on April 18, 2014
First, I am a gamer that loves racing, especially racing simulation games, and I cannot express how disappointed I am in this particular game. I have played the EA NASCAR games and did thoroughly enjoy the most recent Activision release, Inside Line. It felt like it was trying to be a good simulation of NASCAR racing, but had some bugs. I was willing to overlook those issues as it was an early attempt for a new company making a NASCAR game. Unfortunately, they have not only failed to improve their offering, but have taken a step back.
First off, the AI, which was arguably the weakest point in the past Activision games, has seemingly gotten worse. While I do appreciate they tried to make the AI more aggressive, it seems to result in less of "putting their nose under you / giving a slight bump into a corner" effect and more them simply racing as if you didn't exist. On restarts occasionally, the car just above you will wobble back and forth. I thought originally it was simply them creating AI spinning their tires, but when it happened 3 times on subsequent restarts to the exact same car relative to my position in the starting lineup, it's obvious it's an AI failure.
The game modes are almost entirely the same. Career mode has gotten a bit of a polish, but the other modes show almost no effort into improving. One of my favorite modes, offline multiplayer racing with a full season, including standings, is not present, and with the marginally improved, yet still buggy and not satisfying online racing modes, one would think they would try to at least make offline split screening better.
One of my favorite features from the older EA games makes it's return, still with the same lack of thinking that made me hate the mode on the prior game, the highlights section. Re-racing scenarios that actually occurred from the past and current seasons sounds exciting, but the mode feels like a marketing department created it. They tout on the product that they use telemetry data to determine where the cars were at that point on the track, so when you race it is exactly the same as it was on television. This may sound exciting, but you quickly realize how entirely awful the concept is. When EA created the scenario mode, the AI would take over driving, so even though the scenario starts the same way, depending on how you drive the AI is forced to compensate and each try is different. With using telemetry, it does not matter what you do, the cars are simply on a given path and cannot be moved. I attempted at one track to cut an entire corner, turned to the right, and hit another car at essentially a 90 degree angle, not a glancing blow but my entire momentum going into his driver door. The impact threw my car completely backwards, towards the infield, and his car did not move in the slightest. In another example, more depressing since I was actually involved in the race, I was going down a straightaway at Indy. I was alongside another car to the inside, and he was directly behind another car. Apparently in the real race, he did not have anyone beside him because, halfway down the straightaway, he pulled out to pass, throwing my car completely into the inside wall and ruining the two prior laps I had put into the race. The "avoid the wreck" highlights are completely ruined as each car does exactly the same thing every single time, making avoiding the wreck a matter of two runs. First run to see the path, second run to take the path. I can remember EA's highlights where, even though the car would wreck at the same time each trial, the AI driving would cause different things to happen, leading to organically fun avoidance tests.
Finally, the graphics feel more "arcade-y" than the old series. The colors seem to bright, the bloom and spectacular lighting effects too intensified. I've been to races, both day and night, and the colors are not that vivid. I understand wanting a game to look good, but when you are trying to imitate real life, there is something to be said for discretion and subtlety.
The few positives I can find in this are mostly inconsequential. The main menu, rather than feeling like a lazy susan in the middle of a garage, now is condensed into one menu, making for much nicer navigation. The car views now include a view which has the camera in the exact same position as the view in which the wheel is shown, but with the wheel removed. This is different from the closer to the windshield view, which is still present, and is a welcome addition, although one wonders why "remove wheel" wasn't simply a graphics option. The career mode is deeper, although certainly not to a level of depth I would expect from a game that, based on it's split screen and online multiplayer disappointments, seems begging to be a single player racing game.
Overall, I would be ashamed to have my company's name on this particular product. If I put this into my Xbox and was not told anything about it, I would have guessed it to be a beta version. If you haven't played an Activision NASCAR game before and really, really want to, I can't say I wouldn't give it a go, but I would recommend Inside Line still. If you have played Inside Line, this will feel like a bit of a step backwards. The entire game has a feeling of a college student who has taken someone else's research paper, tried to copy it in their voice, but made multiple spelling and grammar mistakes, and turned it in. They took last year's game and somehow, with a cheat sheet to work from, somehow made it marginally worse. I am typically not this harsh on reviewing a game, but in this case it is particularly bad.