NASCAR racing returns to consoles with Activision's NASCAR The Game 2011, which is the first disc-based NASCAR title not associated with EA in many years. NASCAR fans will appreciate the attention to detail, but players looking for an arcade-style racing experience won't get that out of this title.
- Great track presentations
- Proximity radar and visual draft are nice additions
- Barely any damage
- Cars feel underpowered at times
- No rivalries or changing AI
NASCAR 2011: The Game Review:
NASCAR racing returns to consoles with Activision’s NASCAR 2011: The Game, which is the first disc-based NASCAR title not associated with EA in many years. NASCAR fans will appreciate the attention to detail, but players looking for an arcade-style racing experience won’t get that out of this title.
Start Your Engines! (Again!)
NASCAR’s last console game experience came earlier this year in the form of Paramount Digital’s fairly atrocious Days of Thunder: NASCAR Edition on the PS3, which inexplicably was just Days of Thunder: Arcade on the Xbox 360. Only the PlayStation version had 12 NASCAR sanctioned tracks, and both versions were critically panned.
Prior to that, EA released NASCAR 09 back in 2008 for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PS2, but then announced that they were abandoning NASCAR games because of slumping sales and popularity. NASCAR Kart Racing for the Wii back in 2009 was EA’s last dalliance with the franchise. Now Eutechnyx, a developer who has worked on titles like Big Mutha Truckers, Total Drivin, and Le Mans 24 Hours, has stepped in to revive things.
Get Out Of My Dreams And Into My Car
NASCAR The Game 2011 wants the game to be all about presentation, and for the most part it does an admirable job with that. You’ll start the game off by picking a driver from one of many current NASCAR drivers, including female drivers Danica Patrick and a generic racer with a helmet on, so you can pretend like you’re in that driver’s seat for real.
Once you’ve selected a driver, you can fine tune your car, mess around with paint schemes, practice, or jump into one of several different race modes. Single Player puts you in the car, with your choice of tracks to pick from, Online Multiplayer pits you against up to 16 other drivers online, and there’s also a Split Screen mode if you want to race against a buddy. You can also try the Eliminator mode where after the first lap the racer at the back of each lap is eliminated. Your goal is to be the last car standing.
It’s Not Just A Hobby
Most fans of NASCAR and players that are looking for more than a casual experience will jump into Career mode, which takes you through an entire 36 race season as you strive to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup by maintaining a lead with points throughout the year. You’ll have the option to Qualify for each race (skipping this slots you at the back of the 43 car pack when the flag drops at race time), and depending on the difficult you’ve selected, you’ll be racing either a truncated version of that race, or you can simulate the full set of laps if you desire.
For the most part, and because you might not want to spend hours in one race, racing a shortened version is the way to go. Unfortunately, that will preclude you from pitting your car, and it’s entirely possible to race through an entire season without hitting the pits once. Especially if you have the damage set to “Cosmetic,” but more on that later.
How Does She Feel?
Slipping behind the wheel and into a race or a qualifying lap for the first time shows you the different views available to you as you race. There’s an in-cockpit view, a hood view, a trailing view, and a pulled back view where you can see your entire car, which was my position of choice. The cockpit view is admirable and features your driver up and downshifting, but it feels very limiting, especially when you don’t know the track at all.
The cars are very responsive, and you’ve find that you barely need to nudge the wheel to steer. On the flipside, when you’re moving at very lower speeds, like trying to back up or maneuver your way out of a crash, you’ll become frustrated with the fact that you can’t crank your wheels all the way over. Granted, that shouldn’t happen often if you’re a good driver, but there’s a bonus lap you get if you finish in first, where you net points for fancy driving and spinouts. They’re just hard to pull off.
All of the cars seem to accelerate equally as fast and top out around the same speed, no matter who you’ve selected, and there is a ton of emphasis placed on drafting. There’s a draft meter square above the center of your view, and when you get close enough to a car in front of you, and you actually see the slipstream of the draft, almost as if the car in front of you is emitting wispy smoke trails. It’s a very good visual representation of drafting, and shows you the optimal slot to be in. You can turn this on and off, but I found it very helpful. Draft long enough and you can slingshot around the car in front of you, or bump draft that… which nudges them faster, dragging you along in the process.
