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Review – NASCAR 2011: The Game | Level Up News

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Review – NASCAR 2011: The Game

 

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Eutechnyx
Platform(s):
Xbox 360 and PS3 (out now), Wii (out April/May)
Genre: Racing
Rating: E for Everyone
ESRB Content Descriptors: Mild Language
Players: 1-2 (offline, splitscreen), 1-16 (online)
Official site: http://www.nascarthegame.com
Get It Now: Amazon.com, GameStop.com

(This review was done on the Xbox 360 version of the game.)

The Scoop: NASCAR gets its own game once again for the first time in nearly three years.  This time, European developer Eutechnyx takes a shot at recreating the drama and excitement of American stock car racing on the major home platforms.

The Setup: Players get to experience the NASCAR Sprint Cup experience from the comfort of their home.  Players can race as their favorite NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver or create their own racer.  NASCAR 2011 allows players to play exhibition races, two-player split-screen races, race against 15 other players online, or play a full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season in pursuit of taking part of The Chase and winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

What’s Hot: When it comes to racing games, or even video games in general, one of the big deals to gamers is how accessible and customizable a game is.  Can they have an experience that tailors them the best without having to sacrifice something or deal with something they don’t want?  NASCAR 2011 does a terrific job of giving the players options.  A lot of options.  Whether you’re a hardcore simulation racing fan or an arcade-style adrenaline junkie, there’s an experience for everyone.

Car nuts will have the ability to tinker with setups to their heart’s desire.  The ability to create a detailed setup for the many tracks of NASCAR 2011 should keep the diehards happy.  For those who have no clue what any of that tuning mumbo-jumbo means, there’s also a simple option available to you that provides just a few basic options to be able to tune your car just enough for the track.

When you finally get on the track, the NASCAR experience really shines.  It’s more than just slamming on the gas and trying to slam into everyone that’s in your way.  That kind of strategy won’t help you win races in NASCAR 2011.  You have to know what line to drive on each of the licensed tracks in the game, how to maneuver yourself when you’re in and out of the pack, when the best time to pass is, etc.  It’s a very exciting and rewarding driving experience that just couldn’t be done in previous console-based NASCAR games.  In fact, I’ll say that it’s one of the best console NASCAR game I’ve played.

As you race, you’ll always have the opportunity to check out an array of statistics and standings with the on-screen HUD.  Your race position is displayed on the top right of the screen, lap count on the top left, a bar in the middle that can be switched to show various stats, your speedometer on the bottom right and the track layout on the bottom left.

However, my favorite part of the HUD is on the bottom-center of the screen.  Dare I even call it a “race radar”?  I say this because it shows you the surrounding cars around your car as you race.  I have always had a slight problem in racing games with having to flick the right thumbstick for a split second to see where my opponents are.  This “radar” allows you to get an idea of where your opponents are at all times without having to do anything but keep your eyes on the road.  I realize to some that it’s a very small thing to praise, but it really does help you get an idea of where you need to be on the track without taking your eyes off the prize.

Another feature in NASCAR 2011 should be familiar to some racing game fans.  If you find yourself making a boneheaded decision or end up hitting the wall due to your opponents, you have the ability to rewind the game back a couple of seconds to readjust yourself and erase that mistake.  However, you only get a few of these rewinds in the progress of a race, so be sure to use them wisely and in times where recovery might not be possible.  Take my word for it, they are really useful when you’re late in a race and you do something really dumb.  I mean, really dumb.

I prefer not to comment any further on that.

Whether you create a racer or not, you still earn the game’s experience points for racing in the game.  NASCAR Experience Points (NXP) can be earned by leading laps, controlling your speed on pit lane, being able to pass other cars cleanly, etc.  These points allow your profile to level up during the game, unlocking new paint schemes and other items as you play along.

Along with online multiplayer (we’ll get to that later), there’s also split-screen play for two players.  Split-screen games can be played as traditional races or as an Eliminator race.  I’ll hit what the Eliminator race is here in one second.  First, I just want to say that the split-screen races in NASCAR 2011 are flawless.  There’s no significant hit in the framerate when you’re playing, no graphical or control issues, either. This is a split-screen racing game that you certainly can have a few good go-rounds with your racing pals.

Now, about the Eliminator races:  The Eliminator race pits a number of cars against each other in a race against the clock.  If you’re at the back of the pack when the clock hits zero, you’re eliminated from the race.  The Eliminator races are good fun, though.  I enjoyed playing them as much as I did with the traditional races.

If you’re a creative person, you’ll be glad to know that you’ll be able to create your own car paint schemes in NASCAR 2011’s car editor.  Here, you can create a car with practically anything you want on it and use it in your career mode or online.  In fact, I’d say that the level of creativity and the depth of the creation tools rival those seen in the Forza Motorsport series.  Which means, for those who wish to do so, creating Ricky Bobby’s Wonder Bread car is certainly possible in NASCAR 2011.

