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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 December 2006, 12:38 GMT
Need for Speed's carbon copy
By Neil McGreevey
BBC News

Need for Speed
Need for Speed is a lucrative franchise
For the Xbox 360's second festive season in the UK, the big-name franchises are vying for floor space under the tree - and Need for Speed: Carbon leads the pack for gear-heads. If all fans expect is an annual update with some next-generation grunt in the tank, this won't disappoint.

EA's four-wheeled cash-cow first drew breath in 1994 with the clunkily titled Road and Track Presents: The Need for Speed on the doomed 3DO console.

Beginning life as a serious attempt to recreate accurate car handling and physics, since 2003's Underground the franchise has become a white-knuckle foray into the world of import tuner culture, borrowing heavily from The Fast and the Furious movies.

Need for Speed
Format: Multi, Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Graphics: 7
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 7
Enduring appeal: 6
Overall: 7

After bottling the street racing zeitgeist with Need for Speed: Underground, which traded on custom autos and hip-hop fuelled night racing, the 10th entry in the series makes its next-generation debut in loud, shiny style - and even though the bling of tuner culture has lost its sheen somewhat, fans who haven't tired of tricking out their nitro-boosted rides will find plenty to enjoy with Carbon.

It's business as usual for petrol heads as you pick a crew and race an all-out turf war against your rivals' 'hoods through a mixture of driving and barking commands to team-mates.

Carbon marks a welcome return to the neon-lit night racing of Underground, and the 360 version has been buffed to a high shine.

The car models are typically rich, and while the environments hardly push the 360 to its limit, some prodigious use of motion-blur acts as a dollop of Vaseline on the lens.

After the eye-popping carnage of Burnout, however, a game without real-time car damage (apart from some scrapes and cracked glass) seems retrograde, although this is always a tricky prospect with licensed vehicles.

As usual, EA's bulging coffers are put to good use in the soundtrack, which throbs to the likes of Gary Numan, Goldfrapp and Wolfmother.

Apart from the addition of muscle cars and skidmark-inducing canyon races, where one shoddy drift can force boy racers off a cliff, the most significant addition is the 360's online play.

The excellent Pursuit Tag stands out as one player races from seven cop opponents, all vying to catch up and become race car for the longest time.

Still, high production gloss and flashy visuals merely sugar-coat a decidedly average pill.

For all its eye candy and throbbing soundtrack, this is little more than Need for Speed: Most Wanted after dark - even if there is enough gleaming autophilia on offer to give petrol-heads sweet dreams until the likes of Project Gotham 4 and Gran Turismo HD leave the starting grid.

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