Rubbing Really Is Racing
As with most NASCAR titles, there’s a lot of bumping and grinding in this game, and not in a sexy way. You’re going to get tapped, bumped, pushed, nudged, and rubbed by other drives throughout each race, and more than once I found myself being spun around when someone else put me in a near perfect PIT maneuver. Either that, or the magnets that seem to be buried in each wall will pull me into the concrete while I’m trying to hardline a turn, and it will knock a lot off of your speed if you do that. The moral here is: Don’t hit the wall. Ever.
You’ll have a Rival marked in each race, but this just refers to someone close to you in the overall rankings. It doesn’t mean that they’ll try and take you out or constantly bump you as in the past NASCAR games with the Rivalry feature. It’s just a reminder that someone might be inching in on your score, and you’re going to want to be sure and beat them. Most drivers will take things fairly easy, except in extremely crowded packs near turns. But often you’ll see the four or five lead cars all in a smooth line, each one drafting the next and they roar around the track.
How Have They Made This Fun?
NASCAR 2011 makes things a bit arcade-y by adding in a Proximity Radar that shows up on your screen and lets you know exactly where the cars are that are coming up behind you. It’s a truly invaluable tool, and allows you to easily block overtaking racers. It can be toggled off, but it functions a lot better than a rear-view mirror, especially when you’re using the behind car view which doesn’t offer a mirror.
There’s also the NXP feature, giving you NASCAR Experience Points for nearly everything you do in the game. Perform a clean pass, lead for a lap, and of course, win or place in the Top 5 or Top 10 in each race, and you’ll gain points. These points rank you up eventually, and you’ll unlock Invitational Events and promotional items like pins and coins as you progress. It’s a neat feature for people looking to quantify their NASCAR experience, but it’s not crucial to the game other than for bragging rights.
Oh No, I’m Crashing (Yawn)
Ironically, when you first load up this disc in your console, there’s a cutscene that plays, showing you racing, rubbing, and culminating in a terrific crash. Spectacular, right? Well, not in the game. You can turn the damage in this title up to full and smash directly into another car at 188 miles per hour, and the only thing that will happen is that your bumper might get dented, and your hood will fly off. That’s it. It’s impossible to do real structural damage to your car.
You can affect the mechanics of your car, and crashing at high speed or rubbing the wall can result in blowouts and blown engines, but the default setting for racing in the mid-level difficulty is “cosmetic,” which is scraped paint, slightly bent fenders, and lost hoods. It’s just not satisfying to accidentally get into a horrific smashup, only to realize that everything is fine. In fact, frequently I was involved in pretty bad wrecks, only to never have the Yellow Flag drop, or to have to drop several long seconds later.
Worth The Checkered Flag?
While I found myself enjoying NASCAR The Game 2011 more than I expected to, it does get very repetitive. Before long, you’re doing the whole “Just one more race,” dance with the game, hoping to up your rankings. Ultimate, I found myself missing EA’s NASCAR Thunder 2004. NASCAR The Game 2011 looks good, but not great. When you see your car from behind, it just seems to lack the roar and power of a real stock car.
Likewise, watching your racer perform his celebration on Victory Lane is also a bit disconcerting, as the character models feel really off. The game really does a good job with drafting and explaining how it works, and all of the graphics and pizzazz that have gone into recreating each track are impressive. The Monster Mile never looked so good, and the steep banks at Bristol are perfectly recreated. There’s a lanyard badge swinging on the screen for each track as they load, and you can flip it over with the X button to read your stats at that track on the back. Nice touch.
Ultimately, hardcore fans of NASCAR are going to want to feel the oil, dirt, smoke, and grit that make up a race, and this title just feels a bit too sterile for me. I’m hoping the title improves in the next lap by adding some real punch to the experience. Arcade additions would also be welcome, and the proximity radar and the visual drafting are a nice step in that direction. Casual racers will probably enjoy this, but Hardcore fans will be looking for more.