NASCAR 09 Review (Xbox 360)

When it comes to NASCAR, either you “get it”, or you don’t. There are basically two trains of thought when discussing the sport—really understanding and appreciating NASCAR, or thinking that it’s just “driving around in circles for 500 miles”. NASCAR 09 (N09) from EA Sports attempts to bridge the gap, so to speak, and offer something for everybody. While I can’t say that it’s a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, I can say that it is, in my opinion, by far the best NASCAR game to ever hit a console. My previous favorites, NASCAR Heat on the Xbox and Dirt to Daytona on the PS2, have finally been toppled from their perch. Last year, NASCAR 08 (N08) presented a much-improved handling model with some of the worst AI I had ever seen. Fast forward a year, and the strides taken by EA this year must be experienced to be believed. The developer takes a lot of grief for not progressing the various licensed series that they own from year to year, and with good reason in many cases. However, the jump in quality and playability that NASCAR has made from 08 to 09 is staggering, and worth commending the oft-slandered company for. I certainly didn’t expect much of NASCAR 09 going in…and then I played it.

The first thing you’ll see when firing up the game for the initial time is Jeff Gordon discussing the handling model options. Now, if you are a fan of NASCAR, you’ll know that Jeff Gordon is the most polarizing figure in the sport. Nobody else draws the same amount of cheers and boos. People either love “Golden Boy”, or they hate him. When you have people writing songs about you, you’ve achieved a level of stardom in a sport that very few actually reach. You won’t find many (if any) avid fans that have an indifferent opinion on JG. If you’re in the “hate” group, be prepared to be very annoyed…a lot. Gordon serves as your mentor in NASCAR 09, offering advice on how to begin your career, where to go to apply performance points, modes, and more. It’s nothing more than a FMV version of Gordon acting as the equivalent of the Microsoft Office “Help Paperclip”, directing you to the various features within the game, as he offers you very little actual advice—instead, he directs you to the wide variety of options and features found in the title as you navigate from screen to screen. It will certainly help the uninitiated racers to feel a bit less lost…JG will appear on screen after just about everything you do in the early hours of the game, offering more direction. Gordon said it was his way to “give back” in a pre-release interview…whether he meant to his fans or to “give a little something” to the detractors by forcing them to look at him every few minutes is open for debate.

Your first choice to make when beginning your NASCAR 09 experience is whether to drive with the “Normal” handling model, or “Pro”. This choice will determine whether NASCAR 09 feels as close to a simulation as the console has seen in years (Pro) or a very simplified arcade experience that looks like a NASCAR race (Normal). The choice you make isn’t set in stone, however, as you can change it at any time through the options menu. Immediately after making your choice, you’re thrust into a 10-lap race at Michigan with the AI. This race is by far the most painful race that you’ll endure during your time with NASCAR 09. Whether you choose the Pro or Normal handling model won’t make much of a difference, because the setup is set to “Easy” by default and cannot be changed (to my knowledge). If it can, it’s not obvious enough for this old man, let alone “Joe Gamer” who might be playing for the first time. The “Easy” setups are absolute garbage in NASCAR 09 on Pro mode…they push like dump trucks and have all of the power of a Lego motor. Many users will probably fire up that race and just roll their eyes at the ridiculous handling model they’re experiencing. Trust me—push through that race and get to the actual game itself, and you’ll be rewarded. You should definitely go into the options and set the handling to your chosen assist level (Legend turns off everything except the manual transmission, while Rookie enables full assists), and before each race, load the “Veteran” setup as a bare minimum. Most of the Veteran setups are actually raceable, with the occasional instance of it being too loose or tight for a given track.


EA have clearly stepped up to the plate in the graphics department for NASCAR 09.

