NASCAR Unleashed Review (Xbox 360)
The last NASCAR game was released in 2009, and ironically, was an arcade racing game. In 2011, not one, but two NASCAR games were released: one for the simulation fans and one for the arcade fans. NASCAR Unleashed caters to the latter. Featuring outrageous car models, crazy versions of iconic NASCAR tracks and a lack of an online mode, NASCAR Unleashed is a bit shallow of a game, but can still be a fun racing game.
At times, the gameplay of NASCAR Unleashed is fun to play, but after racing on the same tracks over and over again, it gets boring fast. The cars have an overall loose feel, which makes it insanely easy to lose control of your car, making the wrecks more common.
The main component in the game is boosting. Drafting behind cars, drifting and making jumps will fill up the meter. It gives you nitrous, but also makes it easier to wreck other cars and lets you make more rivals.
There are challenges you can do in each race that gives you race points, which will unlock new paint jobs and reward items for your car. These goals usually require you to slam into certain cars or get a new rival before the timer runs out.
Variety is the spice of life, and that's exactly what these challenges offer, but there are only a handful of different ones that the game gives you. From drifting out of corners, to destroying objects around the course, the challenges are fun to obtain. The only downside to the challenges is that there aren't enough.
One of the biggest problems with the game is AI's aggressiveness. If you're near one of them, they try with all of their might to hit you and wreck you. Although that's there by design, it can, and will, get incredibly annoying.
Add the horrendous physics on top of the AI and you get some incredibly frustrating gameplay. The cars are not supposed to feel like their actual real-life counterparts -- that's obvious. But they're also not supposed to feel like paper airplanes. That's exactly how the physics of the game act and feel like.
When playing throughout the game, wrecks will become a common occurrence, mainly due to the tremendously poor physics mentioned above. The camera used when you wreck or turn upside down is one of the worst used in a racing game, and can really become nauseating.
NASCAR Unleashed features a rival and payback system, that seems like the game wants to be a kart racer, but it lacks anything outside of the rival system that would consider it as a kart racing game. Once you wreck an opponent, he is therefore your rival, and will make him even more aggressive than previously mentioned. Even though the rival system lacks any depth, without it, it would make the game even more boring to play.
Just like in actual NASCAR, you have the option to pit. All you have to do is simply drive through pit road. but it's something that you won't even have to do in most races. You can also wreck other cars in pit road, making their repairs useless. There are oil spills that will cause you to swerve all over the road, but you can knock opponents into these oil spills as well.
Over the top car models that are very reminiscent of Hot Wheels cars, seem perfect for the kind of arcade racing game this is trying to be, but also seems out of place for an actual NASCAR game. With only around eight real-life drivers, most of them being widely popular, you end up seeing a lot of the same cars on every track.
Cosmetic rewards such as huge tail pipes or an extremely large baseball cap make your car even more outrageous.
Featuring only five real-life tracks -- Daytona, Talladega, Martinsville, Chicagoland and Homestead Miami -- there really is a lot missing in the game. Daytona is the only real life track having its oval in the actual game. There is also an unleashed track that was designed by the developers, but with only six actual tracks, that just doesn't cut it in a racing game.
Multiplayer (or lack thereof)
One of the key factors for most gamers when they purchase a racing game, specifically an arcade racing game, is online multiplayer. NASCAR Unleashed is the perfect game for versus multiplayer, yet for some reason it's noticeably absent.
There's really no excuse for this, and whether no multiplayer is there by design, it doesn't matter. Arcade racing games and online multiplayer go together like peanut butter and jelly, and to make one without the addition of online multiplayer is a disgrace.
The game does feature split-screen multiplayer for the classic couch gaming with friends, but Firebrand Games missed the ball not adding online multiplayer to a game that would be 10x better with it.
There are only three modes in NASCAR Unleashed: Championship, Time Trial and Quick Race. All provide unique experiences, but all of them also lack any kind of depth much like the rival system.
The championship mode essentially acts as the career mode, with you trying to win three cups: rookie, pro and legend. Completing all three cups will only take you between three to five hours, and after that, there's really no need to continue playing that particular mode anymore.
The difficulty does ramp up by the time you reach the legend cup, but for fans of NASCAR, or racing games in general, it won't be too difficult beating the championship mode.
To unlock a new race in Championship, all you have to do is complete the primary goal, which always require you to finish in a certain place.
Secondary goals will also give you more race points, but are not required for you to complete each race. These goals, much like the challenges mentioned earlier, are for doing certain things in each race -- from knocking over objects such as cones and tires, to making sure you make rival.
Time trial and quick race is also in the game, but neither of them are particularly fun to play. Quick race can be fun if you have a friend near you to play split-screen multiplayer. Time trial mode is just you trying to beat a set time trying to win bronze, silver or gold trophies. In two words: not fun.
In theory, NASCAR Unleashed seems like a great idea. Add in the fact that there is an arcade racing game in 2011 that doesn't feature online multiplayer, it makes for an overall mundane experience, and proves that online does in fact rule video games.
Learning Curve: The first race in championship mode is a tutorial race that details everything you'll need to know about NASCAR Unleashed. There really is no learning curve.
Control Scheme: As easy as it can get for a racing game, with the game only utilizing the two triggers and two face buttons.
Visuals: The game features outrageous car models that fits the style of the game. That said, the visuals don't look particularly good, and is the prime definition of forgettable graphics.
Audio: Cars and music both sound good, but nothing really stands out. Unfortunately, we can't say the same for the announcer. He's funny for the first few races, but then he starts repeating himself and that becomes a nuisance after awhile.
Customization: Five different options for customizing your car, with these options being purely cosmetic. From changing the paint job, to even putting a baseball hat on the top of your car, there are some truly crazy options.
Value: With the lack of online multiplayer, a very simple and mundane career mode, the $40 price tag does seem a bit steep. This would be a perfect game for kids, but for anyone else, you're better off renting the game.
+ Fun to play sometimes, Challenges provide for more variety in gameplay, Unique spins on some iconic NASCAR tracks
- No online multiplayer, After completing Championship mode there is little incentive to keep playing, Physics make the car feel like paper airplanes
Bottom Line: Deep down NASCAR Unleashed provides some of the necessary elements of a well-made arcade racing game. However, with the noticeable absence of online multiplayer, and the complete lack of depth in the three available modes, not to mention it can get frustrating at times, it might be in your best interest to let NASCAR Unleashed stay on pit road.
Score: 4.5 (Below Average)