NASCAR The Game: 2011 hands-on preview

There’s a lot of stereotypes about NASCAR. Many people dismiss it as a big loud spectacle for rednecks where drivers turn left for 500 laps and people only care about the crashes. Ironically, NASCAR is one of the most precise, subtle forms of racing out there; all the cars are carefully limited to prevent unfair advantages, which puts the focus on driver skill over mechanical superiority. Even after 500 laps, races are regularly decided by hundredths of a second. Races are so tight in fact, that winners and losers are regularly decided by their pit crews, some of the best in the world. But yeah, there’s no denying that the crashes are awesome.

After a 2 year hiatus NASCAR returns to the gaming world with NASCAR The Game: 2011. Developed by Eutechnyx, the game is a huge upgrade from its predecessor, immediately more visceral and intense than before. While Eutechnyx wouldn’t cite them directly, NTG: 2011 has been studying hard from the book of Codemasters, attempting to capture a more visceral race experience a la GRiD or DiRT 2. The cockpit mode is especially intense, subtly limiting your range of vision while illustrating the violent forces that are constantly pounding the driver of an unforgiving race car. Slightly more forgiving is NTG: 2011’s flashback feature, a nice addition for anyone who ever rage quit after spinning out and losing the pole position on lap 499 of the Indy 500.

A lot of effort has gone into this version, attempting to capture the core of what makes NASCAR fun: speed, danger, and strategy. NTG: 2011 features the standard quick play, career mode and online play for up to 16 players, while introducing a new Eliminator mode that forcibly removes the last place driver at the end of every lap. Each of the drivers’ cockpits are modeled after their real life counterparts, and feature real life liveries. The game also includes NXP, or NASCAR Experience Points, that are awarded for drafting, clean overtakes, and generally not driving like an idiot. These points will level your driver up and unlock new official liveries and features. Eutechnyx mentioned that the NTG: 2011 will include a custom livery creator, allowing fans to create their own racing liveries for the vehicles that they can take online or use in game. NTG: 2011 was still in its Alpha build during our preview so this feature wasn’t available yet, but the prospect of a NASCAR emblazoned with homemade Naruto graphics is promising.

And of course, the crashes. While Eutechnyx was more interested in showing us the subtleties of drafting and clean overtakes, they’re well aware that the first thing someone is likely to do with the game is do a 180 and barrel head on into oncoming traffic. Cars collide violently, shedding their pieces all over the track, as they flip and spin out of control. Because the cars tend to travel in tight packs, even a little fender tap or slide can result in a huge flaming pile of Wal Mart logoed sheet metal. Even the aftermath of these crashes can be dangerous for drivers as, on the harder difficulty levels, the debris on the track can damage tires and body kits, forcing additional pit stops.

One of racing games’ most difficult feats is capturing the character of the drivers themselves. A lot of simulation games offer ultra realistic driving, but not many put effort into the drivers themselves. NASCAR 2011 is trying to buck that trend by capturing the way Jeff Gordon, or Mark Martin actually drives and replicate it in game. NTG: 2011 also keeps close track of what drivers you’ve pissed off. Slam an opponent into the wall one too many times during a season and he’ll become your rival, going out of his way to cut you off and make sure you don’t get in front of him.

We got our hands on this latest NASCAR reboot, and as mentioned before, there’s a lot more going on than just big nasty wrecks. We tried a few tracks to get a feel for the game, but were especially taken by the Bristol Motor Speedway. At just over half a mile, the course is one of the shortest in the Nextel Circuit, but with its tight configuration and insanely high banked turns it’s pure chaos. Cars have almost no free space to pass on the track, and every attempt we made to gain a position was cut off. The clean drafting and passing formula we’d been using on he superspeedway tracks no longer applied, we we’re going to have to get dirty.

We went all in when we saw our next opening, ramming our car into a tiny opening between two drivers in front of us. We dove into the next turn sandwiched between two drivers, slamming the one on the outside into the wall. We lost some speed shunting the driver into the wall, but we were still neck and neck with the inside racer. Unfortunately, we kept our speed up too high in a desperate attempt to pass him on our way into the next turn, which introduced our car to the wall. And then get rear ended. And then spin out. And then caused a grizzly 12 car pile up. All in a day’s work for a NASCAR driver.

It’s hard to explain the appeal of NASCAR to someone who has never actually seen a race, its loud, jarring and at the same time incredibly synchronized and precise. Eutechnyx is attempting to cover all the bases with NTG: 2011, providing a forgiving experience for casual players and in-depth tuning for the more simulation oriented player. NTG: 2011 will launch this February with the full 2010 season intact, with a free patch for the new 2011 season (including the cars' updated 2011 noses) hitting XBL and PS3 sometime in March/April 2011. I used to be the first guy to hate on NASACR, but after some hands-on time with the game, you can call this city boy Joey Bill Bob Dumplings Jr.

Nov 18, 2010

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