I have to admit, right out of the gate, that I am not a die-hard NASCAR fan. I enjoy watching the big races, and follow the points standings when I’m surfing ESPN.com. I think it’s a great sport, and obviously it has massive appeal to the American public. NASCAR 11: The Game is the latest attempt to recreate the experience on a virtual level. Who wouldn’t want to take control of stock cars flying around a track at 200 miles per hour? The racing is enjoyable, but it’s not without its flaws. Developer Eutechnyx has done a very serviceable job bringing the action to life, but there is certainly much room for improvement.
Creating a NASCAR game is inherently a difficult task. The sport lends itself to criticisms of monotony, and the aspects that do make it exciting to many casual fans (rivalries, crashes, atmosphere) are very difficult to recreate. While the game does in fact suffer from stages of monotony, it also manages to portray some of the qualities that make driving one of these cars ever-so-much-harder than it looks. You’ll have to make quick decisions and execute instant, strategic moves, all while planning your course for 500 yards down the track. If you hit the wall, or another car, your vehicle will take real-time damage and operate accordingly.
Don’t buy this game expecting a hard-core simulation. Given the type of racing, Eutechnyx has chosen to go for a more informal feel. The handling of the vehicles is more similar to the Need for Speed titles than Forza Motorsport. You’ll be able to tune your cars to your liking, but it’s not overly involved. Also, as I’ll touch on in a moment, the action is very linear overall.
A good example of this is the crash system. Crashes in the game are very enjoyable. It’s fun to see cars slam into each other and flip, roll, and fly all over the track, ending up in a heap of steaming metal. However, following these crashes, most often there will not be any sign of a caution flag, and the involved cars will simply make a 3-point turn and continue on their merry ways. I’ve never watched a huge crash on TV after which the cars immediately resume speeding down the track. It’s simply the direction they’ve chosen to take, but many will be disappointed in the lack of “realism” in terms of real-world NASCAR phenomena.
Besides quick races and the usual suspects, Career mode is where you’ll be spending the bulk of your time. Career mode is also where the game falls a bit short. It has become standard in today’s sports games for the career mode to be just that – a career. However, in NASCAR 2011, it’s essentially a season. You work your way through a very linear series of races with the ultimate goal of finishing first in the points standings. It’s the sort of career mode that would have been the status-quo about 5-7 years ago, but these days, more is hoped for. Players will get to experience the Sprint Cup Series, but that’s about it.
The other main offering is online play, and it leaves something to be desired. First, only 16 players can race online at once (it would have been a blast to race against a full field). The first issue I’ve had is that every race has been hindered by connectivity problems and lag to the point of being unplayable. Second, I’ve not once been able to find 15 other players to race. It’s unfortunate that the online portion of the game is so unpolished, because racing against others is where the game really could shine.
In terms of how the game controls, the developer has given players a wide range of options to use, which is one of the strengths of the game. For the beginning driver, you’ll have the option to activate various assists and helps that will make flying around the track much easier. As you improve, you can turn these off one by one or all at once. It all depends on how much of a challenge you want. The controls do tend to be relatively forgiving when rounding a turn, for example, which is a function of the arcade tone of the game overall. Your computer-controlled opponents only add to this, as they are very predictable and robotic. This, unfortunately, contributes to some of the monotony.
Visually, the game looks very nice. In fact, the graphics go a long way to the appeal of the game in general. Cars look and sound fantastic, with realistic bodies, designs, decals, and sounds. Engines sound awesome, especially if you’ve got some sort of surround-sound setup. There isn’t much detail in the stadiums and landscapes, but it doesn’t matter much due to the fact that they are blurred as you fly by. This feature creates an excellent sense of speed that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the race. The other sound you’ll hear is the voice of your not-so-helpful race coach in your earpiece. It’s a nice touch as first, but after about 4-5 races you’ll be able to predict exactly which of the 7-8 canned phrases he’ll say, and when.
NASCAR 2011: The Game lays an excellent foundation for future iterations in the series. The arcade-style racing is engaging and the sense of speed is executed beautifully. However, the all-too-simple Career mode and somewhat broken online play hold the game back from what could have been, and what hopefully will be in the near future. I can recommend this game to NASCAR and racing fans that follow the sport. For casual racing fans, rent or borrow it first to see if you’ve got to have it.