The experience of a freshly baked steak and burning rubber can be breathtaking. And all of that can now be experienced from the comfort of your own home with NASCAR 2011 the game. But is this Eutechnyx-developed game worth playing?
The first thing players will notice is the menu. This is truly one of the best menus ever made. The garage in the background and the track access tickets while loading brought me right into the NASCAR experience. An experience gained from many modes including career, fast race and online play. Normally I would say career mode is mileage, but this time I just can’t.
In Career mode, you can play as yourself or as one of the 43 famous drivers from the NASCAR sprint series. As you race, you gain experience, which you can put into new sponsorships or unlock additional content, usually an invite event or color scheme. The sponsorship is a nice gesture. After a few decent finishes, you get interest from well-known sponsors. Placing their logo on the car unlocks additional bonuses for predetermined criteria, such as leading a race for 10 laps. And while the sponsorship is a great idea, it only goes so far as the career mode only supports one season, all hard-earned respect is lost after the 36th race, not great.
Fortunately, the cream of the crop on the track is determined and in that respect NASCAR 2011 is doing very well in the game. Racing with 43 other cars fighting for every inch of the track is a unique experience.
During the race, the game does a great job of keeping you informed about the world around you. At the bottom of the screen, the HUD provides a clear overview of the surrounding cars. And the tire and fuel indicators are essential to make it to the end of the race. Believe me, I’ve had races where the tires suddenly fell off a cliff leading to the inevitable flat tire.
This is both a good and a bad thing, because while it adds a nice strategic element, the execution lacks subtle cues. Tires tend to fall off pretty hard and any car damage is always brutal. I’ve been through a race where the car pulled to the left and countersteered me through the whole thing – really exhausting!
The positioning of the front-end is also tactical. These cars are quite heavy going, so going into a corner can make the difference between ending up in a giant swabble or reaching the finish line without a shot.
If you do make mistakes or decide to go the long way, there is always the option to pit. A small screen appears in the pits with options to refuel or change tires. The only downside to this is that it jerks the player straight out of the immersion and switches to a fly cam until the car returns to the track.
The same can be said about warnings. These flags, denoting a safety car situation, add a big raffle to any race. In-game they don’t come out too often (thankfully?) but they do get the job done, although it would have been nice to stay in the car the whole time.
Reasons they don’t come out too often probably have something to do with the AI. They tend to ride very neatly and don’t get tangled in each other’s tracks too often. When they approach an obstacle (probably you), they do their best to dodge it, despite failing in larger groups. However, don’t expect anything like the real thing. The phenomenon of the two-carriage bullet, where one is the pusher, is definitely something you won’t see in the game. The same can be said about strategic slipstreaming in packs or slingshots. But for the most part, the AI is satisfactory.
Ultimately, these elements complement the tactical sport that is NASCAR, and overall they are implemented very nicely and deliver close racing, as is infamous for the sport, well done Eutechnyx!
So how do these cars drive? To find out, I hooked up a G27 to the PS3 version of the game and gritted my teeth. To be honest, I was a little apprehensive at first. Seeing a big oval bench coming and knowing the wheel is bonded with 3500 pounds of aluminum just doesn’t sit well with me. And after many rounds of bravery and substance, I can say it certainly does what it says on the tin.
These V8 muscles are heavy and it feels that way. Changing direction is difficult and penalizes any rookie entering the corner. Contrary to what you may think, the smaller ovals are what really hit you.
Also important for any tight oval is skilful braking. The balance between high pedal pressure and softness is as great as light and day. Aggressive drivers will surely see the car dancing under the pressure, making you pray for the oncoming attackers.
As I said before, damage adds to the excitement of racing. Any contact with the wall and you could find the car pulling to either side. Harder contact will damage the transmission. The damage is pleasing both visually and mechanically, although he is never willing to break the car completely. Even the heaviest impact will not result in an automatic loss of the race, the only dent in the system.
To avoid damage, you can slightly adjust the car setup. Players can choose between a standard setup (automatically tuned to the specific race) or become an engineer themselves. Aspiring engineers can easily start with a few sliders to change the downforce, tires and gearbox, among other things. I think most will really appreciate this simplified method of making setups. Go all out though and the game throws every possible tweak into the mix. I can’t confirm this, but I can imagine it being similar to NASCAR in the real world! Best of all, all this effort during the race pays off, both in terms of car wear and stability.
I can’t deny that I’m a fan of Eutechnyx when it comes to gameplay and once again they don’t disappoint. With all the tools off it might be a bit shy to be a complete sim, but it’s challenging and the installation work is perfect. Likewise, the easy mode does a great job of providing a fetch and play experience for anyone new to the sport.
With the handling, most will probably imagine fantastic online battles, fighting ’til dusk and pushing the tires to their limits, well don’t do that. Online racing often falls short of the image we have in our head, because close racing is only possible with mutual respect. Unfortunately, and I can’t blame the developers for that, the oval track lends itself perfectly to bump races and ghost drivers. I can say that out of all the races I’ve done, I haven’t finished any of them with a sense of accomplishment and substance.
On the plus side, I haven’t experienced many glitches in the online system myself, although I’ve heard complaints from other users. So if you know some honest tops that are ready for a race, go for it! But for most racers, the lack of skill/intent worldwide will sadly mark this mode as useless.
NASCAR the game 2011 is out for the Wii (May 24), PS3 and the xbox360. The last two versions are identical and are the version we used for this review.
The current generation is on its last legs and it shows. The graphics while pushing 43 cars is not up to the best we’ve seen in the genre. The orbital objects look very flat and do a poor job of conveying the belief that you are part of a larger world. On the other hand, the cars look great and it can sometimes be very entertaining to read an infomercial in the backend of a car.
Also surprisingly good are the pre-race shows. These include hawks flying in the sky and fireworks as the cars pass straight through the pits, things you would expect in real NASCAR racing. But again, unfortunately the in-car experience doesn’t live up to the immersion.
This isn’t exactly helped by the sound. It doesn’t matter how you sit in the bike, it always sounds the same. It lacks a rough edge and is generally too clean. Less clean is the sound of the spotter. This airborne director helps the driver choose the best lines and keeps him informed of the swabbles ahead. In the game, however, he feels the need to repeat, confuse and annoy, within spectacularly short time frames. He especially feels the need to repeat “all free” when doing several laps on an island. I really feel that further tweaks and a few extra rules would help the spotter implementation immensely.
NASCAR 2011 the game is the first of the series and is on display. In addition, the graphics suffer from the constant driving of 43 cars. Still, the racing itself is great and a lot of fun, even if you don’t know the sport. Proper implementation of damage, tire wear and fuel compliments this feature.
The biggest problem in my view is the fact that you may not find it rewarding to race. Online is a bull’s eye and career mode isn’t up to speed yet. And that’s why your mileage can vary to the greatest extent, making this title a must-see only for the biggest NASCAR fans or the purest racers.