Reviewed: April 18, 2011
Released: March 29, 2011
NASCAR gaming has taken a few kicks to the teeth the past couple years. The big bomb was when EA bailed on their license renewal with NASCAR. Reports were all over the map, ranging from lack of sales to more harsh comments about the sport. I never really understood the logic behind yearly development cycles for sports games. At some point you have to reach the technological console limits, and then all thatís left are the yearly sponsor and driver changes. It seems like that could easily be handled with a DLC. But the yearly games continued until EA said ďweíre outĒ. It didnít take too long before the announcement came that Gran Turismo 5 would include NASCAR and soon Eutechnyx decided to make a full NASCAR game.|
NASCAR 2011 doesnít have much competition; at least not on the consoles. Gran Turismo 5 includes NASCAR but only a couple tracks from the circuit. Then there is the big time of iRacing.com which is now an official NASCAR computer based racing series. For those who donít want to invest thousands on a new PC, you have to get NASCAR 2011 on the Xbox 360 or PS3.
Driving a race in NASCAR 2011 can be very boring or incredibly frustrating. If you are in the back, your only hope is to draft and hope for a good slingshot around traffic. If you are in front youíll just plod along hoping you donít screw up before the checkered flag. The middle of the pack tends to bring great frustration. Far too often someone will clip your bumper and you go into the wall. Eutechnyxís solution is to provide a ďrewindĒ feature that will take you back a few seconds (if only real life allowed a ďredoĒ). The rewind feature is limited to 5 times a race and if you will lose bonus points if you use it.
I donít know a single racing fan who doesnít enjoy a good crash once in a while. Who hasnít turned their car around and went head-on with the leaders just to watch the carnage? Well, you canít do that in NASCAR 2011; at least not as easily as other games. You can block the track, but driving the wrong way gets you an instant reset. It doesnít really matter though. The crash graphics are not at all what weíve come to expect in games. Actually, itís not what we expect to see in a real NASCAR race either! There really wasnít much effort put into particle physics for crashes. Your car might get into the air but for the most part your body panels will get a little dinged up and sparks will fly. Video games pretty much require good crash graphics nowadays Ė especially while playing online with noob drivers.
NASCAR 2011 comes with the latest list of cars and drivers, including Danica Patrick and Jennifer Jo Cobb. Most of the sponsors are in the game including several car paint schemes for some drivers. There are a lot of tuning options available in the garage. Youíll need these for certain tracks as the default settings donít help you much on a few tracks, especially Bristol. Changing the gearing or downforce can make a huge difference in the handling and speed of your car. Itís great they included these things but most people wonít touch them.
The ďcareer modeĒÖ really isnít. You get thrown into the Sprint Cup Series immediately. There are no opportunities to work your way up the ladder in the Nationwide or Camping World series or any other racing class like midget or karts. You donít have to worry about signing sponsor contracts or other things you might expect from playing career modes in other sports games. Iím sure there wasnít enough time for Eutechnyx to include all those items so keep your fingers crossed for next season.
Online play is a real mixed bag. Itís great that they included it, but itís limited to 16 live drivers. No A.I. drivers are allowed. So that left me racing with half a normal field or just a couple drivers. It gets very lonely at Talladega with 4 drivers on the track. I had a lot of problems with connections and/or lag times. Iím running the fastest consumer internet available and apparently nobody else was which resulted in a lot of strange graphical glitches or waiting around for a race to start. This unfortunately looks like it should have stayed in beta testing a few more months, but by that time the NASCAR season would be half over.
As with most racing games, you really need to have a wheel accessory to get the most from NASCAR 2011. The standard gamepad works, but itís not easy to subtly glide around a turn when the wall is coming right at you. The wheel controller provides the right amount of feedback steering properties that really make racing games fun. The difference in a normal gamepad and a steering wheel are huge.
The racing graphics in NASCAR 2011 are some of the best weíve seen. Little details like the clouds reflecting in the windows and the blinding reflection of the sun are about as real as you can get. The shadows and light levels even change as the race continues. Crash graphics are another story entirely, and hopefully will be fixed next year. The pre and post-race celebrations are shown in all their glory from skydivers and fireworks to the now traditional race winner donuts. The post-race celebrations include your driver jumping on the car and spraying booze on the fans. All the drivers have their faces modeled in the game so even the tiny Danica Patrick is fairly accurate. There isnít much variety in the celebrations but itís still fun to watch.
Mark Garrow and Doug Rice from PRN do intros to all 32 races on the NASCAR circuit. There isnít any option to include commentary while you are racing. All you get is your spotter from the pits. He can be useful, but he tends to talk a lot about food and sometimes is 5 seconds late with the call. That gets old a few races into the season. The overall driving sound is pretty accurate and it should be. The various sounds of a car have been recorded and translated meticulously. Crash sounds and crowd noise are not at the level I expected but there is always next year. Thankfully Eutechnyx didnít waste a bunch of money licensing a long list of songs. There are a handful of songs but mostly youíll get ZZ Topís ďLa GrangeĒ. Thatís another design issue I never understood. Why do game companies license all these songs when users can play their own music playlists? Eutechnyx made the right choice.
NASCAR 2011 attempts to add some value to the game with unlockable paint schemes and invitational events where you collect coins and stickers. When you collect these items you get racer ranking points which really donít do much for you other than unlock achievements and give you something to gauge other drivers online. There are 40 achievements available for 1,000 gamer score points. Thereís nothing really out of the ordinary for achievements. Most are based on doing basic things in the race or driving longevity. Getting over 200 wins will get you the Kingly achievement for breaking Richard Pettyís record.
The only competition for NASCAR 2011 on consoles comes on the PS3 in Gran Turismo 5. While the graphics and realism in GT5 are slightly better, the experience is limited to a couple authentic tracks. The overall NASCAR experience is much better represented in NASCAR 2011. If you are a huge NASCAR fan, then NASCAR 2011 is for you. But if you like all kinds of racing, from go-karts to Formula 1, Gran Turismo 5 is a far better choice.
NASCAR 2011 isnít bad for Eutechnyxís first effort. Itís not horrible, itís not great, itís merely okay. But NASCAR should be a great video game. Past games on console and PC certainly provide enough guidance as to what does and doesnít work. Maybe my expectations were too high. The one revelation I found in NASCAR 2011 is I will never be able to race at Bristol. Itís too much like driving in Chicago traffic.