What you will notice while out on the track, though, is the much-improved graphics engine in N09. By its very nature, NASCAR is a bit more drab than your traditional racers on a console. Tracks are usually out in the middle of nowhere, with large expanses of pavement to model. It’s easy to be underwhelmed by the graphics in any NASCAR game, but these are a significant step up from the last few efforts in prior years. Car models are rendered beautifully, although you won’t see any manufacturer logos on the vehicles. I don’t know why EA would pay an arm and a leg for exclusive licenses right and left, but leave out basic licenses like Chevy, Ford, Dodge, and Toyota licenses to put on the cars. If they have the licenses but decided not to use them on the vehicles, that makes even less sense. Either way, it will be a source of disappointment for some gamers.

Since NASCAR games have to render much more than a traditional racer, with 43 cars instead of 20 or fewer, you’ll be able to spot slight differences in the car models from other games, but it won’t make them any uglier. It’s almost like the argument of Grand Theft Auto IV’s vs. Gears of War. Both are gorgeous, but the amount of data that GTA has to render at any given time far exceeds GoW, so it won’t look as pristine. When you’re talking 43 cars, a mile to two and a half miles of track, the stands, all of the pit crews, safety vehicles, etc, NASCAR 09 does a fabulous job. The specular highlights on the track show off some pretty good pavement textures, and the shadows dancing around within the cockpit camera are phenomenal. Hit the infield grass and your windshield will become obstructed by dust and grime. A pit stop will allow a crew member to remove the windshield tearoff, complete with an animation of him doing so, clearing your vision once more. Smoke has to be seen to be believed (and I’m not talking about Tony Stewart here), as you can come flying through wreckage and have absolutely no view of what’s on the track. All in all, the visual package is gorgeous, with very little aliasing issues on the XBox 360.

Once you complete your initial 10-lap sprint race, you will be introduced to the biggest feature that is used throughout NASCAR 09—reputation and performance points. Reputation is gained or lost with almost everything you do in N09. Win a race, and your reputation soars. Lead laps, take the pole position, win Sprint Driver Challenges (more on that in a bit)…as Jeff Gordon puts it, “reputation is everything”, and it’s true. It’s a system that I didn’t think much of when initially hearing of it, but after experiencing it firsthand with the game, it’s brilliantly designed and integrated (along with the performance points) throughout the game. Your old pal JG will direct you to sign a sponsorship deal for your career racing, and if all you’ve done is the first “trial” race, you won’t have but a few to choose from. The expectations from initial sponsors range from qualifying in the top 35 to finishing in the top 30, and other objectives of equally uninspiring value. It’s to be expected if you’re just starting out, but if you have a field of 43 cars and they’re hoping you can manage to be better than the bottom 8, that’s certainly a vote of confidence for you! After selecting a sponsor, you’ll have the opportunity to select a team contract. Separate from sponsorship deals, team contracts will allow you to sign with a Craftsman Truck, Nationwide, or Sprint Cup series team. When you’re just starting out with the game, the only thing available will be a low-prestige “1 star” contract from fictitious Craftsman Truck (CTS) teams. If you have enough reputation, however, you can actually jump straight to Nationwide (NNS) or even Cup (NSCS) racing right out of the gates. It’s a great system that will allow people who want to “work their way up the ladder” from CTS to NNS to NSCS to do so, while also allowing drivers who have no interest in the lower series the ability to play the game for a bit and then begin their career as a Sprint Cup driver. The icing on the cake with this system is that it’s tied to everything. If you race a quick race, you will earn reputation. If you run a season, you’ll earn reputation. Everything you do will build that reputation “bankroll”, so if you don’t want to jump straight to career, you can toy around with the various other modes to build up your rep and let you drive the series that you want to drive.

