USA Day: NASCAR 09 review

NASCAR 09

F1 fans haven’t had an F1 game based on either of the most recent Grand Prix seasons and will have to wait for Codemaster’s 2009 F1 game thanks to Bernie Ecclestone dithering over the contract.

The commercial rights holders of NASCAR, America’s most popular motorsport, don’t mess around with major marketing products such as an official video game. In fact they’ve got the 2009 NASCAR title out a full eight months before the season even starts.

But is it any good? And what ideas should Codemasters nick from it for their F1 game?

Sponsors

NASCAR 09 is produced by EA Sports who hold official licenses for many other major sports including football (FIFA) and many American series (National Football League, National Hockey League). The NASCAR licence also uses features from EA’s deal with American sports channel ESPN.

If you think this sounds like an overkill of licensing, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

I’ve never played a racing game where arranging sponsorship was such an integral part of the racing experience. Before you can get your career started you have to plaster your car in real-world sponsor’s decals, and each sponsor requires you to achieve certain things during your season – race finishes, pole positions etc…

Does it add anything to the game? Er, no. This is about getting NASCAR’s sponsors even more face time.

Before you get started you have to pick which driving mode you want. If you’re too lazy even to brake or lift off the accelerator when you reach a corner, you need normal mode. If you’re happy to make that basic concession towards actual driving, but still don’t want to shift your own gears, there’s ‘professional’ mode. Yes, this is very much an ‘arcade’ game.

NASCAR 09 Xbox 360 pack shotThe career mode simulates the three major tiers of NASCAR (see right for game pack shot), from the top-of-the pile Sprint Cup down through the Nationwide League and Craftsman Trucks – the latter being where you start out. This is a smart touch and an F1 game that included GP2 and some Formula Three championships would be an excellent idea.

Having customised my Craftsman Truck in a striking shade of pink with yellow-orange flames (what would they say in Talladega?), and judiciously applied stickers for Food City, Food World and Bare Auto Parts, I’m keen to get stuck into Career Mode.

But Jeff Gordon, your guide through NASCAR ’09, ushers me into a perplexing ‘challenge mode’ instead. Here you have to complete a series of tasks such as lapping an oval at an average of 150mph in order to gain performance points for your car. The challenges becoming increasingly frustrating and are rather unimaginative, so I dive into the menus and find my way to career mode.

On track

Now things start getting interesting. At each race weekend you can practice and qualify, or just jump straight into the action. Qualifying is very straightforward – you can bounce off the walls to your heart’s content and still take pole with little difficulty.

But don’t treat your competitors with the same disrespect as the walls. The surprisingly tough driving standards rules will have you hauled out of the race if you try to progress through the field by bumping your rivals out of the way.

With practice there are some naughty things you can get away with (anyone who’s seen “World’s Most Shocking Police Videos” or played Grand Theft Auto will be familiar with the PIT manoeuvre) but normally you don’t want to risk getting caught.

If you do trigger a crash you’ll notice two things: first, the impact rendering on the cars is terrible. Smack into a barrier head-on and the car will barely bend at all. Rival cars bounce off each other most unrealistically.

But one realistic addition to the racing is the safety car (‘caution’) periods, which are a big part of NASCAR racing, but rarely appear in F1 games. You don’t actually get to drive during the safety car phases – it just sort of fast-forwards – but you do get the option to pit.

Verdict

So here’s the critical question: is it actually fun to play?

Up to a point, NASCAR ’09 is quite entertaining. Jockeying for position with 36 cars is a blast (and so much more fun than those racing games with puny six-car grids). But the endless ovals get very repetitive, there are a lot of silly distractions from the racing that don’t add anything to the game, and it’s not challenging enough.

I hope next year’s F1 game by Codemasters will be a bit more ambitious, a bit more realistic, and a lot more challenging.

Oh, and calling a game ‘NASCAR 09′ when it features the 2008 season teams and tracks is stupid.

F1 Fanatic rating:

Buy NASCAR 09 for Xbox 360
Buy NASCAR 09 for Playstation 3
Buy NASCAR 09 for Playstation 2

Codemasters 2009 F1 game wish list

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15 comments on USA Day: NASCAR 09 review

  1. Jonesracing82 said on 15th June 2008, 17:24

    sounds like Nascar 09 is like most driving games these days!
    insane graphics and crap/arcade gameplay/physics!
    in a way i am not looking forward to f1 2009, for that reason
    i’d settle for crap graphics and awesome gameplay/physics

  2. M Smith said on 15th June 2008, 20:31

    Me too, Jonesracing82! Me too! EA have always been this way with racing games, though…

    Here’s to hoping Formula One ’09 will be a decent game. Erring towards GP4 style game would be best, instead of an arcade game where your 6 year-old nephew could win the championship. Maybe accomodating both in mind? (Arcade Mode and Simulation Mode!)

