NASCAR Unleashed Review
Over the years, we’ve seen NASCAR licensed games from both ends of the spectrum. Some have been so seriously devoted to the sport that they’ve borderlined on asinine as far as casual racing fans are concerned. But we’ve also seen arcade-oriented racing fare, like a kart racing game on the Wii, that left some devoted fans in the dust. Activision tries to cater to both audiences (though more towards the arcade crowd) with NASCAR Unleashed, a game that pits licensed cars against one another in all-out racing supremacy, both around the oval and off the beaten track. It’s a swell idea, and it works – to an extent, anyway.
So here is what’s happening. You’ve got your choice of a number of NASCAR drivers and their respective vehicles. From there, you’ll hit the circuit and take part in fast-paced racing events. But instead of relying on overly cheap power-ups, you’ll instead use the power of boosting to get ahead. You earn boosts by drafting, performing “slams” against opponents, and other little techniques. Using it helps you push forward into the lead, while also crushing opponents out of the way. Not entirely the NASCAR way, but hey, sometimes you gotta get a little physical. Just ask any driver on the circuit. (Just don’t ask them to officially comment.)
Now, while taking away the randomness of power-ups sounds like it could hurt the game, NASCAR Unleashed coasts by just fine on its boost system. In fact, the AI is just as competitive as you are, making each race fun to go through. Furthermore, there are occurrences to watch out for, like oil that spills on the track or trees that suddenly fall over to get in your way. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for jumps, even if they don’t happen as often as we were hoping they would. This is one of those games that would benefit from “mad air”, just like San Francisco Rush before it.
The gameplay is simple and to the point, and that could be something that divides the audience that wants NASCAR Unleashed from the one that doesn’t. None of the cars really play differently from one another, no matter who you choose, and even as you progress through the game, there’s little here to unlock over the long run, save for some new skins and crappy cosmetic accessories. (Does my car really need a hat?) That makes the game’s Career Mode sort of moot, and will leave you simply running the arcade routes. Still, it’s enjoyable, especially during quick events when challenges pop up out of nowhere, such as getting a certain pole position in the race or making a few new rivals.
There’s also a competitive two-player mode, but it’s split-screen – and local only. No online play here, I’m afraid. Still, it’s sufficient if you’ve got a younger sibling that wants to race with you, or you just need to settle the score with a NASCAR zealot who won’t shut up before the actual racing events kick off.
NASCAR’s presentation won’t wow you, but it is faithful to the sport. The off-road design of some of these tracks is pretty good, though hardly dazzling. The cars look great, and take a great deal of damage – and the carnage shows as you race, without any loss of frame rate. The music’s pretty generic, but the announcer is all right, pointing out certain challenges and things you should be doing with each race. But, really, he doesn’t need to insult us after we crash. Dude, we know we failed. You’re just throwing dirt on the grave.
Though this game won’t likely end up anywhere near the racing hall of fame (like Forza Motorsport 4 and other quality racers of its ilk), NASCAR Unleashed is a romp-filled racing extravaganza that arcade fans should thoroughly enjoy. And the $40 price tag won’t leave a stall on your wallet, either.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]