NASCAR 2011: The Game

5.0 Overall Score

Written by on April 21, 2011 in

Not having the proper context to judge Activision’s NASCAR 2011: The Game against the years and years of other NASCAR franchises that have come before, I can only say that it seems like a serviceable simulation of the sport. I had hoped the game might ease me into things. I was greeted by a tutorial about drafting, and I arrogantly thought that might be all I needed to know. I’m by no means a racing sim aficionado, but I do enjoy the occasional racer. I even do pretty well at them for the most part.

I jumped straight into the career mode guessing this was the meat of the game. I blindly chose a car and ran a qualifying lap for the first race. Qualifying is dreadfully boring in NASCAR because the tracks are nothing more than large ovals. I was sure, however, this would be remedied when the track was packed with my competitors.

Then, I was dropped into an absolutely alien form of racing in which drivers spend much of the race politely following behind one another waiting for a clear opportunity to pass. I, myself, spent much of these early races trying to fight the sport and turn it into something more akin to Burnout. I even did pretty well for a while. I was able to move up many places even when I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing.

It seemed to always happen in the last lap. I’m sitting there in a comfortable position—maybe even rounding the final turn for the finish line—when a car from behind takes vengeance on me for one of my earlier Burnout moments spinning me either into the wall or into the grass. Without fail, I am facing 180° from my ultimate destination. It’s at that moment I reach my first epiphany about the sport: slip up for just one second and that polite little conga line you bullied your way through earlier is going to politely finish the race as you make your three-point turn on the racetrack.

I tried a different approach. I began to try to imitate the other drivers. I would drive politely for a while staying behind, trying to take the lessons from the drafting tutorial and use those to propel me ahead. This was a much less satisfying approach. Here I learned that, despite the fact I have been using analog controls since the N64 days, I rarely push them less than all-the-way in any given direction. This game is forcing me to carefully steer not only around the turns but around the other cars delicately positioned around me. All the while, I need to balance the gas and the brake so as not to plow into the car in front of me. Nerve-wracking.

This went on for several races with no change whatsoever. I was still losing races on some mistake I couldn’t even identify which would leave me going the wrong direction for far too long on the final lap. At some point, I made a breakthrough by discovering the rewind feature. Yes, I had read the instruction book. I even guessed what rewind would do, but I could never get it to work. This may be because, by the time I figured out I needed a rewind, caution had already started. Apparently, you may no longer rewind once caution has been called.

(Aside: At first, I thought caution was like a foul in basketball. I would feel a bit of shame whenever I saw that yellow flag. I have since been told that caution is just like it sounds. It’s merely a mandate to be cautious because somewhere on that track funny stuff is going down.)

Once I had the rewind feature down, I could make my mistakes much more quickly than before. I would rewind several times into the same ill-advised move. By being able to immediately relive the moments of my mistakes, I could more easily identify the problems.

I quickly began to place highly in races. I place in the top 10 consistently now, and I am even placing first on occasion. I can chalk up much of my progress to the rewind feature, but, otherwise, the game seems to do little to ease outsiders into the sport. The inclusion of the drafting tutorial seems curious as there are so many other factors at play in this game. I can’t help but wonder why the developer chose to highlight just that one. The instruction pamphlet told me the button mappings and little else.

As I first hit the slope of the learning curve, I really hated the sport. It’s a hassle to jockey around all the other cars especially on smaller courses. The constant stop-and-go from straightaways to curves is annoying. Later, though, I softened a bit. The satisfaction of shooting through a hole at the exact moment to get a couple of clean passes and improve your position is palpable. It’s like a dance as you’re responding to the positioning and motion of other drivers to advance your position. Once I had this figured out, it became almost zen-like… if not for the constant belching of engines and screeching of tires.

It’s a shame the game itself is a bit drab. Due to my aforementioned lack of context, I don’t know what I should expect from a NASCAR game, but developer’s Eutechnyx’s NASCAR 2011: The Game seems lacking in terms of meaty features. Even career mode is just one race after the other with an overall ranking. This may be the nature of an actual NASCAR career, but, only just having been initiated into this culture, I can’t really separate the two. The graphical presentation does the job, but I don’t really get the great sense of speed I would expect. The one modern feature of NASCAR is the rewind feature, and it goes a long way toward making this otherwise sparse game feel like a current-gen racer. Measured against other simulation racing games, this one doesn’t hold a candle to the depth of even the early Gran Turismo games despite their age. Competing with those games may not be the point, but that fact doesn’t make this game any more enjoyable.

A copy of NASCAR 2011: The Game was given to The Married Gamers for review and evaluation.


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Author: Devon Campbell View all posts by
Devon's childhood has crept way into adulthood... and he's cool with that. He's embraced it by continuing the nerdy pursuits of his youth and indoctrinating his poor wife, Tiffany, and daughter, Ambria, thereby possibly spreading the disease to them. They don't seem to mind so much.

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