Need for Speed: Carbon - game review

18309
Genre: Racing/Action
Format: DVD
Developer: EA Games
Publisher: EA Games
Minimum System Requirements: Mac OS X v10.4.9, 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo processor, 1GB RAM, 6GB hard disk space, ATI X1600 or NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT or higher video card (Intel GMA950 chipset not supported), DVD-ROM drive
Review Computer: 2GHz 20" Intel Core Duo iMac, 1GB RAM, 256MB ATI Radeon X1600
Network Feature: Yes
Processor Compatibility Intel only
Price: $39.95
ESRB Rating: E 10+ (violence)
Availability: Now
Demo: No
Official Website: www.needforspeed.com

Note: The screen captures featured below are taken from apple.com.

Know what I like most about Need for Speed: Carbon? The opening movie warning gamers everywhere that this is, in fact, a game, and that it needs to remain a game, and that kids and adults such as me who behave like kids shouldn't get into cars we can't afford and race them through city canyons and knock policemen off the road. I like this not because of the absurdity of the public service announcement, but because of the hot woman in the short skirt who delivered the message. In my day, messages such as this were delivered by cartoon cats in sunglasses and backwards baseball caps. And it would've been a rap. A rap written by 45-year-old white marketing executive. Although the gaming industry and the lawyers who run it haven't yet realized that if a kid wants to recklessly race a car through town, no amount of public service messages are going to dissuade him, they at least have learned that the same kid won't skip past a hot woman in a short skirt like I used to with the rapping cat.

The woman mentioned above is actually a character in this game. Her name is Nicki, and she hates me, apparently. She hates you, too, if you're the one playing the game. I guess I had a past with Nicki, and why not? She's hot, and she's concerned for my driving safety. What else could a gaming fan want?

I bring this up now because the characters and story in Need for Speed: Carbon are actually quite important. They drive the action, and do it quite effectively, albeit in an unnaturally "clean" manner. I'm not sure if the actors remind me of the type you'd find in Christian children's shows or French soft-core erotica, but they certainly don't look as if they'd be racing around the urban underground.

And yet, it's partly because of these actors and these scenes that I'm now a fan of Need for Speed: Carbon. There's a reason behind the action. There's a flow. The game isn't just level after level after track after track, but the game play moves naturally from one scene to the next. You think you're done, but suddenly another element is thrown into the mix, and you're still behind the wheel of your car. There are breaks, of course. Seems you can't have a racing game these days that doesn't involve customizing your car in new and bizarre ways. Here, you even get to customize your crew. But because there's not a set "race, customize, race, customize" pattern to it, the process seems less intrusive to the game play.

Need for Speed: Carbon

Of course, no amount of pacing, story and characters would matter if the action wasn't any good, but that's not a concern here. The racing in Need for Speed: Carbon is as good as we've ever seen on the Macintosh. It begins with you choosing your car style: muscle, exotic or tuner. I get that muscle is about power, and tuners are about handling, but exotic? Are looks important? I wouldn't know; I drive a '98 Honda Civic. If this game were aimed at me, it'd be called Need for Gas Mileage and Dependability: Carbon...oh, and iPod Connectivity Carbon. Regardless, you can select your car based on your style play. In racing games, I tend to just accelerate non-stop and try to avoid walls. Better to go tuner, then. As you win races, you'll get money to trick out your car, and eventually buy new ones.

As I mentioned earlier, you will also add crew members as the game progresses. These people will help as you race, not by barking out orders or fixing a flat, but by racing alongside you. Blockers, scouter, drafters...each serves his/her purpose to help you accomplish your goal. Their AI is pretty good, and if they're not always as helpful as they should be...well, that just adds to the realism. Can't depend on them all the time, after all.

Need for Speed: Carbon

The racing itself starts out fairly easy, but that doesn't last. By adapting more of an arcade style approach and forgoing realism, the developer made sure they built up your confidence before tearing it down later on. The keyboard controls don't help. They're fine enough in the early levels, but as the difficulty increases, I found them terribly frustrating. Thankfully, the game worked just fine with my Logitech RumblePad 2. Setting it up was kind of annoying, if only because the set-up interface is cumbersome. Beyond that, though, having a good game pad will make a world of difference. In fact, I'm tempted to rent the Wii version of Need for Speed: Carbon just to see how much easier it is to play when doing so with controls conducive to racing.

This is important, because considering the wide variety of racing styles and the difficulty of them all, you'll nee a more seamless control system than the keyboard can provide. The drifting races, especially, is much, much easier to handle with a c-stick or actual steering wheel (I didn't test the game with a steering wheel, so I can't comment on compatibility). Same with the boss battles, which find you first staying as close to the opposing driver as possible, and then trying to stay as far ahead as possible. These are quite fun, but they're just not natural and are therefore extremely frustrating on the keyboard.

Need for Speed: Carbon

You'll also want a different controller if you want any hope of being competitive in the multiplayer action. Need for Speed: Carbon allows you to race against PC users, which is fantastic; no worries about finding opponents. There's no shortage of racing peripherals available for the PC, so you have to assume your competition will be decked out...especially considering many have been fans of the franchise for quite some time. I'd really love it if we could race against console users (was it 4x4 Evolution a few years back that had Mac vs. console online compatibility), but that's asking a lot. Multiplayer mode offers your standard races that are in the game, but throws in a couple others and allows you to race in your custom cars.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of Need for Speed: Carbon, however, is the graphics. It looks great, not just in realism, but in style. It has a distinctive look that carries throughout and gives the game a cinematic feel, as if you're seeing the whole game through a filter. The lighting effects are especially cool, and make for some wild action. My computer is towards the high end of the recommended system specs, so I was able to max out the graphics setting with little to no performance hit. Hopefully, you can do the same, because it really does look nice. Even if you're on the low end, though, as long as you've got an Intel Mac with the proper graphics card (no MacBooks, thank you), you'll be fine.

Need for Speed: Carbon

The soundtrack, on the other hand...well, I'll assume it's good. Again, I'm not the target audience. The hip-hop music fits the action and the story, but a game with the cinematic quality of Need for Speed: Carbon would be well served by a cinematic score that enhances and moves along with the action, not gets in the way of it. Thankfully, you can turn the music down or off, which I recommend because the sound effects are great.

Need for Speed: Carbon was a great choice by EA for their first round of games for the Macintosh. It has decent enough racing to sell to racing fans, but enough variety to appeal to those of us who bore quickly of driving in circles. Forgoing realism for arcade style controls doesn't hurt, either. The story, although kind of dorky and acted out by dorky looking actors (not their fault, though, it's just they way they're presented), seems oddly appropriate for the game. Unfortunately, the extreme difficulty of the later levels may turn off many players, but at least we won't have to worry about these players taking out their frustrations on the highway late at night.

Thank you, Electronic Arts legal department, Emmanuelle Vaugier, and rapping cartoon cats everywhere!

Applelinks Rating

Buy Need for Speed: Carbon




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