Carbon takes the neon-scraping pursuits out of the city and into the mountains. A direct sequel to Most Wanted, as the storyline goes, the police have begun to crack down on the illegal street races, and sick of having fixed penalty notices rammed in their faces, they've decided to spread their operations far and wide. In a welcome new direction for the series, Carbon will take place in a number of glamorous locations - including an oceanfront harbour, business districts and treacherous mountain tops - instant refreshment for those that tired of Most Wanted's yellow and brown cities.
The big addition this year is team racing. Drawing on boy racer culture, Carbon allows you to assemble your own crew to help you out during the races. Prospective members have one of three on-track skills; pathfinders will try to seek out shortcuts for you, blockers will aggressively shunt the opposition into oblivion, and drafters stay directly in front of you to allow you to live the slipstream dream. Your brothers-in-rpms also have one of three off-track attributes; you've got mechanics, modders and, ominously, 'fixers' who 'fix' your off-track rival squabbles. With night races and a focus on modding (the Autosculpt feature allows you to alter the height and angle of car parts using the analogue sticks), this is a return to the Underground episode of the franchise, which might set racing purists a-grrring. Whatever. Two things are guaranteed: it'll be perfectly agreeable arcade racing fun, and it'll sell three copies for every human on the planet. Job, as they say, done.
Some interesting team dynamics and more visual variety this time out will ensure that this eighth edition of the Need For Speed franchise will sell like nearly out-of-fashion hotcakes, on a day where there's 'no tomorrow'.