NASCAR just happens to be one of the most viewed professional sports on television in the U.S., topped only by American football.  Something about this motorsport really sparks interest in its fans.  From the precise and quick timing of the pit stops, to the breathtaking displays of high-speed racing between custom tuned cars that are mere inches apart, it is no wonder the sport has maintained its popularity over the years.  NASCAR The Game 2011 brings that experience home to the consoles, and it’s much more than “driving around in a circle.”

NTG2011-3-29-11-05_800x450 This isn’t your average racer.  NASCAR 2011 is more about racing strategically within a group of cars.  The gameplay and controls will feel somewhat familiar to anyone that has ever played a modern racing title.  You have a standard set of controls with brakes, gas, view toggles, and so forth.  You may want to try and speed up to the front of the pack and simply take the lead, but if it was that easy, there wouldn’t be anything interesting about the game.  Instead, the AI will do its best to get in your way or clip your car and cause you to spin out, even at the most inconvenient times.  This is especially true when it comes to the car marked as your rival on the track.  Your rival will do their best to try and make your efforts fail, and at times you might even begin to feel as if they are reacting a little too aggressively.  While this may make the game more interesting, it doesn’t feel like something that would happen in a real NASCAR race, taking some of the magic away from a realistic experience.

The other half of the gameplay that differs from a traditional racer, is the fact that your most effective moves will become the draft and slingshot.  Sure, you can try to simply edge your way between cars to get to the front, but you’ll find this is almost never successful.  What you will discover, is that when you are traveling along the track and line yourself up behind another racer, you notice these lines that tell you when you are effectively utilizing the draft mechanic.  From there, once you are close enough, you make your move, head slightly to the side of your opponent and lunge past them at a slightly higher speed with the slingshot move.  Once you are comfortable with staying in the formation of the group and using these techniques, you will find that these maneuvers are the most effective and provide the greatest chance of placing in a decent position.

NTG2011-3-29-11-04_800x450 There are a few things that might prove to be pretty frustrating, and it could be the simple fact that in reality, at these high speeds, there really is nothing you can do, but find your bearing and continue on.  Regardless, the smallest little bumps and clips from other cars can easily cause you to spin out of control or fish-tail wildly, while every other car seems unaffected, especially the one that causes the contact.  Turning more of the assists on, proves to make the situations a little more unforgiving, so the novice players might get turned off by the level of difficulty.  The other in-game annoyance is the scenario where you might get bumped closer to the pit ramp than you might want, and for some reason seems to suck you in and you are forced to take a pit stop, where you have no choice but to slow way down and obey the rules or face penalties in the race.

While everything does look pretty good in the game, the graphics are not the absolute best anyone has seen in a racer, but the damage effects you can take more than makes up for it.  Bumping into other cars and simply scraping the walls leaves a mark or removes chunks from your beautiful piece of machinery.  While the effect it has on your driving ability isn’t as apparent as it could be, the visual blemish almost gives you the feeling of participating in a destruction derby style event.  Serious fans might do their best to get back in the race, but casual racers could definitely make their own mini-game and cause as much damage as possible without the real-life consequences.

NTG2011-3-29-11-13_800x450 Audio effects are occasionally spotty and can really take away from the experience.  There is a voice-over, from your team in the pit, that motivates you and gives you pointers along the way.  The problems stem from the effects of something like your engine, where you might be pressing the gas and expecting a clean engine rev, but get a choppy sounding stutter, as if you were listening to audio over the internet that was having some bandwidth issues.  For the most part, if you are focused on the race at hand, most of the sounds are authentic and the minor issues are easily ignored.

The online multiplayer has some serious issues, and it is extremely difficult to get a race going successfully.  There are multiple instances of freezing and just strange looking placement of cars at any given time.  The developer was open in saying an update was on the way for the new 2011 models, paint jobs, and schedules among other things, so it is best to hope Eutechnyx puts together something to address the online issues the game has.

Issues aside, the offline modes still provide moderate replay value for the game.  The career mode allows you to progress through a season of NASCAR races.  You can customize your car to your liking with the in-depth paint booth tools, as well as jump in the garage in advanced mode to alter your vehicle like only experts know how.  There is also an experience points system that rewards you for completing certain objectives and accomplishments in the races, that help to unlock new paint designs and other items to further customize the automotive experience.

Overall, there is quite a bit of fun to be had, especially if you are a fan of the NASCAR series.  This latest release does a fine job of capturing what the sport is all about, and really tries to get everyone from the casual audience to the hardcore enthusiasts involved.  The total package may be flawed with the online multiplayer issues and a few glitches here and there, but if something as simple as a patch can correct the faults, then NASCAR The Game 2011 could potentially be the best NASCAR game to date.

Title : NASCAR The Game 2011
Format : PS3 (Also on Xbox 360, Wii)
Developer : Eutechnyx
Publisher : Activision
Release Date : 03/29/11 (360/PS3)

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*Activision provided with a review copy.