Reviewed: September 24, 2006
Released: September 6, 2006
EA brings their console NASCAR franchise to the PSP for the first time in what feels like a stripped down, arcade version of NASCAR 07 on the PS2 and Xbox. And just so you donít get confused, they have dropped the 07 designation giving us simply, NASCAR.
On the surface, NASCAR appears to be nearly identical to this yearís console version, but upon close inspection you will see a few glaring omissions and a few cool PSP-exclusive features. The most obvious (and inexplicable) missing feature is the Total Team Control, especially since the D-pad is merely mirroring the controls of the analog pad. Then again, if you havenít played the console version you likely wonít miss TTC.
NASCAR offers all of the typical game modes, some of which, like Race Now, are perfectly suited for the spontaneous nature of handheld gaming. You can also stop and save your race progress at any time and make use of the wireless connectivity for up to four-player racing action including a multiplayer season exclusive to the PSP.
For those looking to mirror the console experience, NASCAR offers the intriguing Fight to the Top mode where you compete in NASCAR Whelen Modified Series, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, the NASCAR Busch Series, and the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. The Lightning Challenge is another clever mode that puts you in the driver seat for one of 31 scenarios. Complete them to earn Thunder Plates that unlock new drivers, tracks, and paint. SpeedZone offers numerous skill tests that teach you the basics of passing, blocking, drafting, and time trials.
As previously mentioned, the lack of TTC takes away from the simulation aspect of the game, and the addition of the new Instant Rewind Feature pushes NASCAR toward the arcade side. This feature works very much like the ďrewindĒ in SEGAís Full Auto game on the Xbox 360. You slowly build up rewind time as you race well, and then when necessary you can rewind time to get yourself out of a jam. Itís a pretty neat ďundoĒ feature that has saved my butt countless times, but the power-up time is slow enough so you canít really abuse the system.
Physics, car handling, and controls are good but the analog pad is definitely twitchy and takes awhile to master. The game is virtually unplayable from the case view but looks and plays great from the bumper or cockpit cam. There are numerous car settings giving you a full range of options to tweak like gear ratios, tire pressure, downforce, suspension, etc. These settings actually have a notable impact on car performance and youíll want to change them for each track. Unfortunately, there are no presets for each track and you cannot save specific setups per track, so you will be doing a lot of manual tweaking.
Driver AI isnít as good on the PSP as it is on the console and the computer will blindly follow itís pre-programmed driving lines oblivious to your position. Itís almost as if these are Pole Position cars here only for your passing pleasure. Ultimately, you are going to run into somebody and that is when these guys start to hold a grudge. The Heroes and Villains concept from the console is in full force here and you can create alliances or enemies simply by the way you drive. Bump someone and you earn an enemy, but allow somebody to draft you for a lap and you can make a friend who might return the favor later in the race.
NASCAR offers online supports via wireless Ad Hoc, and it actually works better than my attempts on Xbox Live. Even more impressive is the support for a cooperative season mode where you can create your own team and work together to win a season. You can also do instant races in Race Now or compete in the various SpeedZone challenges.
Aside from the colorful cars, the rest of the visuals are rather bland, mostly dominated with grays and blacks for the track and various shades of green for the infield. The cars and almost any straight-edged object on the track is full of jaggies and the entire game looks like a time warp from the late 90ís back when Papy was making this game.
The menus, setup, and splash screens are impressive and I was surprised to find a fully functional cockpit view that really sold the driving experience. The only problem is that on the smaller PSP screen, you really canít afford to waste valuable screen space with roll bars and a dashboard. It just restricts your view too much, especially since you can only look directly ahead and behind while driving.
NASCAR 07 offers some great (and realistic) car sounds but youíll need some good headphones to appreciate them. There is also plenty of chattering coming over the radio from your pit crew and teammates, which only accents the lack of TTC.
EA Trax is a staple for every EA game these days and NASCAR offers a surprisingly large and eclectic music library for a PSP game. As expected, the game seems to focus on country rock and tracks that seem to fit the NASCAR lifestyle and the fans who watch it.
There is plenty to keep you busy with NASCAR starting with the in-depth career mode, which will ultimately take you into the other modes like the SpeedZone challenges and Fight to the Top.
The multiplayer is fun if you can find people with a copy of the game and the time required to complete a race, let alone an entire season. Youíll likely settle for the quicker SpeedZone challenges.
For the most part, NASCAR is a respectable port of its console cousin with a few omissions and enough additions to make the whole thing a wash. If you own a PS2 or Xbox then that would be the format of choice, but if you need to take your racing on the road or want to explore the PSP-exclusive features then you might just want to take NASCAR for a spin around the track.