I never really understood NASCAR until I started playing Gran Turismo 5. Like a lot of people that I have spoken to about this particular facet of racing, I would get hung up on the simplicity of the track. However, after taking GT5’s course on NASCAR (“taught” by Jeff Gordon), I immediately did a 180 and came to really respect those divers and their teams. Eutechnyx’s NASCAR the Game: Inside Line is a racing game that is obviously devoted to one type of racing; and whether you are a fan of NASCAR or automobile racing in general, you will find that Eutechnyx greatly capitalizes on this specialization with a very thorough and enjoyable single-player experience. The multi-player, on the other hand needs work.
As I haven’t really spent a lot of time playing other NASCAR games outside of my experience with GT5 and some brief moments at friends’ places years ago, I don’t have a lot to compare this game to directly. That being said, it certainly does well compared to other racing games in general. One of the first things that caught my attention was how the title was very accommodating to those who may not be racing fanatics, especially considering that this is not an arcade-style racer. I’m not sure if a newbie could pick up this game and then know everything that there is to know about all things NASCAR; but the developers sure made an effort to make the player feel comfortable.
Man, I really need to fill up my wiper fluid.
I found the title welcoming – with explanations for a great many parts of the game integrated as part of the overall presentation. Even the loading screens presents multiple-choice style trivia questions. So, if you’re already a NASCAR aficionado, you can test your knowledge (the game keeps a running tally during your game session); if, on the other hand, you are a neophyte, you will have new fodder to check out on Wikipedia to start building up your NASCAR knowledge.
The single-player experience is fairly deep, with a robust career mode that awaits you. On top of the actual race events, practice runs and qualifying heats are also included in the whole process – but those may be skipped if desired. I found that taking part in these really helped me get a better handle on the game. Not only will they help you get used to the game; they will also enable you to figure out if you need to tweak your car at all. Winning races leads to the awarding of credits, which can be used to improve your car. There are additional events and challenges that will have you performing certain objectives, or reliving certain events from NASCAR history, adding variety to the game.
Physics seem to be pretty sound. There is not a lot of latitude in terms of trying to do crazy things and hoping to get away with it – something important in a realistic racing game. Things behave as they should, making this game easy in the sense of what is to be expected from the behaviour of objects – but difficult due to most people not knowing how to drive for this type of race. To help the uninitiated deal with the difficulty, there are driver assists: elements such as steering assistance and automatic vs. manual transmission (as well as a host of other aspects) can be tweaked to help the player deal with the rigors of physics. Difficulty can also be adjusted – but only outside of a race weekend (once you have committed, you’re stuck with that difficulty level).
Some pretty impressive visuals without the hillbillies.
Eutechnyx also made some other interesting choices to help the player. For instance, there is no diving line; instead, there is an indicator that appears in the middle of your view and tells you whether you need to slow down or stop completely. There is also a proximity indicator to show you where the cars are in your immediate vicinity; a spotter-type assistant will also let you know what’s going on around you. It feels redundant to have both of those assists – but better too many than too few, I suppose.
Graphics are pretty decent – with few glitches to report. The usual shadow weirdness is there that I notice with most racing games – as well as some odd people animation. However, the overall look is quite impressive, and works well with the physics involved (some of the wrecks are pretty damned spectacular). Audio is just as good, with some fantastic sounds and a decent soundtrack. There is no real race commentary per-se; dialog from the announcers (Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip) is limited to outside of the race, which takes away from the experience (although, in real life you wouldn’t hear the commentary anyway).
In terms of difficulty, I found the game tough. This didn’t really put me off at all – but if you plan on breezing through, you might want to give your head a shake. AI is in-your-face, and you’ll find yourself doing a number of caution laps thanks to being tapped “gently” by some of your opponents. Like the Forza Motorsport series, the player has the ability to rewind the action. However, this ability can only be used twice in each race. This is great for those who wish they could take back a critical error in judgement that they made. However, the cap on the number of retries can be frustrating due to some aggressive AI.
Awesome crashes await…
While the level of difficulty in single-player can be off-putting to some, it is quite reasonable and should only serve to improve the player’s driving, should they not quite. The multi-player, on the other hand, was riddled with bugs and made me quite angry. When I could actually connect to a race, it was rarely full (the races can be up to 16 players). There is also an unfair delay for those who are back from the front, giving your opponents a fairly bulky head start. As if that wasn’t bad enough, sometimes cars will go through each other, causing mayhem during a race (especially when it happens during one of the many caution laps). Nothing is more frustrating than losing your place – except finding your car attached to another car and then your game crashing.
With 40 drivers and 23 licensed tracks, Inside Line is poised to be a great single-player choice for those who enjoy NASCAR. It’s a shame that the multi-player mode is broken; but this is more than made up for by challenging Sprint Cup racing, the great physics, vehicle customizability and the fun factor associated with conquering the fairly difficult races.