NASCAR The Game 2011 Review (Xbox 360)
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After two full years of having no sim-style representation on any console, word started to spread in mid to late 2009 that a British video game developer was taking over the reigns of the most popular US motorsports license available today. Eutechnyx had secured the license to develop a full scale, fully licensed NASCAR simulation-arcade racer. The excitement and buzz of a new developer taking on this project was palpable. Word started spreading from site to site, and people had visions of a game that would exceed anything Electronic Arts had ever developed -- and maybe a game that would rival what Papyrus had put out on the PC, NASCAR 2003.
March 29, 2011 was the date that digital NASCAR fans had written in their day planners. They had planned vacation days for this date, developed elaborate ideas of how to call in sick to work and school, and told their wives and girlfriends to not plan on seeing them for a solid week. However, all of those plans struggled to get out of the proverbial pit box once they realized that the game they had hoped for and the game they put into their beloved consoles on release day was not the experience they were hoping for.
As a total package, NASCAR The Game 11 was not the whole game that they had envisioned just weeks prior to release, but that doesn’t mean it was time to put the car in the hauler and leave the track for the weekend.
NASCAR 2011 provides some extremely exciting moments on the track, but it also provides some moments that will have you scratching your head and asking yourself "what the heck just happened?" The driving model that Eutechnyx has developed for this title is very well done, and it rivals or exceeds any other NASCAR title developed for this current generation of systems or anything prior to it. You truly have that immersive feeling of being connected to the track and an incredible sensation of speed as you are barreling down the back stretch of Talladega at 200 mph.
There are times in the game when you are in the middle of the pack and white knuckling it for laps at a time. It’s these types of moments that make one feel like the infrastructure of an incredible NASCAR title is on this disc. The developers have also provided the user the ability to use a controller or wheel, and both are very enjoyable experiences because the handling in both scenarios can be fantastic a lot of the time.
The AI interaction within the game can be very positive, but it can also be very frustrating at the same time. For the first time in a NASCAR title, the AI truly understands that you (as a user) are on the track, and instead of driving through you like you do not exist, the AI drivers will interact in such ways as choosing you as a draft partner at a superspeedway. Issues start to arise with the AI drivers when they get overly aggressive in their attempt to draft with you, which can cause the user to spin out of control. Another problem the user will find is that at certain tracks the AI-controlled cars will bunch together. This can cause you to wreck if you are behind them, or you may simply dart to the side and pass 8-12 cars at a time. You will also see poor pit entry decisions made by the AI drivers because they tend to pull off the track at any given time, even if another AI- or user-controlled car is below them.
Users will also run into issues in the pits if they are doing a longer race. When deciding to pit, they will see a beautifully rendered pit-stop sequence in slow motion. The problem with the rendered scene in slow motion is that the AI cars are going at full speed and can cause a user to enter the pits in first and leave in 25th. The developers also provided a base setup package, and while it works most of the time, there are instances where it is actually too good or actually requires a lot of tuning to work on a certain track. Overall though, the offline aspect of NASCAR 11 is done very well, and can be an incredible experience on a shorter length race.
While the presentation in Career mode is handled very well, you won’t see a lot of it anywhere else in the game. In Career mode you get pre-race festivities, different vantage points of the track, flyovers, and Doug Rice and Mark Garrow giving you pre-race analysis of each track. At the end of the race, if you win, you also get to do a burn out and see the driver celebrate -- I will not mention Mark Martin doing a back-flip. The end-of-the-race celebration carries over to the Race Now mode also, but that is the only part that does. You will not hear any type of race analysis or early festivities in any other mode, which is disappointing.
One of the biggest draws for the average NASCAR fans are the wrecks on any given Sunday. While you will see a lot of wrecks in this game (some caused by AI only, which is awesome) you will see very inconsistent damage to the cars themselves. This was one area in which the developer promised an incredible experience, and at times it is very cool, but it’s just not implemented well enough and consistent enough to call it a strength of the game. There are times where you will see blown tires, sheet metal particles, and splitters on the track, but you will never see the truly catastrophic damage that was depicted in the early pre-rendered trailers.
