NASCAR 08 Review
When it comes to racing games, there are two types of gamers out there. There are those who enjoy arcade style racing, dodging traffic and weaving back and forth on roads with little regard for the laws of physics. One the other hand, you have the sim racers who want their cars to handle as close to the real thing as possible. NASCAR games have always been skewed towards the latter group, but with NACAR 08 EA has made a number of changes to try and attract more players from the first. The results are mixed, though, as the game can still be pretty difficult for casual and arcade racers and sim fans may not be too thrilled with the game modes in NASCAR 08.
The biggest change this year and the biggest concession to the casual racing gamer is the addition of The Chase mode. This mode is essentially a career mode in which you start out as an unknown driver trying to break into the sport. Before you can race with the big boys you've got to earn a contract, but before you can get that you'll need to earn your racing licenses. This is done by completing a series of license tests - 10 for each racing series, speedway, super speedway, Car of Tomorrow (COT) short track, COT speedway, COT super speedway, and COT road course. The tests are all designed to teach the basics of NASCAR racing and play out as a series of driving mini games. You'll need to meet challenges such as drafting another car for a set amount of time, using a slingshot move to pass a certain number of cars, weaving your way through multi-car pileups, and maintaining a minimum average speed on the track for a lap. These can all be challenging for a beginner, but NASCAR racers will find a bit tedious to make their way through so many tests. There are simply too many to clear, especially since many tests are indistinguishable from each other. For example, drafting for the speedway license and drafting for the super speedway license will give you a strong sense of déjà vu. Once you qualify for a license your initial contract will be good for two races. Complete the initial contract and your career as a NASCAR racer finally begins.
Of course you don't have to go through all of that just to race in the game. You can pick from the game's large selection of tracks and drivers, set the race options such as number of laps and degree of wear on the cars, and then hit the track. Before you race you have the option of taking practice laps or running your qualifying lap, but you can also just go straight to the race itself. The racing can be a lot of fun, but there are a few things which can make it difficult and frustrating. The first is that by default the steering is very sensitive and the cars can be difficult to control unless you're a real race sim veteran. The game allows you to adjust the steering sensitivity, so you may be able to improve the response to suit your style but it will take a lot of trial and error first. I wish there was an option to switch between realistic physics and arcade racing, but tightening the steering is all that's available. The excitement of racing in the middle of a pack of race cars going 180 mph is tempered by the fact that one little mistake at any stage of a race will invariably knock you way out of the running. The mistake may be of your own making such as bumping the wall or dragging your tires on the dirt, but often enough it will come as the result of an overly aggressive tap from one of the other racers. It doesn't help matters much that the competition rarely makes mistakes, so if you find yourself a quarter lap behind the pack you really have no hope of ever catching up. While EA has added a lot to try and attract casual gamers to the NASCAR franchise, the unforgiving nature of the races will make it difficult for these gamers to embrace the game.