Press gas pedal to get your heart racing

The ability to race on treacherous roads above Carbon Canyon near the imaginary Palmont City is one explanation for the name of this successful addition to the Need for Speed series.

need for speed 88 (photo credit: )
need for speed 88
(photo credit: )
Need for Speed: Carbon, a DVD-ROM in English by EA Games, distributed with an 18-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP and a 1.7 ghz Pentium 4 PC or better, for ages 12 through adult, NIS 219. Rating: **** The ability to race on treacherous roads above Carbon Canyon near the imaginary Palmont City is one explanation for the name of this successful addition to the Need for Speed (NFS) series. An unmentioned one is the fact that your souped-up vehicles accelerate fast enough to leave carbon-like black stripes on the roads. There have been half-a-dozen PC versions of this series since it was launched as an simple track-racing videogame (and even more titles for Xbox and PlayStation consoles) - with the most recent being NFS: Underground and NFS: Most Wanted. This new one, offering the most advanced graphics engine to date, presents street racing at its best only at night, which offers realistic reflections of highway lights and cityscapes on the cars' buffed-wax exteriors. Press the gas pedal via your gamepad to get your heart racing. Although you're likely to crash a lot, not even a speck of dust will settle on your car, which won't suffer even a dent (although you can click an option to produce car damage in the vehicles you bash). Palmont City is divided into four major territorial regions, with dozens of races within their borders. In the "Career" mode, you enter an all-out battle to control the city and take over your rivals' neighborhoods a block at a time. These rivals are not mild-mannered Sunday drivers, but gangland bosses who roll the driver's window down to make tough-guy remarks at you and then try to push you off the road. This is the story in both the single player mode and the even-more-bountiful on-line multiplayer mode. Once you win a region, you go off to the canyon, where your heart will thump with adrenaline as you constantly face the danger of driving off cliffs into the darkness. Besides these face-to-face encounters, there are - thankfully - no people on the roads to be run over, unlike the very violent and bloody Grand Theft Auto racing-and-cop-bashing videogame series - but street signs are meant to be knocked down. The lack of pedestrians gives you the opportunity to pay attention to the road, the maps and the sounds, which alternate among tense music, gear changes, the click of the nitrous switch for a special burst of speed and police car walkie-talkie conversations. Unlike previous NFS games, you are not out there on your own, but can hire crew members defined as "drifters," "blockers" and "scouts" to help you out. You have manual and automatic transmissions and three types of vehicles to choose from: "tuners," with great handling but slower speed; "exotics," which are tops in both speed and acceleration; and "muscle" cars, which are hard to control but exude raw power. Racers can start with one type and then switch to another in midstream to make the most of each type's characteristics. There are more than three dozen different models available - from the Dodge Charger and Mazda Speed to Mercedes CLK 500 and Lotus Elise - but you have to earn points from races before being able to unlock them. Most players will love the Autosculpt technology, which allows them to upgrade vehicles with riotous colors, stripes, spoilers, bumpers and other accessories when they win races and earn prize money. On one round of a race, the main opponent is ahead, requiring you to remain as close as you can on his tail; on another, you are ahead of the heap and must put as much distance between you and your competitors as possible. One nice touch is the motion blur, which lets you slow down momentarily to handle the car more exactly. A lap race against police cars begins with all as civilians; the driver who finishes last becomes a cop who pursues the others and can even butt them in head-on collisions. One hopes that the latest Need for Speed will not teach kids to drive like maniacs and treat other drivers with contempt - but rather allow them to get their aggressive behavior out of their systems before their own driver's licenses arrive in the mail.