Before I go into the reputation and performance system in detail, however, the car customization ability must be mentioned. After you choose your contract and series, Gordon will direct you to the Paint Booth, where you can choose from a somewhat simplified set of graphics and sponsors for your car. Those looking for Forza 2’s style of customization will be sorely disappointed with the in-game editor, as you can only use numbers 100-199 for your car, and the fonts look nothing like what you’d see on a real race car. In some cases, the middle number is much larger than the others, and it just looks like something you’d see on a Speed Racer car, and not on a NASCAR vehicle. It’s also questionable as to why you couldn’t use unallocated numbers under 100 from the Sprint Cup roster. If I wanted to be #4 or #13 or #47 for my career, I should be allowed to do so. Thankfully, NASCAR 09 also features the ability to download templates from the www.easportsworld.com site and edit them in your favorite graphics editing program. It’s a bit strange at first, since you must modify the file, then save it as a DDS extension, and most programs don’t save to that format without a plug-in of some kind. Once you save it to the proper format, you can upload it on the same website to your EA Locker, and then use the locker to import it onto your vehicle from within the Paint Booth. This is a feature that’s been a long time coming, as simracers have been doing it for years on the PC. It’s still somewhat limited, as your driver number shows up as your original “over 100” value, but at least your car can be customized exactly as you want it when using an imported skin. You cannot import or modify existing drivers, however. It would be great to be able to import Kasey Kahne’s Budweiser scheme, or add in some missing drivers like Michael McDowell, Scott Riggs (who’s been running pretty well at a lot of races), and “Front Row” Joe Nemecheck. It’s a step in the right direction, and creating new skins for the cars is almost as addictive as driving for reputation…almost. The big problem with custom cars is that drivers need to be on your friends list to see them online, or you’ll end up as a generic gray car. The easiest way to fix that would be to simply create a multi-versioned car. Select the skin you and your friends see, and then a “generic” car that you can modify with the in-game editor that requires no file downloading. That way cars can still be unique instead of running around with half the field full of primer gray stock cars.

The best way to earn reputation is with the Sprint Cup Driver Challenges, however. Similar to the system introduced with Hasbro’s NASCAR Heat almost ten years ago, it’s been refined and streamlined into a very compelling mode in NASCAR 09. You begin at the center of a large chain link grid system of interconnected ovals. On each quadrant of these ovals you have a challenge. Every challenge on a section links another, so the top challenge on one oval is also the bottom challenge of the next oval. You begin at the center, and work your way out, completing 77 challenges as you go. These can range from simple things like “maintain speed at Daytona” for a small section of the track to avoiding “the big one” at Talladega, navigating through the wreckage without losing the draft and finishing ahead of Jeff Gordon himself. Some of these can be ridiculously hard, but will usually have appropriate rewards in the form of reputation and performance points. While reputation controls the type of contracts you are eligible to sign, performance points control the quality of your race vehicles. You use reputation to increase performance in four categories: engine, aero, chassis, and durability. Engine and durability are self-explanatory. Aero, however, will not only control how aerodynamic your car is, but also increases fuel mileage, so you can stay out longer between stops. Chassis controls the handling of the car, but also tire wear.

As you build performance points, you’ll have the ability to upgrade your cars. What you’ll notice is that you have four cars—one for superspeedway, one for speedway, one for short tracks, and one for road courses. As you upgrade your cars in the four categories, those particular tracks will become easier. It’s possible to pile all of your points early into your speedway car and dominate the mile and a half tracks, yet have an absolutely junk short track or road course car. It’s an interesting dynamic for offline racing, which is where the problem lies. Apparently, the points you put into your offline career cars transfer into online sessions. To make matters worse, there is currently a “glitch” that creates overpowered cars if a user only maxes out a couple of ratings, leaving others untouched. Hopefully EA patches things like that out quickly, because it’s pointless to hop into an online race and see cars a full two seconds faster per lap than a traditional car using a good “standard” setup. Just be warned that without putting some time into the game and building up some cars, you’ll probably be a backmarker online, and even if you put the points in but don’t “glitch it” currently, you’ll still be midpack.

What you’ll find that the Rep/Performance system does right, however, is create a seamlessly blended core that runs throughout the game. I typically hop right into a career mode in games, skipping the “fluff” modes other than to see what they’re about. With the integration of the Rep/Performance system being so vital to your career progression, I found myself spending a lot of time in the Challenge Mode to earn some more rep or points, then improve my car before hopping back over to tackle the next track in the Career mode. Before I knew it, I had 60 of the 77 challenges complete, a few maxed vehicles, and easy access to the Nationwide series (if you start your first season and THEN want to switch to Sprint Cup, you’ll have to start a new career. Once you begin your career, you’d need to complete a full season of either CTS or NNS to be eligible for NSCS, oddly enough). That’s when I started to notice the occasional quirks with the AI.

