How did we get here?
For the past few years, Eutechnyx provided the gaming community with Nascar games after EA stopped making their games in 2009, with Nascar Kart Racing. EA decided, due to budget cuts and a contract expiration, to allow another company to take over, therefore Eutechnyx happened. Many fans were disgruntled after a couple of Eutechnyx releases — mostly over the clunky AI and lack of depth to the game. Many fans look back to the Nascar games of the mid-2000s and wonder how things have regressed so far.
Fans were accustom to a deep game with great graphics. There was a day when one could hire their crew, from crew chief to the jackman. The games use to have depth. Nascar games struggled to make the console jump from sixth to seventh generation consoles, not so much graphically, rather a lack of features and realistic gameplay.
What could save the series? Well, take a stroll down memory lane with me to the early 2000s, back when a smaller developer called Monster Games joined in on this conversation. With NASCAR Heat having its success on the PC they were able to make their first console game, NASCAR Heat 2002, which was merely a stepping stone to their masterpiece, NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona.
Still considered to be one of the greatest racing simulators of all time, NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona provided the player with an experience like no other. However, it wasn’t free from flaws. The game did not feature all drivers due to licensing issues, nor did it provide a realistic damage model. This, however, did not deter players because of the insanely deep career mode alongside a fun racing simulation. So when fans heard that the same team was going to provide a new game, — NASCAR Heat Evolution — excitement ensued. What could go wrong, right? Well, apparently quite a bit.
Dusenberry Martin Racing (DMR) told the consumer to expect a fun and realistic Nascar experience but, they failed miserably in this endeavor. Yes, DMR had a small budget to work with, and yes patches can fix some of the issues in the game. However, this does not excuse them from the product they provided.
Fans and newcomers were told that they would experience a realistic racing experience against the AI. DMR fell short on this promise.
The AI, at best, understands how to race different lines and adjust their speed over multiple races according to the player’s speed rating. However, there are a few pitfalls with the AI that completely make the game laughable. For example, If one goes a lap down under caution the AI adjust to let you catch up. That is right, the competitors will slow down by 20mph to let you race them down to get back on the lead lap and pass half the field until they readjust. Mind you this happens in all game modes, normal and simulation alike.
The game does provide depth concerning car setup, which I applaud. But having spent hours messing around with the setup there was not much of a notable difference. The default setups work perfectly even as the AI becomes more difficult. The set-up does not have the effect that it should. Another unrealistic aspect to the game was the tire wear. In practices on simulation mode I was running my quickest laps on 15-lap old tires. Even as the percentages went down during a race the car had just as much control.
One more word about the physics. They desired to create a realistic gaming experience in terms of racing against other cars. Yet again, they fell short. These cars, at times, feel more like tanks rather than stock cars. At Daytona, I would be traveling at 190mph come up against the bumper of a competitor and fall down t0 180mph and stay there. Pack racing plays more like an impossible puzzle game rather than a racing game. It is nearly impossible to push the car in front of the player, therefore, leaving them feeling trapped. The tankiness feels even more present at the mile and a half tracks. The player can “bump draft” through the center of the turn, even in simulation mode. This also makes it almost impossible to move another car out of the way.
Damage models are atrocious. Wrecking, in general, does not feel very realistic. Cars flip over the fence or flip and spin like Sonic being shot out of a cannon. After horrific wrecks, the cars front end will be a bit smashed up but still look put together and ready to go. Also, players will see some damage lag, nearly 5 seconds after a wreck the car will transform into a crunched mess.
My personal biggest frustration with the gameplay is having the caution flags turned on but not having them thrown after a wreck. This game may be the worst when it comes to this. Wrecks caused by others or the player basically do not exist to the officials in the game. I ran around Martinsville for 10 laps as a car just sat a the bottom of turn 2 after a wreck, there was never a caution flag thrown.
Another unrealistic aspect concerns pitting under caution. First, the game tells the player who is pitting, this takes away from a good bit of strategy. Second, the player cannot view their pit stop under caution, which takes away from the realism. Thirdly, there are times where the player will come out 10 positions behind or in front of where they came in with no explanation.
As someone who has been playing Nascar games for the past 16 years, I have always enjoyed the game modes more than any aspect of the game. This might just be the most disappointing aspect of the game for me and many others. Many of the gameplay issues can be fixed with some patches over time, but not game modes.
There is the normal race mode, where one can go in and race any way they want. This is fairly standard, not much to say. Season mode, basically, is nothing more than the normal racing mode with the player choosing how many races they want to do with a points system. These are the game modes one would expect to see in any Nascar game.
Challenges mode brings something more to the table, a much-welcomed game mode. In Challenges mode the player is able to play through situations that happened in real life. The situations give the player the ability to see how difficult these real situations were. This mode can also be found in older Nascar games. It offers an enjoyable break from the normal racing modes. However, this is hindered by the not so enjoyable gameplay, nevertheless, the game mode has potential.
Next, there is the Career mode. The customization level feels rather shallow. There could have been more offered in terms of customizing one’s character. After that though there is not much to offer the player. There are career modes from prior games that offer a more realistic and fun experience than this game. The player can upgrade their car but in the end, it does not hold up against other Nascar titles such as Nascar Thunder 04 or NASCAR:Dirt to Daytona. There, again, feels like little customization with sponsors and control over the team. The career mode simply has little to offer to the world of Nascar gaming experiences.
Lastly, there is the multiplayer mode. Most impressive about the game mode is the fact that there can be 40 people in a race at once. And, thankfully, the different classes allow the player to race with a community that they want. The only questionable feature would be the timer that starts in the hosted match. As soon a one starts a match a timer starts, which makes it difficult to invite their friends, if they are inviting more than one. This game mode stands out because of the ability to race against real people. However, this is still overshadowed by the poor physics.
All-in-all there is little depth to the game. It does not offer much to the world of racing games. It offers little more than any of its predecessors in terms of game modes.
A step in the wrong direction
After years of poorly received Nascar games, DMR had the opportunity to provide the consumer with a true Nascar game again.Rather, it seems as if they pushed out a half-baked game that upset many fans. In a time where game releases are constantly being pushed back, it seems that this game could have benefited from a delay. Even then, the game lands flat. It does not offer any depth. Rather than having professional photographers take pictures of the tracks to ensure realism, they should have focused on other aspects of the game, such as the Career mode.
They give much attention to detail but neglect the big picture. The same team that brought one of the most enjoyable Nascar games of all time, somehow produced a worse game than Eutechnyx. The developers got excited about this product, but in the end oversold their product. This does not bode well for the future of Nascar games. Unless EA picks up the bill or DMR gives a legitimate shot, it is doubtful the world will see another great Nascar game. At the end of the day, DMR should have not even bothered making this game.
So, it may be time to plug back in the PS2 and relive the good ‘ol days when Nascar games were worth playing.