Gamer Review: What We Should See in a NASCAR Video Game
Fresh off the press from my thoughts of a WWE game, let’s switch gears and roll through my opinions on what to see in a new NASCAR title.
Just like WWE, I've owned two NASCAR titles. NASCAR Chase for the Cup 2005, and NASCAR 2011. The latter was developed by a small company known as Eutechnyx, while the former was developed by EA Sports (back when EA Sports were at their best with most major titles). NASCAR Chase for the Cup was a great game that only lacked the physics technology that NASCAR 2011 has to make it a truly great NASCAR game. Chase for the Cup had a Fight to the Top mode that NASCAR 2011 lacks to make it a great game.
The elements I look for in a NASCAR game are a little simpler than what I look for in the ideal WWE game. Great NASCAR games require a great career mode and exciting races. With those two game components in check, the rest is cherry on top. Getting those two game components right though is once again likely another technical feat for developers to contend with. Realism is the key, how to make the racing experience feel real while not suffocating the gamer with making handling a stock car too difficult. More about that in the racing section. First, let’s break down career mode features.
Eutechnyx had some interesting ideas in their career mode, but the lack of depth in their career mode made the experience fairly plain and the newer games have not broke traditional ground from what reviews have said. Eutechnyx just sold the NASCAR game rights to DMi. We will see if they have a new vision for the stale career mode Eutechnyx put out.
Adding the Xfinity series is necessary for starters, career mode should allow you to create your own driver or use any active driver on both rosters. Some people want the Truck series, but I think most people don’t really want to spend more than a race or two racing trucks.
Career mode for your own driver should allow you to join a team, allowing you to choose a big market team like Penske or start with a small independent team. Each option of course has its benefits and downfalls. Improving the quality of your car should be a major component of the mode while you drive in the Xfinity series, attempting to get the license to drive a Sprint Cup car. Earning money by performance in races and earning sponsors turns around to improving the car handling, speed, and attributes.
Similar to NBA 2K, I would like to see a post race interview with several options (including thank the sponsors).
Bringing back allies and rivals is pretty much essential for a fun career experience. A rare fight cut scene after a wreck from a budding rivalry with Keselowski would make the game experience worth 60 dollars.
Career mode whether you create your own driver or choose an existing driver should be generally the same experience.
Older drivers should eventually retire allowing you to possibly sign a contract with Hendricks to race the 24, though Elliot will already be driving the car and Gordon will already be retired by the next NASCAR release. But you get the gist.
Teams, contracts, allies and rivals, post race interviews, some general cut scenes in the garage area should make up the bulk of the career experience.
The Race Experience:
This is the part of the game that matters. A well made career mode is essential to making a great NASCAR game but at the end of the day most NASCAR fans just want a game where the racing is engaging and exciting. Eutechnyx was doing a fairly good job with the racing physics but there are still small improvements that are absolutely key to making each race fun and dynamic.
I believe a great race mostly comes down to how the car corners. This is where most speed is gained and lost. Drive in and off the corners. It’s very hard to control a stock car from being jerky with a joystick controller which is what most people are using to play the game. If there is a way to stabilize the cornering to feel more smooth and emulate the real deal, that’s the biggest improvement that a NASCAR game I believe has been missing since NASCAR titles have been made.
A NASCAR game should give more leeway to the casual gamers rather than the hardcore simulation fans. If you want a difficult simulation, play Gran Turismo or Forza. Not to say all the challenge should be taken away, but as a NASCAR gamer, by biggest worry should be how much I have to break into the corner, and keeping the car stable so that I don’t wreck into a car using the other line.
I think a cool idea for cornering should be a button you press on the controller that shows you the best way to run and break into your line. This can allow you to choose between the three different lines you may want to run at the speedways: inside, middle, and outside. Also for short tracks guiding you on the inside and outside lines. An assist feature might help the stabilization efforts but an assist feature shouldn't add speed to your car. In fact I think relying on an assist feature should slow your cornering speed as a penalization for not breaking. Or if you’re the type that turns breaking off, your car should only run as well as you corner, though I could imagine that setup will still be easy, I would only recommend it for beginners.
Sacrificing challenge for fun shouldn't sacrifice all the challenge, because the challenge is fun. The real challenge should be in the AI. Each driver should have a personality. Aggressive, relaxed, etc. Getting to the front and staying in front should take considerable effort if a driver has a well tuned car or is very good at the particular track.
The game should have a mode where your goal is too evade a big wreck at every track. You drive a car at the back of a large gaggle of cars where a wreck occurs somewhere in the pack and you have to avoid it or face the inevitable fact you’ll likely get caught up in it. We all want to see cars wreck, it’s part of NASCAR allure. That mode is an instant hit, I guarantee it.
Frequent more wrecks in regular races. Cars involved should likely be considerably slower or DNF (Did Not Finish).
Make entering pit road easier and more comfortable.
Possibly add a race fast forward feature. Race a full 500 mile race but after setting a 20 lap average, you can fast forward to the next caution, or the final laps. I could see this feature being touch to create and integrate, but would be a really cool gimmick that I could see getting some use to add more reality to the race. Nobody actually wants to race over 200 laps.
I want competitive racing, and a competitive career mode.