Overall, the AI is actually pretty decent. It’s worlds better than N08’s version, which would completely ignore your position on the track, running right through you and overdriving their cars with regularity. However, they’ve almost swung to the completely opposite end of the spectrum—now they are so cautious that you’ll rarely get passed unless you let them or are a very courteous driver. Even if an AI car gets a great run on you, you can simply slide down and slam the door, and they’ll politely check up and rarely initiate contact. It makes for a racing experience that seems to be tailored to the gamer who wants to be the center of the universe—every driver on the track treats you as if you are Richard Petty, giving you room and respect from flag to flag, and the sun rises and sets on your timeframe. You’ll have the occasional gaffe and get spun out, but usually you’ll notice you drifted a bit more than you thought, or pushed it a bit too much.

More difficult to deal with than the “kinder, gentler” AI in N09 is the strange and imbalanced performance of the AI cars. At tracks like Daytona using the previously mentioned Veteran setup and a top-rated career car, it is far too easy to qualify on the pole position and absolutely decimate the field with the handling set to “Legend” and the AI set on “Hard”. The green flag drops and you can literally see them disappear in your rear view mirror. At a plate track like Daytona, you hardly ever out-horsepower the other cars in reality; you use smart decisions to choose the right drafting line and don’t leave yourself out to dry when making a pass attempt, then watch twenty cars fly by you in single file. It’s not that way in N09, unfortunately. With the “Adaptive AI” set to Off (which gives you additional reputation boosts, since the cars will not slow down to match your speed if you’re slow, but also won’t speed up to catch you if you’re fast), I was able to race a good quarter-second per lap faster than the “Hard” AI. That just won’t cut it for any simracer with a reasonable amount of experience. Restrictor plate races against the AI are about as exciting as watching those dog shows that seem to air at two o’clock in the morning. You will take the pole, check out, and drive a bunch of solo practice laps around the track until the race ends. Not good. Then you’ll find other tracks where the AI are ruthlessly quick if you’re using the standard setup. Head to Martinsville, and even if you run everything great, you’ll find that you’re midpack right out of the gates. Cars get into the corners smoother than the default Veteran setup, which bounces all over the place under braking. Softening the shocks fixes it somewhat, but you’re left tweaking quite a bit at that point to improve handling. It’s a very strange Jekyll and Hyde scenario…you’ll obliterate the field at some tracks, and other tracks you’ll actually have a challenge.

Overall, the AI aren’t bad to race with, as they will hardly ever wreck you (show me a person who complains about the AI killing them all the time and I’ll show you a person who doesn’t know where their line went or how much they drifted in the corner), and they are spread out enough that you’ll have the front runners and back markers at each track. With enough laps, you’ll be in traffic quite a bit at the non-superspeedways, but that leads to a complaint that several users have made known: black flag sensitivity. Personally, I have yet to see a black flag in dozens of races for rough driving, but I did receive one in the demo. If you’re the type of driver who likes to use the chrome horn like the legendary #3, then you may end up frustrated with the black flag implementation and switching the flags to yellow only. However, if you can control your car and avoid making repeat contact with the other vehicles, it shouldn’t pose a problem.


"When you look at the entire package of the game and the progression
it’s made from last year to this version, you can’t help but be excited.

