NASCAR The Game 2011 Review

Most people have a preference for certain sports over others. Most people fall into the realm of the Big 3: NFL, NBA, and MLB Ė Iím talking about here in the States of course Ė and from there people will mix and match with the less popular ďsports.Ē I bring this up because NASCAR 2011 does not attempt to transcend itself, and possible cannot. This game sticks to the status quo, middle of the pack, and does not try very hard to convert the non-NASCAR fans.

The presentation is both charming and bland. Picking a car and track display like trading cards and a road map respectively; like youíre deciding what to do from an RV. The menu music is full of pop and rock hits, and loading screens offer trivia while you wait. Good thing too because loading screens are the bane of this title. While the game looks and sounds great, at least from the perspective of the rear bumper of a car, it takes about half a minute or so between anything. Yes, its takes just as long to load a race as it does for the tuning garage. There arenít a ton of options to choose, but you better keep your choices on point or suffer more loading screens and enjoy trivia you most likely wonít know the answers to. There are no announcers, and your radio chatter does get old, so the game feels a bit quiet despite the roar of the engines. And aside from practice mode, you get a literal crash course in how to play the game in a single video upon starting your career. The video approach is better than scrolling text, but I placed last in my first race so you tell me how much the video helped.

You have your basic game modes: career, single race, multiplayer, practice, and challenge mode. There is also a quick mode called Eliminator in which the last place car is eliminated after a time until only one is left. While the premise sounds exciting, Eliminator is no more than a quick game with very little to gain and an easy chance to lose. The career is simple; you level up and unlock new stuff based on your performance. You gain points by leading laps, driving well, and finish place, but this reward system just keeps you on the same line of progression. And though itís nice that you gain with anything you do in the game, you can only have one career running at a time with a single driver. Online multiplayer is still working through some issues, but you can at least play against a friend at home.

Professional racing is a much different experience than your racing experience is other games. You could rename this game Ė maybe the sport itself Ė as ďCar vs. The Wall.Ē Most tracks are not very long and are only comprised of two or three curves of varying sharpness. Youíll quickly learn that mastery of one curve will not help much for taking another curve. I was hoping for someone to come along and tell me exactly when I should brake or let off the gas, for how long, which part of the track would be best, and when to accelerate again. The game does offer auto-braking assistance if you so choose, and an indicator will tell you to slow down or brake, but of course itís not just you out there against the wall, there are other cars who have a better idea of how to take a turn; meaning that if you play too safe you will get passed. Iím not one who enjoys crashes, but perhaps something could have been done to spice up the racing as it just seems like each car takes the same safe approach and doesnít have the same top-speed as I do.

I quickly found that steering with the analog stick was a bad idea. If youíve ever watched NASCAR and see how the pros do it, they have an easier time staying in line and keeping the car straight. This game gives you two choices for steering, braking, and accelerating, which are stick or d-pad and the triggers or face buttons respectively. However, I could never get a subtle enough steering motion where I looked like one of the other cars in a pack; instead, I would be zig-zagging and making abrupt stutters that made the adjacent cars react. That, hitting the wall, and going under the bottom yellow line were all things that felt disingenuous to the spirit of the game, but didnít seem to count much against me Ė I can imagine these things happening to me if I were behind the wheel and I would be scared out of my mind.

Drafting is the art of driving behind someone to take advantage of the weakened air resistance, and once done long enough you can ďslingshotĒ past them. I could barely hold my car steady long enough to draft much, but it is a nice feature that is not an arcade component, though Iím not sure if real drafting is quite as effective. Drafting is a good tool to help you go from behind to front, and weaving through the pack offers the most excitement, but also the best way to crash. While front-running is the best way to win, itís just you versus the wall.

No, each race is not 400 laps. You can adjust the laps from 4 to 10 and so on for whatever kind of experience you are looking for. Each race, like real races, has a short qualifying round so that you can have a hand in your starting position for the actual race. This means that every race gives you the opportunity to front-run if thatís your style, which is another thing that seems disingenuous to the sport, that you can start in front and completely avoid the drafting and pack dynamics for most of the race. You can also choose the difficulty of your opponents, whether or not cars will need to pit, and if damage will affect performance. Again, while most of us casual racing game fans will choose to play short races with no pit stops, that is not the real sport of NASCAR. While on the other hand, a 100 lap race where you wreck, run out of gas, or damage your car may not sound like much fun. You are allowed rewinds in every race to correct any errors you make, and while the gamer who craves fun appreciates this, you certainly donít see any mulligans in real NASCAR.

You can select from pretty much all of the big hitting pros and even Danica Patrick. Every track is true to life, but this game is limited to the races and the menu navigation. The celebration drifting in circles (not to be confused with drafting) is a nice touch, but other than that you donít see your driver much. Of course you never see much beyond your rear bumper, and when you take your eyes off the road to see the environment or look at the various components of the HUD is usually when youíll punch the wall. Though you can make your own driver, you can only choose his name, number, and country of origin, and no you cannot make a female driver. Car customization is cool, but in all honesty you just need to fix up the rear bumper as the rest of the car can look awful and you wonít be aware. Finally, you can fine tune your car rather than going with the automatic and pre-set tuning options for each track, but if you donít know why you would need to tune your car for a different track then you probably have no business attempting to change it up Ė letís just say that there are reasons why each track has its own pre-set for your car. Aside from a lengthy load screen to get to the tuning garage, all you can do is adjust aspects of your car within a maximum range, so no booster or turtle shell upgrades Ė we are not talking about stat-building or skill specializations.

NASCAR 2011 is a racing game about a real sport that has all the tracks and best racers and allows you to play realistically or play more like an arcade racing game. The end result is a game that should only moderately please existing fans while everyone else may realize why they donít watch NASCAR. Honestly, I am unsure of a solution to this problem, but no one likes the long load times. The truth could be that in order to enjoy a NASCAR game, you have to enjoy watching NASCAR to begin with. There are many video games of less popular sports that have successfully attracted non-fans, but I still have no interest in NASCAR after playing this game.

Final Rating: 73%.

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