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NASCAR The Game 2011

Score: 72%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Eutechnyx
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 2; 2 16 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Racing)/ Racing (Arcade)/ Racing (Simulation)

Graphics & Sound:

The developers at Eutechnyx have gotten the bid for a new NASCAR game, and attempted to transform the atmosphere of the popular motorsport and bring it to your game console. Visually, NASCAR The Game 2011 hits the track running. Both the cars and the tracks look quite good at first glance. The amount of detail that goes into the sponsor logos and the quality of all driving views makes the game feel like it's fairly polished. When you hit the track, it's visually pleasing to see detail go into even showing the wear patterns of each venue. Not only does it look good, but it helps with getting an idea of the line you need to take to be successful.

NASCAR The Game 2011 also comes with a paint editor for custom paint jobs on your car. While the editor itself can lend for some outstanding freedom (see below for more info), one area of concern is that painting the car a different shade automatically disregards default sponsor logos.

From an audio standpoint, NASCAR The Game 2011 contains everything you'd think should be in a racing game, from the revving of engines to the screeching of tires. The Menu music is great, but gets old after a while. One of my favorite features, however, was the voiceover from the spotter who lets you know where other cars are in relation to you. Despite that the sound bites are a bit cookie-cutter, the developers did a nice job of incorporating this feature, which helps a lot if you like racing from the cockpit view and don't feel like taking your eyes off the road to look at the HUD radar. You'll also be awarded a few humorous sound clips at random times during gameplay. Of course, mine probably got sick of telling me to stay off the wall.


Gameplay:

When you think of NASCAR, what's the first thing that pops in your head? For me, it was a bunch of guys (and now some girls) driving in circles around a track... in other words, repetition. However, after hitting the ground running in NASCAR The Game 2011, I quickly realized that there are a lot more idiosyncrasies that need to be paid attention to. Each turn on each track needs to be handled differently, and the game does a pretty good job of simulating this. There are also a few road courses, so if you get tired of always turning left, they are a nice break in the action.

The number of Game Modes is decent, but not great in NASCAR The Game 2011. One can expect the standard Single Player and Online Play, from Quick Matches to the Career Mode, but you'll also be able to play in 2-player split-screen with a buddy against the entire field. The Elimination Mode is another possibility as well, where the driver in last place is continuously eliminated until one car remains.

Something that needs to be mentioned about the gameplay is that there are inconsistencies that happen in different facets of the game. The most notable is that there is no black flag to kick people off the track. Even if I have a limited knowledge of the NASCAR rules, I know that you shouldn't be able to purposely knock people out of the race and get away scot-free if you don't spin out yourself. But more importantly, the ability to cleanly pass a number of cars inside the left line (on oval tracks) or to be able to cut corners without penalty (on road courses) should be completely disallowed, but it isn't. These problems really take away from the overall realism of the game. Instead of a game that should be part simulation, it really feels more like an arcade racer that throws in a few switches and levers for gear heads to tinker with.

I have to say that going online was a bit bittersweet. On one hand, it's great to be able to reach out to other gamers around the world for a quick race or two, but there were some unfortunate limitations associated with taking NASCAR The Game 2011 online. First and foremost, the number of drivers is limited to a maximum of 16, although I've yet to have more than 4 enter a race together due to an uncontrollable timer once a second driver enters the match-up screen. But on top of that, you can't actually allow non-player drivers (a.k.a. computer-controlled cars) to participate, which completely changes the perception of this game from a pseudo-simulation to a complete arcade-style racer.

Finally, not being able to take your created Paint Schemes online is a bit unfulfilling. The paint shop in the game, despite being slightly buggy at times, does a great job of allowing you to create whatever you want. There are two levels of creation involved, so you can actually create a fairly complex decal, and then use that as a decal in the main area of the paint shop. An example is using multiple layers of primitive shapes to create a single decal of a flag, and then being able to drop that entire flag as a single layer on the car. In all, the game allows up to 1000 layers of decals to be placed, which opens up a world of possibilities. As mentioned, however, until an update is released (if that is possible), currently you can spend hours to paint up your car and nobody will ever be able to see it.


Difficulty:

NASCAR The Game 2011 has multiple difficulty levels ranging from Easy to Very Hard, which allows many differently-skilled gamers access to jumping onto the track. In addition to difficulty changes, you'll be able to also choose from a number of presets that change difficulty, number of laps, and a few more options automatically. If you don't want to be confined to the presets, you can also customize each of the attributes for a better gaming experience. Unfortunately, the only way to customize while online is to create a Private Match, otherwise options are unavailable.

On the track, the difficulty setting is just one of the things that amp up the experience for hardcore gamers. As you increase the difficulty, the non-player drivers do tend to hit higher speeds and take turns a bit better, so you'll have to keep up and run a perfect race in order to win. In the Career that you set up, you can qualify for races ahead of time, and depending on your position, it can exponentially affect the outcome of the race. While it's not completely necessary to pit on short races (most of the preset settings), wear on the tires can greatly affect handling, so spinning out becomes an increasing possibility.

Navigating between other cars and learning to draft are also key in doing well in NASCAR The Game 2011. The sheer number of cars on the track at once can make slight and subtle bumping end in a massive pileup. While drafting, you'll definitely feel the pull of the car, so until you get used to it and expect it, it can also cause slight missteps, but in general, it is handled very well and helps tremendously in your ability to win each race.


Game Mechanics:

NASCAR The Game 2011 is a game that can be somewhat easily picked up and played by just about anyone because the controls are, at their essence, quite basic. Of course, doing well will likely take some practice, especially when it comes to learning the subtleness of each course. Pulling the Right and Left Triggers accelerates and brakes, respectively, and steering is handled exclusively through the Left Analog Stick. While you can also look left and right or change your views, driving the car is fairly simple.

I should mention one thing that did bother me about the control of cars, and that happens at the start of each race. As you begin, your steering is locked until you cross the start line to begin the first lap (locked during the pace car sequence). While this in and of itself is not a problem, when the countdown ends and control is gained by the player, there's always a slight jump of the car in both speed and steering. On relative straight-aways it's not as big of a deal, but some tracks have the start line close enough to a turn that you have to try and compensate by guessing the amount of steering that goes into it beforehand, or risk losing position quickly due to an immediate error.

Getting into the paint shop is a bit clunky at first, but once figured out, it is quite powerful. It was a bit buggy as well, to a point where I had to redo a few things after saving because the game lost respect for the layer order that I had. Still, it is pretty adaptable and nearly anything can be created if you just put your mind to it. If I do say so myself, the General Lee Paint Scheme that I made looks pretty cool.

In all, NASCAR The Game 2011 is a pretty decent game that fans of the sport will probably enjoy. Unfortunately, as a whole there are more racing games out there that may be more appealing, and offer up a greater variety of racing types and scenarios. Still, if you can get past some of the gameplay issues, NASCAR The Game 2011 is worth a rent to see if you want to buy.


-Woody, GameVortex Communications
AKA Shane Wodele

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