Need For Speed: Carbon

Dare we say that the urban racing genre is in danger of getting a bit tired? Race through busy urban streets, yeah yeah. Upgrade your motor in between races. Right. Enjoy cut-scenes of risible gangsta speak. Meh. Isn't it time to think up a new reason to drive virtual cars stupidly fast?

But ignore our grouching – Need For Speed: Carbon may follow the urban racer template pretty faithfully, but it's the most polished, involving and gripping example of the genre yet on mobile.

Based on Electronic Arts' monster console franchise, its 3D visuals will have you gawping, while its finely-weighted difficulty curve will keep you playing for weeks.

Let's deal with the basics. NFS: Carbon is on one level what you'd expect from an urban racer. Most of the racing is done at night, and involves a respectable amount of screeching in and out of other traffic. Winning races earns you cash, which can then be spent on upgrading your car's engine, frame, tyres or overall tuning.

The twist is that you get to go out of the city for a spot of canyon racing, which basically involves driving just as fast, but with the risk being that of falling down steep ravines, rather than crashing into pootling traffic. It adds a different dimension to the gameplay, even if it's not a revolution.

Along the way, there's a plotline of sorts that won't concern you too much, and the option to win extra cash by drifting. What's that? It's when you streak round a corner with your rear-end sliding all over the shop deliberately, for aesthetic purposes.

Your car auto-accelerates, so all you have to do is press right and left to turn, holding '5' down to drift while cornering. This control system means NFS: Carbon is very much a two-handed mobile game, though, and mastering the drifts takes a bit of practice.

However, it's the presentation that'll grab you. On our N70 at least, the graphics were simply spiffing. 3D environments zip past at decent speeds, and the night-time setting is very atmospheric.

For now, trust us in saying this is one of those games you'll show off to friends who think mobile gaming is just about Snake, so you can see their jaws drop. And most importantly, the handling of your 3D car feels natural and responsive, compared to some 3D racers we've played.

There's depth too. The meat of the game is in its Career mode, where you take on a variety of races one by one, upgrading as you go. You can also drive a Dry Run – one-off races on any track that you've unlocked in the Career mode – or try the Pass 'N' Play mode, which lets you play against friends by racing one after another, trying to get the best lap times.

The game's not flawless. When you pass or get passed by rivals, sometimes a taunt flashes up on screen. But it covers too much of the screen, obscuring your view of the road ahead. It's hugely galling to overtake someone, only to then crash when their expression of disgust stops you seeing the right corner that's coming up. There's also the odd annoying pile-up of non-racing traffic, which can be frustrating.

But still, NFS: Carbon is the best mobile racing game we've played, just shading Gameloft's Asphalt series for 3D thrills'n'spills.

Naturally, there's a question over whether, if you're a huge fan of the console version, you wouldn't rather play it on PSP or DS when you're on the move. But taken on its own terms, this is a marvellously impressive mobile conversion that keeps to the spirit of the original, while having enough to it to tempt new fans.

Need For Speed: Carbon

Excellent urban racer that leaves its mobile rivals for dust