With all of that being said, the real meat and potatoes of NASCAR 2011 lie within the game’s career mode.  In career mode, you can either take a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver or create your own racer and take him or her through an entire NASCAR Sprint Cup season.  From Daytona all the way to The Chase, you are in complete control of your own destiny.  However, there are also Invitational Races with the opportunity to snag some bonus NXP for your profile.  Included here are the above-mentioned Eliminator Races and a drafting challenge.

Graphically, the game looks great.  Everything from the cars to the tracks themselves have such a high level of detail and polish that we have not seen before in any other console-based NASCAR game.  Even such things as sheet metal tearing off of the car when you get rammed are a great touch.  Heck, you even leave scuffmarks when you scratch up against the wall!  Every time you drive by it, they will still be there until the end of the race.  Big marks to Eutechnyx in the graphics department.

What’s Not: Well, I mentioned that you can take your player through the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.  The 2010 season, that is.  While Eutechnyx has went on record to say that an update that includes the schedule and paint schemes for the 2011 season will be made available for free in the next few weeks, players without the opportunity to update their game online will have a 2011 game for a 2010 season.

Furthermore, you can only play one season.  That’s right, one season.  There’s no player progression from season-to-season in terms of stats, either.  You can feel free to play the career mode as much as you want, but nothing carries over.  It’s certainly a bummer for those who are looking to become the next great NASCAR dynasty.  Perhaps the mode should have been called “Season Mode” rather than “Career Mode”.

When it comes to the game’s AI, there’s certainly an aggressiveness issue with it.  Eutechnyx did a good job with trying to replicate driver A.I. in the game, but it seems that most of the time the A.I. was just a bit too aggressive in some races.  Then, when they weren’t being aggressive, they make boneheaded decisions.  I won my sole career race due to the fact that nearly 3/4ths of the pack decided to pit on the second to last lap.  A victory, yes.  However, a bit of a tainted victory.

Also, I find it to be way too easy to win a pole in career mode.  Even playing on the “Hard” difficulty allowed me to win the pole for a race nearly two seconds faster than the second-place driver.  While the race A.I. is certainly beefed up, the qualifying laps are just too much of a cake walk to take part in.

I did mention that the split-screen function of the game certainly works well and can be fun with the right amount of people, but you are only able to race against half of a normal NASCAR field while playing.  It’s a bit of a bummer for those looking for a split-screen full-field experience to share with your pals, but at least there’s a split-screen mode to begin with.

Eutechnyx was kind enough to give us a very good car detailer for us to create the cars and schemes of our dreams.  However, there’s no way to share them with the world.  You can’t share your car setups or car schemes with anyone but yourself.  This is a huge bummer as custom cars are greatly appreciated by the communities of racing games.  I truly hope that they include something like this in the next title, because my artistic prowess and ability to tune a car really stink.  I’d rather bite off someone else than look like a complete nimrod when racing against other people with my default setup and awful looking paint scheme.

Speaking of racing other people, I wish I had something positive to say about the online experience in NASCAR 2011.  Better yet, I wish I had the opportunity to even play one race online in the game.  At the time of this review, the online mode of the game has been practically unplayable.  In three attempts:  I had the game completely freeze after one lap, I had a lobby countdown timer suffer a seizure and count in the negatives, and I had an instance where we got stuck at the loading screen.  I’ve also been hearing from some forums that if you’re lucky to even get an online game going, it’s a complete disaster.

That also brings up a semi-related issue with the game I have regarding online.  There’s no ability to change your driver.  Whoever you select when you first boot up the game is the guy or girl that you’re stuck playing through career and online.  Why in the world are you not able to change to a different driver in either of these modes?  I don’t want to be stuck with my created driver all the time, I want the ability to go and play with as many drivers as I want.  Nothing is as painful as seeing half a room of Jeff Gordon cars.  I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone.

The auditory experience isn’t anything to write home about either.  There’s two commentators for the game that don’t do anything besides do an intro for the track and the race, the music is a bland offering of country and alternative, and the stadium crowds and racing noises are above par at best.  The pit crew can also take a hike for all I care.  All I hear is “Clear” nearly ten times a minute.  That’s not helping, that’s just being plainly obvious.  However, they really don’t help much to begin with.  Anything that goes wrong can be plainly obvious to see when it happens.

The Bottom Line: Eutechnyx is currently working on most of the negative things that I said above about the game.  However, my job is to review the game as it stands right now.  Eutechnyx made a lot of what sportscasters call “rookie mistakes”:  An already out-of-date season mode, A.I. that’s just a bit too aggressive, and a completely broken online component.  However, when it comes down to a racing experience, NASCAR 2011 is good fun.  I can’t say that I’ve had as much fun with a NASCAR game as I had with this one.  Problems aside, the gameplay is fast, exciting and rewarding to take part in.  It delivers on the spectacle of stock-car pack racing and allows racing fans to experience something truly unique.  If you’re a NASCAR fan, you’ll certainly enjoy what NASCAR 2011 has to offer.  Even racing game fans in general might find something intriguing about NASCAR 2011, as well.  However, Eutechnyx has quite the task ahead of themselves to make a truly great NASCAR game series.  That task begins with the post-release support that this game receives.  We’ll see how that turns out very soon.

Review - NASCAR 2011: The Game, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating
 

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