Caution flags, unfortunately, are another matter entirely. Yellows are the bane of NASCAR games, and always have been. Papyrus, long considered the best NASCAR developer on the planet, couldn’t get them right. Hasbro couldn’t get them right. EA went to great lengths last year to ensure that it got them miserably wrong. I’m not sure what is so tough to program, but nobody has been able to do it correctly yet. For what it’s worth, the yellow flags in N09 are by far the least buggy version of EA’s series, but that’s not saying much. You may still end up with a strange late-race caution online, where your car is completely under AI control, and you end up running into another driver…or that driver hits you, or you end up spinning out, etc. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens often enough to be worth mentioning. You will still see cars slam into each other occasionally (although it’s much more rare than it has been in previous years), and the late-race fuel and pit management is just as crazy as it’s ever been in any game. You could end up with a fuel run that says it will last 8 laps (using accelerated fuel and tire wear, that you can set to 2x, 3x, or 4x), and the AI will pit a lap early every time. So, if you were running a 30 lap race, they’d pit at laps 7, 14, 21, and 28…with two laps to go. A human could easily stretch it to 8 laps and pit on 8, 16, 24, and be done with three stops instead of four. You’ll end up with many races, depending on your race length and fuel modifier, where you end up lapping the field because they all stop with a lap or two remaining, when a little foresight by the AI crew chief could have had the driver push it an extra lap and make one less stop. It’s a large part of the sport (see Jimmie Johnson’s win earlier this season at Phoenix and Dale Earnhardt Jr’s win at Michigan), as a fuel gamble can win or lose a race. It would be great to see serious programming time invested in the caution flag behavior…cars stretching a fuel run, running out of gas on the last lap, etc. Tension that permeates race day every weekend is just missing from N09, and that’s a disappointing thing.

The reason it’s disappointing, however, is because the cars drive so incredibly well. As far as how a stock car (or truck) should feel, NASCAR 09 does a brilliant job for a console game. It’s not on the level of NR2003’s handling model, but we’re also talking about a 5 year old game that had to simulate completely different technology. The current Cup cars are available in user-created mods for both NR2003 and rFactor, but the NR2003 mods are still using tweaked physics files from the original Cup or Craftsman Truck mod. When you hear drivers and announcers describe the Car of Tomorrow (CoT), they describe it as an aero-dependent car that is very forgiving, and easier to drive when loose than the old Cup cars. The mods for NR2003 don’t really convey that to me—they feel like slightly tweaked versions of the original, because that’s exactly what they are. NASCAR 09, conversely, feels a lot like I’d expect a CoT to feel, which may sound like heresy to the hardcore PC simracers, but it’s true. You can drive a loose car very easily with judcious control of the throttle. You can save what would be certain spins in the PC NASCAR games. Part of that can be attributed to being “dumbed down” for a console, but I don’t quite buy that. Those simracers will remember NASCAR 4’s incredible difficulty (yet not necessarily realistic, as a real car was much easier to drive, even at low speeds, than NASCAR 4’s driving model), and how NASCAR Racing 2002 made it a bit easier by implementing the new tire model, and NR2003 perfected it.

That’s very similar to how the handling model in NASCAR 09 feels with all aids off. You have a tactile feel for the car, and it progresses as it should through a full fuel run. What’s even more impressive is the feedback you get through the wheel if you use one. If your car is running a balanced setup, and you’re neither pushing nor loose, you’ll have very little feedback other than the standard tension to let you know you’re rolling. As your tires wear, however, you’ll start getting more and more “chatter” from the wheel as you corner, which gives the amazing sensation of “feeling” the car’s changing abilities. In longer races, it’s unbelievably cool to start on the low line, feel the tires start to go away (instead of just seeing the times dip on a stop watch and noticing the car push), move up a groove, and have the ability to cut some of the chatter. That’s right—you can run multiple grooves as well. Even the venerable NR2003 didn’t allow that without some user-created multi-groove tracks. At tracks like Atlanta and California, you’ll be able to run door to door with other cars exactly as you should: the inside car will jump ahead on corner entry, but the outside line will prevail on corner exit, leading to some amazing battles with a couple of drivers who know how to hold their respective lines. Against the AI you won’t have as many due to the earlier mentioned issue of the AI conceding everything almost immediately, but you’ll run into some scenarios like that.

