NASCAR The Game 2011 Review
NASCAR has an interesting reputation. For some, the idea of cars caked in corporate logos flying around a big looped track is silly. Other than entertaining mobs of simple-minded hill folk, there is surely nothing worthwhile about a NASCAR event. I'm probably not the best person to rush to the defense of NASCAR; however, if fans wished to provide adequate evidence of the event's intricacy and inherent beauty, they could certainly do much worse than NASCAR 2011: The Game.
NASCAR 2011 comes with the usual array of modes, including career, exhibition, and multiplayer. As one might expect, career mode is where beginners will spend the most time, at least at first. Customization is the big attraction, allowing you to arrange all of your car's fancy colors and details in a suitable fashion. The depth here is disappointing, but perhaps the developers felt that there were better things to tinker with than a car’s appearance. Most likely, the real effort went into the tuning system, which allows you to tweak endlessly--a feature that comes in handy when adapting your vehicle to the unique needs of each track. These adjustments can be saved, and the game will also provide recommendations for those who are too intimidated to bother with it. Optional assistance can also help newcomers feel at ease and will hopefully bolster confidence so players will try more on their own time. Credit should also be given to the elimination and invitational challenges, which add some much needed variety to the predictable racing experience.
Along with the standard thrill of roaring speed and violent collisions, the NASCAR franchise brings with it all the famous faces. Those who follow NASCAR will already know the star individuals, and those who don’t probably don't care. Experience earned actually has no immediate effect on the gameplay, and while that may sound disappointing, it does allow the intrinsic reward of a fine race to shine through. The central gameplay emphasizes your handling of turns on the tracks, and you may find that what worked well on a previous race doesn’t guarantee success on the next. It may sound simplistic, but this set-up allows a clearer focus on the core strategy of the sport and may serve as a nice introduction for those who scoff at its credibility. In truth, the game does little to change the mind of a naysayer, so it's sure to garner more praise among existing fans.
Finding a solid “NASCAR defense” in this game is a bit tricky. Some features that previous NASCAR titles offered (competitive campaigns, anyone?) are nowhere to be found here. These might be forgivable omissions, but the pervasive technical issues are difficult to ignore. The caution flags are a joke, and the AI could benefit from mood stabilizers, with cars behaving normally one minute and mindlessly hostile the next. Online play feels like an afterthought, with far more than an acceptable level of lag. Everything from game freezes to “invisible” cars suggest that NASCAR 2011 could have used more time in development and testing. As usual, the looming presence of the brand puts pressure on the devs, so the final product doesn’t feel quite “final" enough. At least one patch has been released already, but it's scarcely adequate. These troubles are made even more upsetting because the game is so strongly executed at its core, implying that it could have been a much better product under ideal conditions.
Superficially, NASCAR 2011 does know how to impress. Roaring engines are always welcome to the audio party, while a crisp presentation ensures the player’s focus is where it needs to be. The distractions are all standard graphical enhancements, but a NASCAR title that didn’t appear modern, at least on the surface, would have been even more problematic. It’s not easy to make a simple heads or tails of the entire package. Had it been taken as seriously as other racers on the market, NASCAR 2011 could have been a very solid title. As it stands, it's probably worth a rental for the average gamer.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]