Nail'd - hands-on

Nail’d is claiming to be “the fastest racing game ever,” which is difficult to prove, but there’s no doubt about one thing: it is damn fast. It’s so fast that it’s hard to appreciate the bright, colorful environments, although we did notice when we flew between the blades of a windmill while falling 500ft off a cliff (well, we drove off that cliff). If one were to just look at screenshots, one might be inclined to think Nail’d is the same thing as Pure, what with its ATVs racing off huge, huge jumps. Seeing it in action, or in our case, playing it, reveals the crucial differences.

Above: We'll be arriving at that tunnel opening in the distance in oh... 0.8 seconds

First is simply the speed. Pure was pretty fast, but not like this. Nail’d is so fast that the camera has a major wide-angle effect on it by necessity – otherwise you wouldn’t have enough time to react to oncoming obstacles. The other difference is that Nail’d has no tricks in it whatsoever. It is not a game about pulling off stunts to gain boost, which frankly for us (and no knocks against the excellent Pure) is a nice change – we’ve gotten a bit bored of trick racing. Instead, in Nail’d, it’s all about nailing (get it?) the perfect landing. There’s no time for tricks, because you only have seconds to line up your ATV (or bike) so that all the wheels hit the dirt at the same time.

It’s a satisfying mechanic because the perfect landing grants you more boost so you can go faster. And in a ridiculous, loony design decision, if you use boost for a certain period of uninterrupted time, you’ll get bonus boost, so by going fast you get rewarded with the ability to keep going fast. It turns the speed in Nail’d into a freaking drug. It’s also nice to not have to think about pulling tricks – you can just focus on going really, really fast and angling your jumps in just the right way to get that flawless landing.

Above: The game also makes drops seem really far down, adding to the careening sense of near uncontrollable velocity

The world of Nail’d is technically the real world, but it’s very much an arcade racer. On one track we came across a section consisting of huge pieces of catwalks dangling from cargo helicopters, so we were bouncing from one rectangular piece to the next, with a yawning abyss below. Each track also features multiple pathways to traverse – some of which are more dangerous, or narrower, or lead you through blinding brush. Sometimes there are gates that grant boost, either as two poles on the ground or as a ring in the air. One welcome arcadey aspect is that you can direct your arc quite a bit while in the air, allowing you to catch a suspended boost gate you might otherwise have missed.

In order to let you hit the ground with wheels spinning, all sixteen tracks in Nail’d are unlocked from the beginning. What you can unlock are new vehicles and parts for your ATV or bike, and customizing your machines will be its own minigame. To keep things fair, nothing unlocked actually makes your vehicles just flat out better, but rather gives you more options for tweaking – that’s because each part adds to one stat and takes away from another, so that your total distribution of strengths stays the same, but you have more and more control over making a vehicle fit your playstyle.

Above: The bikes are less stable, but more nimble. Bikes and ATVs can race together on the same track

Nail’d makes another bold claim: to have “the most comprehensive leaderboards ever.” The game is big on getting you to play multiplayer, because that’s where the best competition (and possibly the most fun) will be. The leaderboards will be so specific, they’ll track things like total air time caught over your whole career, and even break down top racers according to what state you live in (we’re not sure how this will work outside the US). There are also a ton of unlockable vehicle parts that are only made available by playing online, in case you need more coaxing to try your hand against human opponents.

Nail’d was quite a bit of fun during our hands-on time with it. We got to play three of the tracks, and they were harrowing, ice-knuckle affairs. We’re not sure if it’s the fastest racing game ever, but it sure as hell blew our hair back.

Aug 12, 2010

Matthew Keast
My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.