The spotter is another case of hit or miss in this title. At times he can be very helpful, but more times than not, you want to pull the car over to the side of the track, get out and run up to the tower and hit him in the head with a wrench. He is constantly talking about buying pizza, hot-dog wrappers, birds and his fries. How about telling me that Dale Jr. is two inches on the outside of me in my blind spot or that a pack of four cars are steamrolling me from below. I will say, though, that I absolutely love the crosshair radar map at the bottom of the screen because it’s very helpful and precise.
The graphics on the PS3 version are done very well, and the game can be very beautiful to watch. The tracks are an amazing thing to race on and see, and while not all are an exact replica of the tracks themselves, it doesn’t mean they are any less beautiful. There are no day-to-night transitions in the game, but certain tracks like Richmond will have you distracted with how amazing they look during a dusk setting. The car models are also very well done, and the game features all of the manufacturers that you would see on Sunday.
This is another area where the developers could have used another three months of development time. For starters, the mode is incredibly thin and has very few options to pick from. An online mode for any NASCAR title should absolutely include practice sessions, qualifying sessions and race mode. The mode only gives you the ability to invite users into a private room or join a lobby.
The game also drops the ball when it comes to race length online, as it only provides a limited number of lengths. The developers should have given the private-room creator the ability to choose from one lap all the way up to the actual real race length of a given track in one-lap increments. NASCAR 11 has no online league setup, which is fine for a first-year title, but the developers need to give the user the proper tools to do so on their own.
Create A Car
While the core of this system is very similar to the Forza series, it does not mean it's user friendly and easy to use. This is one of the rare instances in which I wished Eutechnyx would have borrowed an idea from the EA series. The game needs the ability to take a template and transfer it to your computer, create the skin then transfer it back into the game. That’s not to say that a great car can’t be designed with the tools that are provided, but it takes a lot of work, a lot of skill and even more patience to utilize the mode the way it was intended.
This Career mode gives you the ability to pick a car (or create one) and race the full Cup schedule, just like the one you would see on a Sunday afternoon. There are some real issues here, starting with the name as this mode should have been named season mode.
While the user does have the opportunity to race multiple seasons, the mode is like the movie Groundhog Day because it will always be the 2011 season. No drivers will age or retire, and no drivers will be replaced when their time has come to an end on the Cup circuit. Certain stats will recognize a different year and accumulate, such as total wins and fastest lap, but overall this should have been a much deeper experience.
You will also find no case of a silly season, new yearly sponsors, and new and upcoming drivers entering the scene.
This is actually the biggest strength of the game because the user can find an incredibly fun and entertaining experience here. Eutechnyx has provided some wonderful options for any user of any ability to pick up a controller and have a blast. Users can choose from arcade settings or make it a very challenging and sim-like experience. The developers have provided a plethora of options, difficulties, settings and assists so one should be able to create a scenario on the track that is both fun and challenging. This is the area of the game where the physics, driving model and AI interaction really do shine, with just limited issues getting in the way.
When NASCAR 11 was announced, I was as excited as anyone. After having spent almost two weeks with the game, I am still very excited for this title, as well as the future iterations. The game has some real issues that cannot be overlooked, but it also hits a home run in a few areas. The driving model, physics and AI interaction are done very well, and all we can do is hope that the patch the developers are currently working on can clean a lot of the other issues up.
While no one is happy to see the issues that are currently plaguing the game, at least the developers are heavily involved in community feedback to help create a stellar patch. I understand the developers only had about 18 months to build this title from scratch, and while many may feel disappointed (and rightfully so), I think there is a gem to be found in this game -- it just needs to be polished.
Learning Curve: Very accessible for all levels.
Visuals: Overall, very well done and at times outstanding.
Audio: The engines sound great, spotter not so much.
Entertainment Value: There’s value, but it can be limited to some.
Score: 6.5 (Above Average)