NASCAR 07 Review (Xbox)

Ask the typical NASCAR fan what attracts them to the sport and you are likely to get back a laundry list of answers. Some like the speed. Others seem to be partial to the rivalries that develop. Many like the teamwork, the adrenaline, heck; some may just like the pretty stickers on the car. The point is there is no right or wrong answer to the appeal of NASCAR.

Now flip the script and ask people who do not like NASCAR what it is about the sport that they don’t care for. Again, the list is probably as long and varied as Lindsey Lohan’s bar tab. It’s not a sport, some argue. Others think NASCAR is as simple as whoever is driving the fastest car wins. Still more will tell you that the sport is simply boring – simple, almost. Drive fast – turn left – rinse and repeat.

I guess, for me, as someone who is probably best labeled a person with a borderline appreciation for the sport, the boredom factor weighs heavily. Yes, it’s fast. Yes, there is certainly some action packed moments. It’s the other 492 laps that have me flipping to “The World’s Strongest Man” on ESPN7 on a Saturday afternoon instead of giving the new #4 (sorry hockey) sport in America more of a chance.

When I reviewed last year’s NASCAR release from EA Sports, I found myself pleasantly surprised and ended up enjoying the game quite a bit. I spent a lot of quality time with that title, even after the review went to virtual press. That’s why I was excited to draw NASCAR 07 for an Xbox test drive this year. Last year’s release left me intrigued by the sport and excited to see where they were taking the series. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was already playing this year’s version.

NASCAR 07 is, essentially, NASCAR 06: Total Team Control with a new box. They have added a few subtle nuances and tightened up some bolts under the hood, but it’s definitely the same vehicle. That’s not a bad thing in theory because it’s a good game, however, when you’re asking gamers to repurchase the same game a year later, that’s a great way to alienate your fans.

To be fair, let me concentrate on what is new about the game. I really saw three areas worth noting as changes to the game that improve the experience over 06. The team at EA has added two new, for lack of a better term, attribute systems for NASCAR 07. The first, Dynamic Driver Attributes, is what makes a certain driver behave differently depending on the situation or race type. It almost works off of the same theory that the football developers have started using in giving a defensive player specific ratings for, as an example, man-to-man versus zone coverage. Dynamic Driver Attributes dictate whether a driver is better at things like Road Races or on shorter tracks. It gives the game and the individual drivers a unique feel that was not present last year. Ratings should matter, after all. Isn’t that the battle cry of the sports gamer?

The second new system is called the Variable Driver Attribute System. What this allows is for your racer to accrue attribute points during a race for certain achievements like leading a lap, taking the lead, or making a clean pass. I would definitely consider this a far more subtle addition to the title, but to keep NASCAR 07 from being Burnout 07, I think it is important to encourage doing it the right way versus pointing your car at traffic and flooring it.

The only other change that I viewed as significant wasn’t an addition of a mode, but more of an addition of depth. The development team added some depth to the process of setting up your vehicle. It's a nice addition, and makes the game slightly more appealing to the "sim" racers out there, but the game still leans very heavily to the arcade style. You need to be able to pick up and play for most gamers.

The modes of play are essentially the same, with the Fight For The Top being the best and deepest available. Like in the previous release, you start out at the bottom of the food chain and attempt to work yourself up to driving in the NEXTEL circuit. The team nuances, fan support and the Hero/Villain dynamic remain the same in NASCAR 07, with nothing significant being added to spice up the replay factor. Even Non-NASCAR fans that watch "SportsCenter" know that rivalries and hate-hate relationships have become a big part of NASCAR. We need more of that in the game. You can become the biggest Villain around in the game and there is really no pay-off to it. I want more depth. Contract disputes, firings from team, loss of sponsorships; anything to make me care more about the time between races. The game, despite its best efforts, still feels like a you’re simply moving from race to race.

Online play is available via Xbox Live, but it comes with a warning. If you want a sim-style race, you will most likely not be able to find one. And, if you do, the lag has been some of the worst I’ve experienced in any EA game on Xbox Live. Buyer beware.

The graphics and audio in NASCAR 07 are, basically, pulled right over from last year’s version. They are certainly good and fit the game, but they have really not been improved in any way in the last year.

Why am I not a bigger fan of NASCAR? Boredom.

What is my biggest complaint with NASCAR 07? Simply put, if you’ve played NASCAR 06: Total Team Control, you will likely be bored with NASCAR 07.

For those gamers who do not own or have not played the '06 release, I will recommend picking up NASCAR 07. It is certainly worth it. But, if you have played last year’s game, you really have played this year’s game and do not need to pick it up again.

The game still scores well because, when judgedd on its own, it’s a very good game. I hope next year will bring a venture onto the 360. I think the potential for the series on the 360 is very high. But, you need to earn gamers' money from year to year. Innovate. Advance. Just don’t bore us. We deserve better.

NASCAR 07 Score
out of 10