What are some of the first things that come to mind when you think of NASCAR? If you’re like me, mullets, bucked and cigarette-stained teeth, beer bellies, body odor and American flags come to mind. Now that I’ve belittled all the PS3 owning NASCAR fans out there, let me tell you some good news—if you’re a fan of NASCAR, you’re probably going to get a good enough experience out of NASCAR 08 to justify picking it up. For the rest us racing fans, there are just too many better options out there for you to warrant spending your hard earned cash on this feature-lacking racer.
There are three basic gameplay modes in 08—“Play Now”, “Season”, and “The Chase”. Play now is your basic pick-up-and-play mode where you choose from one of the 22 tracks to race on, pick your driver (has every NASCAR driver available to select) and you’re off to the track to burn some rubber. Season mode puts you in the Nextel Cup “season”, where you have 36 different races to complete to try to capture the Nextel Cup for your own. Finally, “The Chase” is almost the same thing as season mode, as you have to race all 36 Nextel Cup events, but the only differences are that you must complete licenses and contracts to qualify for some of the races, open up new tracks and events, as well as add more and more cars to your fleet. The problem with licenses and contracts is that they start out as a nice way to get your feet wet with how the cars handle, but then they soon devolve into monotony due to total lack of challenge types. There are 55 different licenses, but only a handful of different types within that 55, so you’ll be completing the same kind of challenges over and over again. Same goes with contracts—you’ll start at a pre-defined position, and by the end of the race, you’ll have to be at another pre-defined position to complete the challenge.
There is also an online component to NASCAR 08, but sadly, hardly anyone plays it online. When testing the online modes for the review, looking for a session proved futile, as did creating a match. In over an hour’s worth of waiting around in a lobby, only two people joined in the entire 60+ minutes. (This is mid-afternoon, on a weekend) On the plus-side, though, is that with both of those races, no lag was experienced once-so-ever. It’s a shame it all goes to waste because of a low population size. Rounding out the online offering is a really nice integration of US sports channel ESPN. Much like other EA Sports games, you’ll get your NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB updates when you connect online, but they also have some video commentary on the latest happenings in sports. If you don’t watch television all that much and want to hear some blowhard talk about the Red Sox pitching staff, this is a neat little addition.
How does the actual game play, you ask? Well, it’s not bad, given the source material that EA Sports had to work with. You should already know coming into this game that—surprise—there are tons of left turns. It all boils down to how your car handles, and on the default settings (with all the assists turned on) it feels just about right going down straight-aways and bending around the turns. The only problem is that NASCAR doesn’t necessarily translate all that well into a video game for all but the hardest of the hardcore NASCAR followers and the one-thousandth percent of people that understand the science of driving on these tracks. All you other racing fans that are used to the bending, weaving tracks seen in most other mainstream racing games, NASCAR 08 will feel like a chore to play due to the straight-forward nature of the tracks.
NASCAR 08 features a very limited create a car mode where you can choose between four different car body’s, get the ability to paint four different sections of the car with a wide array of colors, place pre-made art designs on a couple areas of the car, pick your car number, and of course, plaster the car with sweet, sweet advertisements! When you look at the other racing games out on the market that offer so much more in terms of customization, (Forza 2, anyone?) the amount of options NASCAR 08 offers is pretty laughable.
Graphically, NASCAR 08 is definitely on the lower-end of the PS3 scale. There are some nice damage modeling effects, shading effects, maintains a fairly stable frame rate, (a few stutters here and there) in addition to a slick effect that changes sun/shade positions as the race goes on in time, but overall the car models and environments are average at best. It definitely captures the scope of a NASCAR stadium, as well as the general look, but it’s missing that polish that differentiates a great looking game from the rest. There are tons of jagged edges on the car models both in third-person and first-person cockpit view (which is actually pretty cool, if you’re wondering) that are pretty ugly and distracting from the presentation. What’s worse are the environments, which also suffer from jagged edges, but also from a terrible draw distance. For example, on one track there is a mountain in the distance that looks like it’s a cardboard cut-out that has been pasted into the sky. This is representative of most of the tracks environments that just do not look up par for a PlayStation 3 game.
In addition to those major complaints come a pretty big one—the game’s graphic s engine does not do enough to give you a sense of speed. You’re going to be travelling at speeds in excess of 180-190 MPH, yet, there are no blur effects to be found, nothing to give you any indication of just how fast you’re flying out there. You’re racing stock cars here, not a Geo! Make me feel it! The sound rounds out the presentation well enough. The cars sound fairly authentic, roaring their way down the track. Tires squeal as you take a corner too fast and go careening into a wall, which gives you a satisfying crunch. 08 also has some solid country and rock n’ roll tracks that are sure to please the average NASCAR demographic.
But no sweet talkin’ country singer can spare NASCAR 08 of its total average feel. It’s not a bad game by any means—it just needs some more imagination to keep things fresh for the folks out there that don’t count them among the NASCAR faithful. For what it is, NASCAR fans should at least give the game a rent, if not a purchase. For the rest of you racing fans, look elsewhere.
Originally Written By: Art Green