It handles wonderfully and believably, although perhaps not 100% realistically, but I can’t say. The key word for me is “believably”. It handles exactly like I’d expect a CoT to handle (the CTS and NNS vehicles are slightly easier to drive overall and not quite as loose), and doesn’t feel dumbed down for the “unwashed console masses”. I’ve been running these PC sims since Papyrus’ original Indycar Racing came out in 1993 (I missed Indianapolis 500), and I don’t think this engine is an easy one to drive at speed. You will get around the track with all assists off fairly easily if you are cautious, but once you start laying down lap times comparable to PC sims, it’s no walk in the park, especially when you start hitting the garage.

In that garage, there are two default setups, a “basic” adjustment tab, and the more advanced individual component adjustments. The Veteran setups are surprisingly good for a base starting setup at almost every track. What’s better is that you’ll find that with a little time and know-how, small adjustments can have a huge impact on the handling of your car. If you’ve set up cars in PC oval sims before, you’ll be shocked at how realistically the adjustments are handled in NASCAR 09. Want to cure a loose race car? Simple…slide the weight forward, add some front sway bar, etc. Everything that works in the “big boy” sims works in N09, which is impressive in itself. We’re not too far away from having full-fledged leagues in the console world. I truly believe that NASCAR 09 is the barometer title for how it will work with the NASCAR sim world. There are far more multiplayer aspects plugged into the game than in past years, and the only direction I see them going with it is more and more to the online side of things. For example, you have “Own the Track” this year. This little feature can be quite addicting if you let it. You see, you can pull up a map of every track in the game, and whoever “owns” that track on your friends list has their gamer pic hovering over it, with a customized taunt. If you’re the type who just wants to prove how good he is, you can actually spend hours racing the AI in order to better your best lap time, average lap time, Laps per incident (LPI), opponents beaten, average finish, etc…just to have bragging rights over your friends. Stat tracking like that are the foundation for future league play, providing the online play is solid.

Thankfully, it is. I’ve run countless races online, both ranked and unranked, as a host and as joined console. I have yet to see undriveable or horrible lag, and the handling model is restricted to “Pro” only. You can’t run with the easier “Normal” mode. You can run nose to tail with other drivers and door to door, battling for position without fear of lag warps skipping a car all over the track. Compared to last year’s effort, it’s a hundred percent better, performance-wise. The host has the option to choose the series, the track, the number of drivers (up to 14. You can fill out unused human slots with AI cars if you dare), and fuel/tire wear rate. In the lobby, everybody can communicate and choose whether to join with a custom car or a default ride. There was quite a large debate raging over whether or not your performance points affect your online cars. They do…the “engine glitch” proves as much, and it affects both custom and default cars. I can see why EA would choose to "reward" drivers who had invested the large amount of time required to max out all of their cars, but they could have simply made it affect custom cars only, and then have the ability for an online host to lock the session to default cars (or fixed setups, for that matter, another sad omission).

Overall, the online play is quite good, but it's not all candy and roses. You will have some issues online with the yellow flag implementation (much like my argument previously with the AI). If you’re heading down pit road and the caution comes out, it’s easy for somebody to think that their car pitted. That would be incorrect. They choose not to pit “again”, thinking that they already had, and are out of fuel when the green flag drops. It needs to be a little less cryptic, or something that shows that the pit stop didn’t happen. When it comes to yellow flags, the user doesn’t control the car at all, and it fast forwards to the restart if nobody pits or takes any action, so it’s easy for things to get lost. Other times a driver will select to not pit, and the car will pit anyway. It really seems infrequent that things like this pop up, but they do happen. Overall, you’ll have some extremely enjoyable racing online, but like any game, it really depends on the group that you find to race with. I tend to stick with the guys that I’ve raced with for years, and it’s been every bit as good as PC simulations as far as competition and raceability between drivers. You’re limited to 14 total cars in a race, which is a bit light for true league racing, but it’s a step in the right direction. I can say that the races I’ve run with NASCAR 09 have been some of the most fun racing that I’ve ever had on a console, and even rivals some of the NR2003 league races I ran. It’s very fun, and with the integrated XBox Live voice chat and lobby system, communication is a breeze. I foresee many, many hours of online racing with this game in my future.

