Taking it to the Street
EA Sports has launched their stock car racing game once again. This time we should have seen some vast improvements over previous years, however, the changes weren’t nearly as sweeping as they should have been. The graphics look okay and do a fine job of bringing the gamer into the world of NASCAR. Unfortunately, they’re not much of an upgrade over previous years. The same can be said for most aspects of this game. Whether analyzing the gameplay, the controls, the sounds, the A.I., the online play, or the overall set of features and options, everything is competently done yet ordinary in execution.
The gameplay of NASCAR 08 is, thankfully, the game’s best feature. The essence of stock car racing is well represented in this title. Fundamental elements such as drafting, using the slingshot effect, bumping and rubbing, incremental gains in position, and the task of driving in a crowd afford a sense of challenge to the gamer not found in any other racer. Yes, you will always turn left, but strategy and technical skill will come into play. In order to educate the novice driver, the Chase mode of gameplay has been introduced this year. Chase mode will have you begin your NASCAR career as a rookie driver learning the racing ropes. You’re trying to earn a contract by proving yourself on a series of test tracks and scenarios. Every completed scenario within a specific track type will get you that much closer to achieving the license. The licenses that can be obtained in this manner are standard short track, speedway, and super speedway, as well as Car of Tomorrow short track, speedway, and super speedway. Every license is made up of various scenarios that will teach you the fundamentals of stock car racing via computer generated teaching aids. You can think of this mode of play more as a glorified tutorial rather than a full on career mode. Sadly, a true career mode is not present in NASCAR 08. Chase mode is decent fun, but it’s not what gamers really want. We need a career option that allows us to manage our team from the pit crews to the sponsorship. I’d like complete control of my NASCAR experience year after year. Maybe in 09?
Going hand and hand with gameplay are the controls and the A.I. Despite the fact that the fundamentals of racing make the game pretty fun, the controls and A.I. will drive you crazy with frustration. The analog control stick is far too touchy. Applying the correct amount of pressure to the stick while maintaining your line through a turn takes hours of practice. Trying to stay in the thick of the pack without getting yellow and black flags will prove to be a nearly insurmountable task. What will truly make you crazy is that the computer controlled drivers have none of this same difficulty. Your opponents will hold a tight line in a pack as if it were nothing. You’re going to constantly crash out until you put several hours of practice into the steering. I don’t know about you, but I generally don’t devote so many hours to a game’s learning curve unless I have to. I haven’t tried the 360’s steering wheel, but I can only assume it would be much easier than the analog controls because the PS3’s motion controls seem to be much more forgiving if not particularly accurate.
The graphics in this title look okay. The tracks you can choose from are sanctioned by NASCAR, varied, and well engineered. The banked turns and length of the tracks are well designed and give each classic track its own characteristic. In other words, Talladega, Daytona, and the other 20 tracks look and feel like the real thing. All visuals are clear and draw you into the game. Many of the effects, however, are mediocre, including crashes. Damage to your vehicle will be apparent and take its toll, but flying bits and flapping fenders are non-existent. Greater attention to detail should be mandatory for next generation consoles, NASCAR 08 concentrates on the acceptable rather than the superior.
Game sounds are decent. Everything is lifelike, but it won’t knock your socks off. If you’ve ever been to racing events, then you’ll know that the sound is what sticks with you long after you’ve left the track. I didn’t get that feeling from this game. Your pit chief’s voice will crackle through your helmet, but his comments and advice are something less than sage. I’d love to get more driver and pit crew conversations going that clued me into the way the field and my car were driving.