Gaming: Need for Speed Carbon

Peter Cohen, Macworld
19 January, 2008
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When Electronic Arts (EA) announced in mid-2007 plans to publish games for the Mac, it surprised many gamers by including one game series that hasn’t raised its head on the Mac before — the venerable Need for Speed series of street racing games.

You’re a street racer who’s returned to the city after an extended absence, only to discover that the town is now controlled by several rival gangs who have taken over different neighbourhoods. The only way you can achieve your former glory — and control of the city — is to race against them in a variety of events and win, avoiding cops, other drivers and all manners of objects like telephone poles and concrete barriers in the process.

Let me say at the outset that Need for Speed: Carbon isn’t particularly realistic. If you’re looking for an actual racing simulator, you’ll be better off with something like Colin McRae Rally from Feral Interactive. But if you’re looking for a cinematic game that will make you feel like you’re in a scene from The Fast and the Furious, Need for Speed: Carbon is really hard to top.

Events vary from canyon runs that will have you caroming down hairpin turns at top speed, threatening to go over the edge at every moment, to “drifting” (that is, sledding your car around tight curving courses, spinning the wheels and fishtailing as much as possible for points). And of course, there’s straight-up slaloms through busy city streets with a pack of opponents on your tail (or in front of you, depending on how good you are).

Each race you win will earn prestige, not only for you but for your little racing club and its control of territory. Wins also net you cash, which you can turn over into seemingly endless varieties of car customisation or new vehicles that you’ll be able to unlock as your influence and your list of winning races increases. You’ll be able to race everything from front wheel drive subcompacts to roaring ’60s era muscle cars by the time you’re done, with a few supercar exotics thrown in for good measure.

Sound cues are used to good effect; you hear teammates over the radio barking out information and providing situation reports as you make your way around the circuit.

Lost in translation. As another game that’s been brought to the Mac by TransGaming’s Cider translation-layer technology, Need for Speed: Carbon runs only on Intel-based Macs, and will only work right on Macs that have discrete graphics chips. (That means that MacBooks and Mac minis are left off the list of supported devices, unfortunately).

The game ran fantastically on my 2.33GHz MacBook Pro, but it wasn’t without problems — a few times, the game quit on me. There’s been no patch and EA is, unfortunately, something of a black hole for tech support. If you can’t find a canned answer on the company’s support web site, don’t plan on getting substantive advice from its support team. EA and TransGaming obviously need to work out a few issues going forward — telling users to hack a config file manually with a text editor and change an arcane value from 1 to 0 to fix a problem with native screen resolution isn’t a very user-friendly solution, especially for a game.

Need for Speed: Carbon supports multiplayer action against other users, though you’ll need to set up an account on EA’s servers to do so. That’s a big plus; there’s no artificial division between Mac and PC users. (I’m glad to see this ironed out, because it hasn’t gone that smoothly for EA’s Mac release of Command & Conquer 3, which required a patch to enable Mac to PC play.) Racing online also enables you to post your scores on leaderboards maintained on EA’s web site.

Although Need for Speed: Carbon is essentially the same version as the PC game “wrapped” in technology to make it work on the Mac, there is one element missing that you will find in the PC version: Online cars and mods that some gamers may have created and used with the Windows game can’t be imported to the Mac.

Australian Macworld’s buying advice.

Need for Speed: Carbon is a welcome new addition to the Mac fold, and one of EA’s most playable and fun titles of its new crop of Mac games.

Need for Speed: Carbon

OSX 10.4, 10.5
Cons No MacBook support; a few spotty reliability issues
Pros Mac-to-PC multiplayer support; variety of different cars to choose from; engaging storyline
Rating 4
Type Racing game
Processor Intel
RRP AUD$80
Publisher Electronic Arts
Distributor Try and Byte 02 9906 5227
Reviewer: Peter Cohen

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