Review: Need for Speed Carbon

Customize and race your ride in streets and canyons (December 26th, 2007)

MacNN Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Electronic Arts

Price: $39.95 US

The Good

  • Fun game play. Endless customization. Absorbing experience.

The Bad

  • Some minor bugs. Game is resource-hungry. Could not use highest performance settings on a 2.1GHz Intel Mac.

Apple's move to the Intel platform created new opportunities for developers to use technology that allows Windows programs to be ported to the Mac with no modifications to the source code. Electronic Arts uses Cider from TransGaming, which loads a Windows program into an Intel Mac's memory and links it to Win32 programming. As a result, Intel Mac users can buy Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2142 Battlefield, Need for Speed Carbon, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08, and Madden NFL 08. MacNN's first foray into Cider engine-based games is Need for Speed Carbon, which is an arcade-style street and canyon racing game. It features popular music from artists such as electro-clash Ladytron and Australia-based Wolfmother.

Big Box, Easy Install

Need for Speed Carbon is packaged in a double-thick DVD case and contains only a slender manual and a single disc. The case is too big, especially for those who keep their games organized in DVD towers. All of the Macintosh Electronics Arts games are packaged this way. While the packaging may help the games stand out on stores shelves, it makes storing them at home unwieldy.

All the game require only a drag-and-drop of the application file onto your hard drive, but some of them still need the CD to run. Need for Speed can use a game pad, so I decided to plug in my Mad Catz XBOX-style USB controller to play the game.

Preference Options

I like to make sure I use the best available graphics, while balancing it with an acceptable frame rate. Just for kicks, I set all the preferences to full power, but the Radeon X1600 in my Mac doesn't support motion blur effects. My screen resolution choices are only 800 x 600 and 1024 x 768, which is frustrating. The game is also available for the XBOX 360 and Playstation 3 and they are heavily tuned for widescreen high definition televisions, so it seems odd to me that the same viewing area is not available on my 20" iMac, especially considering the great graphics in the Need for Speed games. Also, the full screen anti-aliasing option didn't seem to work.

I ran into some minor setup problems. The menu options would flick around randomly, whenever I tried to set up the USB controller. Disconnecting the controller fixed the problem, but it is a precise game and seems hard to play with digital controls. The static buttons are either pressed or not, whereas analogue control offers more precise movement with the thumb sticks. I quit the application and the music and game froze, so I had to force quit. I tried some other games to test my game pad and it works fine, so I restarted Need for Speed Carbon. For a split second I had the same problems, but then inexplicably behaved fine. I could not reproduce that bug.

I started the campaign mode and was treated to a well-done movie. Unfortunately, the full throttle graphics settings quickly degraded the game's performance. I set the graphics to low quality, and enabled a few options that I'd used in other games, but the only acceptable frame rate I could achieve was on the lowest setting. Having played several other games at full quality on this machine, I am disappointed that I couldn't enable just a bit of the eye candy. To the games's credit, the lowest settings still offer a nice overall appearance.

Tutorial and Back Story

I played through an introductory level, in which I learned that I'm on the run from a number of people, after coming back to my hometown from an extended absence. Old friends have become new enemies and vice versa, and Nikki, the ex-girlfriend, is in the arms of someone who bailed me out of a very large debt. Not many people seem to warm up to you upon first arriving, Nikki included. The story is passable and it serves to set up the mechanics of the game, such as turf takeovers and duels. While the acting isn't award caliber, characters like the heavyset wise-guy Neville, add an element of humor to buying cars, parts, and racing for territory.

Next, I chose a car to start my career and create a race team. Nikki and Neville take you on a quick tutorial of how to race with a wingman. She goes over the different types of wingmen that you can employ: Blockers, who take out opposing racers that allow you to get in front; Drafters, who you drive behind to gain a speed boost; and Scouts, which are drivers who lead you by a small gap to point out any possible shortcuts. You then sent out into the city in a free-roaming mode. You can drive around, learn the city, and look for new shops and dealerships, or you can engage challenges from rival race teams.

Lots to Customize

You can choose a number of different modifications and performance and aesthetic customization are nearly limitless. Unlocking additional wingmen gives you access to the body sculpting feature, so you can change the car chassis, such as shaving fenders, or morphing the wheel designs in almost any way you desire. Once you prove yourself by winning races and gaining territory, you are offered additional car upgrades.

EA games screen


Electronic Arts Supplied Graphic


The game map is constantly changing, including territorial acquisitions for the player and the computer. The latter takes its turn after the player completes a race. The computer-controlled gangs aren't terribly aggressive in acquiring your territory, but you frequently see gang colors change among the various non-player factions.

Good Graphics and Music

Overall, the design of the city is quite nice, even on low settings. The streets are easier to read than previous Need for Speed titles. I never smashed into blind corners that just seemed to pop out of nowhere. Even more surprising is that using the keyboard to control the car is a viable option. EA tuned the keyboard controls well, and steering response is very snappy and smooth.

The music blends in quite well with the feeling of the game. The tracks are plentiful, so no one becomes annoying. They are also varied, so you aren't inundated with only one genre of music.

Canyon racing is the big draw for Need for Speed Carbon, with turns in the road caressing the edge of a cliff. Players compete in one of four different types of canyon races: duels, sprints, checkpoint, and drift. While three of the game modes are variations on the point-A to point-B theme, drifting is a competition where players slide through curves, and earn points based on how close to the edge they drive and how long they maintain the drift, while driving quickly.

Fun, but Limited

Overall, the game is a lot of fun. The races are quick and frantic, and the endless customization adds a serious level of refinement to a player's driving style. I was disappointed with its poor performance on my relatively new machine and the input-related bugs. You can control the game controls with either a game pad or the keyboard, and probably a dedicated USB steering wheel.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by Galen Wood and Ilene Hoffman


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