When you look at the entire package of the game and the progression it’s made from last year to this version, you can’t help but be excited. On one hand, it’s a fantastic driving model wrapped around AI that is great at some times, and completely out to lunch at others. Yellow flags work well the majority of the time, but when they bug out, it makes it frustrating. The performance points and reputation system is woven throughout the title in a masterful display of design, but then you look at how it affects the online portion by allowing performance upgrades online, thereby requiring anybody who wants to be competitive to put in serious offline time to compete, and you are left scratching your head. You have two parts beauty, one part beast for almost every major feature in the game, yet the title is somehow more than the sum of its parts. With Test & Tune mode, a Season mode, the Career mode and Driver Challenges, as well as working on the Own the Track leaderboard, there’s more than enough racing to be done within NASCAR 09. It is full of depth, allowing the gearheads to really get their hands dirty and create a setup for each track that suits their needs, and the adjustments are realistic and make sense. It’s just a very good package overall.

If you’re a fan of NASCAR at all and you own an XBox 360, it’s hard not to recommend NASCAR 09, even with its rough edges. It’s got a believable handling model and you can jump right in and go door to door with Earnhardt, Jr., and then put Kyle Busch in the wall if you feel so inclined. Its got enough questionable AI behavior and yellow flag curiosities that it’s tough to just recommend it to anybody. However, I will say that I’ve had more “XBox Buddies”, for lack of a better term, that have become completely addicted to the online experience of NASCAR 09, and have become better drivers through the challenge mode. Some have even gone out and purchased a wheel to get better response (although it’s driveable with the standard controller, to really get the most out of the Legend mode, you’ll want to run it with a wheel. Without assists, the controller will only be useable by those with amazing finger dexterity and surgeon-like precision). It’s a very tough game to rate, because it’s going to be so subjective based on your familiarity with the sport, as well as with racing games. For me, it’s “just below greatness” because of the strange AI inconsistencies and the yellow flag issues, but neither one makes it completely unplayable. I just wish that it could have remained “in the oven” for a few more months, so to speak, because with a little more tweaking, it could have been an all-time great. As it is, it’s just “good…almost great”.

NASCAR 09 Score
Exhaustive modes and depth.
Great handling model on legend difficulty
Online play is smooth and lag free.
AI is inconsistent from track to track.
Yellow flags still need some work.
Glitches carry from offline to online.
out of 10
NASCAR 09 Videos
Member Comments
# 1 auburntigersfan @ 06/20/08 05:36 PM
nice detailed review, well done.
# 2 Bahnzo @ 06/20/08 06:04 PM
A fair assessment, good review Terry.
# 3 BIG CAROLINA @ 06/20/08 06:58 PM
I am happy that a true sim racing fan is reviewing the game and not someone who is not a a racing fan. Great review.
I have the same problem at the plate tracks with the AI being too easy, I wonder if we put the Adaptive AI to "ON" just on the plate tracks if we will have a more competitive race? When I get to Dega in my Season I will give it a shot.
# 4 mgoblue @ 06/20/08 07:24 PM
Great review...points out the pros and cons in a very detailed manner. It's just fun to drive, and that counts for a lot!
# 5 texbuk84 @ 06/21/08 12:34 AM
# 6 catcatch22 @ 06/21/08 01:40 AM
The game is very good, reminds me of NASCAR Heat form the PC and the consoles.

My one complaint is some of the "challenges" in the game are not thought out as properly as they were in Heat.

Heat came up with some more historical challenges.
# 7 JohnDoe8865 @ 06/21/08 02:28 AM
Great job on a detailed review Terry! I think it's great that you are reviewing the driving games on OS, because I don't think anyone is even close to bringing your knowledge and expertise to the driving "experience".

