The Madden of Racing
From the moment you begin playing NASCAR 09, you can tell this is another EA/Tiburon sports game. From the menu design to the gameplay structure, nearly everything about this title reminded me of Madden. Of course, this is a very good thing, not only because I am a huge Madden fan myself, but because it gave me the impression this title would give me a deep and engaging automotive sports experience, just like the deep football experience of Madden.
The first hour or two of the game feels very restricted and only consists of Jeff Gordon showing you all the different ways to play the game. It seems very linear, which is a big no-no in automotive games. However, the good news is once Jeff steps off a little, you are actually able to experience all the different modes of the game. I was actually overwhelmed at first with all the options available to me and was unsure how to start. However, the game is organized extremely well and has a central point from which you can decide what you want to do.
The individual season mode will probably grab the attention of most gamers, and allows you to create your own car and racing persona. From there, you can run a short season, medium season, or full Sprint Cup season. You’ll b able to take your car on the road and compete in races from Florida to Arizona and everywhere in between. Races generally have around ten laps, and I was struck by how long most races were. Instead of a five minute race like you would find in Gran Turismo or Need for Speed, races will generally take about twenty minutes to complete. Furthermore, if you plan to practice and qualify, they can take even longer. So, if you’re looking for a casual pick-up-and play experience, the season mode will definitely leave you a little more committed than you might have originally wanted. The length of the races during season races also becomes an issue just because the gameplay can get pretty boring during those twenty minutes and is only punctuated by a few non-interactive pit stops, especially if you have the competition beat and are just riding the track until you run out of laps.
Luckily, there is a much shorter mode that features faster and challenging gameplay. The Sprint Driver Challenge mode features several high intensity challenges that range from remaining above a certain speed to passing a certain amount of cars. There are also a few “boss” battles in this mode where you will be pitted against racing legends and it will be your task to reach the finish line first. This mode provides the most fun, and is extremely fast-paced. Some challenges take only a few seconds to complete, while others will take a few minutes, but all of them are very fun and will probably take more than one try to complete successfully.
Although the main focus of NASCAR 09 may be the Sprint Cup Series, there are also other racing series you can participate in including the trucks-only craftsman series. It is great to see a NASCAR title incorporate some of the lesser-known series, and I had actually never raced in a Chevy Silverado before now, so that was definitely an interesting experience.
Graphics in this title are extremely sharp and have the type of sheen you would expect from a Tiburon release. Cars are slick, and damage is subtle but realistic considering the durability of stock cars. Tracks are very realistic, but lack a certain amount of detail other automotive titles have recently been able to produce.
One big issue with the visuals however, had to be the numerous glitches in the title. One glitch occurred several times, particularly during season mode, involved collisions. Two or more cars would collide and this would result in a few flipping over and spinning. However, sometimes these cars would just reset themselves from their demolished state. It might be a relatively minor glitch, but the fact that it happened more than once (not to mention it gives the A.I. an unfair advantage) is definitely worth noting.
Control is handled in this title in a very interesting way. At the very beginning of the game you are given the option to control the game using Normal or Pro settings. You can try them out before you decide, and the Pro controls feel more like sim-style controls while the Normal controls represent a more arcade-style scheme. However, both of these control schemes feel a little imperfect. The Pro controls may require precision driving and attention to race lines, but compared to other simulation experiences, they are quite lax, and the experienced simulation driver will find little or no challenge with these controls. The Normal controls are definitely easier to manage than the Pro controls, but I still find these to be a little too forgiving, even by arcade standards. For instance, on the Daytona speedway you are able to take the curves at over 180 MPH with little or no repercussions, no matter whether you are using the Pro or Normal style controls. The controls here definitely make a good attempt at creating divergent control schemes and they both work well, but there are several points upon which both control schemes could have been improved.
Sound in this title is very good, especially in the music department. The EA/Tiburon sports games have always featured stellar soundtracks, and NASCAR 09 is no exception. Interestingly enough, the music has a very interesting mixture of alternative rock with bands like AFI and P.O.D., and country music with songs by Christian Kane and The Parks. You wouldn’t think these two genres would work well shuffled together over a NASCAR title, but somehow the music really fits the racing, and it all sounds great. Vehicle sound effects are pretty good in this title, but the engine noise can wear on your nerves just a little, especially during those long season races. Luckily, you can turn these noises down (or off completely). So, if you don’t like them, it’s not a real problem.
Overall, NASCAR 09 is a fairly safe bet for anyone who likes the world of NASCAR. It has plenty of star power and lots of different ways to play. However, it doesn’t really have much in the way of innovative automotive gameplay, which really hinders it from being a must-own title. With games like GRID shaking up the automotive genre and Gran Turismo 5 just on the horizon, the NASCAR series definitely needs to get in gear (no pun intended) and ramp up on some new and interesting racing mechanics to catch up to the emerging elite class of automotive games. Otherwise, it may be in for a black flag.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Visuals are crisp and the HD really shows. However, during offline play there are quite a few glitches, and it is not uncommon to see a wrecked car spin around and then suddenly flip up in perfect condition. 3.5 Control
Both Normal and Pro controls give a great amount of freedom, and generally work well, but neither really nails it perfectly. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
An excellent selection of music includes an interesting yet effective mix of country and alternative. Engine sounds are slightly annoying but can be turned down. 4.1 Play Value
There’s a whole lot to do here, from participating in your own season to doing crazy driver challenges. If you get bored, there’s always the online modes. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.