    Somehow, I can’t see that happening though. I guess I’ll be stuck with GP4 if Codemasters disappoints…

  3. cyanide said on 15th June 2008, 23:04

    IIRC, Codemasters will be basing the game on Racedriver GRID engine, which sucks, to be honest. It’s like any run-of-the-mill arcade racer coming out these days, and I’m not expecting Codemasters to tweak the physics in any way…

    Here’s to another season being spent playing rFactor with an addon pack…

  4. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 16th June 2008, 0:16

    Well I’m hoping to get a review copy of Race Driver GRID soon too.

  5. Gman said on 16th June 2008, 0:55

    Very good review- the NFL and NCAA Football games made by EA Sports are a huge hit among American auidences. One of the key differences between those series and the NASCAR games is indeed the timing- the NFL and NCAA games are released in the later summer, just before football season kicks off, so the updated rosters,schedules, stadiums for the upcoming season are current. I would imagine the NASCAR game dosent sell as much, so putting it out this early is simply a marketing ploy.

  6. Jonesracing82 said on 16th June 2008, 1:02

    Keith! i wouldnt b too excited about GRID!
    it’s utter crap!

  7. Jonesracing82 said on 16th June 2008, 1:02

    i played the demo for about 2mins then deleted it

  8. Nick said on 16th June 2008, 4:23

    EA does that with all their sports games…so if someone walks into a store and sees 09 on the game, they will still buy it even though it is actually a year old.

  9. M Smith said on 16th June 2008, 10:32

    I think that GRID is a good game. Loads of people are saying that the demo sucks, granted, I haven’t played the demo, but I thought the full game was good. I wasn’t expecting anything other than an arcade type racer, and that is what I got. The physics on some cars are very circumspect (especially the LMPs – which feel like you’re not actually driving on the tarmac sometimes) and the AI is either too agressive or too lax, and on both accounts can be very stupid too. But from what I was expecting, it was good.

    As for the EA thing, Nick, that is very true there. Can’t EA just tell the truth and say its the ’08 season. It’s no bad thing to release the ’08 spec in June! Kinda reminds me of F1CE on the PS3, its March ’07 and yet they still have the ’06 cars! What the hell is that?

  10. Trig said on 16th June 2008, 11:19

    “an F1 game that included GP2 and some Formula Three championships would be an excellent idea.”

    here here! bring on the career mode.

  11. Robert McKay said on 16th June 2008, 16:48

    I think the problem EA have is that their yearly updates are finished well within 12 months…the calendar can’t keep up with them churning them out!

  12. SoLiD said on 17th June 2008, 0:09

    An F1 game with GP2 and such for a real career mode are a life long dream for me :)

    (I would see it very big with karting to f1, wich could be done with a basic game with add-ons (priced if needed))

    Anyway EA’s F1 series on PC was good for those that don’t know them, ISI (from rfactor) made it, not the team behind the console versions.

    Dirt/Grid’s engine is a good looking engine, but the physics needs work.
    I hated the grid demo, but the full game is better then expected. The cars don’t drive that realistic, but after getting used to it, i’m having a lot of fun with it :)
    Hope they can get that right for the F1 game.

  13. Steve K said on 17th June 2008, 2:33

    EA has been doing the year ahead thing since at least the early 90′s. It is just something you get used too. The day Madden NFL comes out is a border line holiday in this country. I am more partial to NCAA Football. I generally enjoy EA games, but the year to year difference usually amounts to updated rosters.

  14. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th June 2008, 9:08

    SoLiD – did you really like the EA F1 games? I thought they were a bit poor, although I did enjoy the F1 Challenge one that spanned a couple of seasons, that’s something I’d like to see in the new Codemasters game.

  15. Mark the NASCAR fan said on 27th July 2008, 3:11

    Im going to stick with NASCAR 08… Im getting tired of playing NASCAR games when they are a year ahead…

    I have NASCAR 07 also… this game had Mark Martin in his old # 6 car and in the NASCAR 2007 season, he was racing in the # 01 for a different team nd sponser…

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