NASCAR 08 Review (PS3)

Itís the time of year again when all EAís sequels make their appearance in droves. Whilst the FIFA series is highly anticipated this year as we are promised yet another AI overhaul as it strives to compete with Konamiís hugely successful and popular Pro Evolution Soccer series - or Winning Eleven if you know your stuff Ė some of the other titles with the inclusion of NASCAR 2008 do not boast such improvements. So as we open the old, dusty, antique chest of tired, overused questions we are yet again forced to pick the one that reads, ďIs ĎEA game-x no. 453235í worth shelling out for again this year?Ē The answer for yet another year running is as worn-out the question: a resounding no.

Crashes are impressive although they only seem to happen to you Keep her steady as one false move and youíre out of there!

However, we never listen do we? If we did, EA might stop and concentrate solely on the titles worth playing like the aforementioned FIFA, Tiger Woods and if Skate lives up to the quality of the demo then hopefully the care and attention paid to the other twoís yearly instalments can be bestowed up that one as well. NASCAR is ok, donít get me wrong, but I want more than ok for my money and so should you.

Maybe the problem is that there is no competition? As we have seen with FIFA, Konami producing greatness year after is what pushes the developers into action but as there are no other NASCAR titles out there one has to question where the impetus will come from. However, that simply doesnít excuse the decidedly last-gen graphics, the lack of any kind of career mode, the poor AI and the very dodgy online system which many users are reportedly having problems with. Oh yeah, the controls are pretty poor too, just to complete the picture.

Fans of the sport will be pleased that almost every driver is there (with the notable exception of Carl Edwards). That was the good news. The bad news is that many tracks are missing including the famous Montreal and Mexico City tracks that will undoubtedly leave many NASCAR fans feeling rather short-changed. You can race with the familiar Nextel, Craftsman and National (Busch) series of cars and you can chose half, full or custom seasons. Thereís also the option to race a full season in The Car of Tomorrow. Thatís it.

To almost make up for the lack of career thereís the new Chase mode. You begin life as an unknown driver and your mission, if you decide to accept it, is to complete 10 tasks set by manufacturers in order to win contracts. There are licences for all the Speedway types Ė super speedway, Car of Tomorrow, CoT short, CoT road etc. These challenges help you to learn the basics of NASCAR racing and teach you moves such as the draft and slingshot. It will also aid you in how to maintain your racing line, avoid wrecks on the track and keep your speed when negotiating tricky turns. This makes the game friendly to newcomers both of the sport itself and to the genre. It is well implemented with idiot proof on-screen aids which I found necessary as I fall into both categories. However, your list of things to do disappointingly ends here.

Someone forgot to put their cigarette out before the race Impressive and detailed car models

Racing itself is probably the most irritating part of the game. It seems that EA have gone for ultra-realism in favour of presenting the player with a fair and comprehensive challenge. The learning curve is almost non-existent, one mistake and you might as well start again. Although this may be true in real life, taking a corner at 5,00 mph faster than usual for the sheer fun of it whilst way out in first place should be avoided as doing so and finding yourself careering into the barriers will cost you the race. There really is no middle ground, you must be perfect.

To make things even more difficult for you the default control settings are so sensitive that the slightest movement feels akin to tugging hard on the steering wheel. Thankfully the handling is customisable in the options menu and I would thoroughly recommend doing so and performing a few trial runs: the difference will define your experience with the title. Thereís also the SIXAXIS option which yet again feels like an afterthought and is no substitution for the control pad or a steering wheel. I also lamented the fact that Dual Shock 3 isnít out for a few months yet as racing in packs is very intense and getting some force feedback from the pad if you nudge another car would have been a worthy addition, but alas. Iím sure NASCAR Ď09 will have it in.

The Ďenemy AIí is as unfairly implemented as the cars themselves and baffling to boot. They are hell bent on ruining your race and smashing into you even if itís detrimental to their own progression. So many times a car which is clearly faster than my own will simply ram me in the proverbial instead of trying to over take. Even if I pull out wide, away from the pack, cars will simply come and hunt you down causing you to crash more often than not. After a while this can be extremely annoying especially after you start to notice that the other cars donít seem to crash at all which leaves you feeling as though youíre being unfairly singled out.

Online isnít much cop either. I found it very difficult to get a game after continually being booted out from all attempts. However, credit where creditís due, when I did race it was a fairly lag-free affair although the experience was marred by the fact that getting a full group of players in on the action is a scarce affair. You can race up to eleven players at one time but never did I get above six. Disappointingly there are no tournaments available and your score is mundanely tracked by the all too familiar leader boards.

After being treated to the excellent Forza 2 and now Sega Rally, expectations on presentation for this generationís batch of driving titles has risen markedly, especially if youíve seen PGR4 in action. NASCAR Ď08 isnít really Ďat the racesí (couldnít resist, sorry) in this respect and looks decidedly neglected in comparison with its high-speed cornering counterparts. Although the framerate is solid and AA is applied all over for that shiny next-gen sheen the tracks themselves are rather bland and lack atmosphere. The cars
themselves arenít exactly as uplifting and awe inspiring as those feature in the aforementioned titles. The audio too is bog-standard and offers very little in the way of inspiration. Hopefully Sony will hurry up and implement the custom soundtrack feature in the XMB.

On your marks! Get set! GO! Playing catch-up is nigh-on impossible

All in all we get very little from this game. Itís fun, yes but having owned a previous NASCAR title I canít really see a reason to pay for this one, especially as the old PS2 titles are playable on your shiny new PS3. You really arenít getting very much for your money here which is a shame. Whilst EA continue to surprise and innovate with some titles they never fail to disappoint with others. NASCAR 08 belongs to the latter.

Top Game Moment:
The perfect lap.