N09 wasn't even really on my radar because of EA's previous efforts, but I might give it a shot now, at least a rental.
# 8 av7 @ 06/21/08 02:51 AM
This review is the one to look at, not IGN's being covered by someone who doesnt even like Nascar.

I gave the N09 a 7 but I'd actually bump it up to an 8 for the paint booth feature, I'm addicted to it.
# 9 MMChrisS @ 06/21/08 12:25 PM
Wonderful review Terry...definitely the most knowledgeable racing fan reviewing games on the 'net today
# 10 dano562003 @ 06/23/08 01:47 AM
Now that was a reveiw! Great job.
# 11 toyorcng20 @ 07/03/08 01:09 PM
Does anyone know of these so called "glitch" set ups? It pisses me off playing online because someone will have it and no matter how you set the car up they will get you by up to 1.5 sec. per lap. Oh well...we should expose it so we can all be competitive. Great review though.
# 12 SilverFox41089 @ 10/21/08 11:03 PM
i just wish they would have put in the R&D, Car Building, and Team Hiring And Firing that they had in NASCAR Thunder 2004. But it is the best NASCAR game since 2004 so im happy . . . for now lol. oh and at 'Dega i just won the race by 6 and a half seconds leading all the laps and i was even off the gas entering the trioval for the final time.
# 13 RunN1st @ 10/22/08 06:15 PM
It is very likely that this was my last year buying an EA made NASCAR game. This experience was fun but yet draining.

So many things that can go so right with this game, go completely neglected year-after-year. Their support and forums are a flat out joke.
# 14 BIG CAROLINA @ 10/22/08 07:42 PM
Originally Posted by mniner2003
It is very likely that this was my last year buying an EA made NASCAR game. This experience was fun but yet draining.

So many things that can go so right with this game, go completely neglected year-after-year. Their support and forums are a flat out joke.
Especially the forums.
# 15 lnin0 @ 10/22/08 10:21 PM
For all that is wrong with N09 I would still say it is this years best console racer...all the easier said knowing Race Pro is pushed back to Q1 09.

Yes, N09 is not perfect but in my opinion it advances the console racer more than any other title this year. It gives console racers a taste of the real deal.

Car skinning done via your PC and imported into the game - that right there is just brilliant. I will argue with anyone who claims Forza 2's system is more robust or user friendly. In fact, I never understood how anyone could claim F2s system is user friendly - it is not user friendly for artist and it is not user friendly for people just looking to slap a few quick vinyls on their ride. N09 shows us where console games should be heading. I think the only thing that really confused things was EAs insistence on using DDS files. If the online paint shop accepted JPG files and did the conversion itself there wouldn't even be a question as to which way is better.

Online practice and qualifying. Options that are swept away in the sea of cookie cutter arcade racers it is nice to finally have a race game recognize these as part of the race weekend. Again, I questions how games like Forza 2 and GT get away calling themselves 'sims' when so much about their very essence is built around the decade old arcade experience.

Pit Stops. Not some optionless drive through where you come out the other side as good as new. Honest to goodness pit stops where you can elect for different strategies - now if they just work on actually making tire wear and fuel consumption more realistic. But the point is pit stratagies are a major part of racing. Heck, they are so important that TV elects to show commercial during the race rather than miss the pit stops. Why is this huge part of racing so over looked when comes to all the console sim pretenders then?

Rules and flags. In car view. Full featured online racing with the option to us AI cars to round out the field. Massive setup options. Career and challenges to keep you busy in single player. Damage, and while it could be better it at least has DNFs - something most developers are afraid of but a real part of racing. AI that if not all that aggressive is at least pretty clean and pretty intelligent. Own the track is also nice little leaderboard idea that for the most part goes overlooked.

So, even though it has its shortcomings (HUD being #1) NASCAR 09 in my opinion is the racer I want more developers to take notes from this year. Really, anyone can do the arcade thing so it is nice to see a developer swimming against the crowd for a change and trying to give console gamers a little bit of what their PC counterparts have been loving for decades.

If the series maintains its direction and doesn't try to go all casual it will continue to see my money next year.

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