I’m not a huge NASCAR fan, so when NASCAR 2011: The Game showed up on my doorstep, I wasn’t exactly excited. I had played the previous games by EA, and the older I got the less I seemed to enjoy them. It just seemed like the franchise became stale and wasn’t delivering anything new. It got so bad in fact, that EA let the NASCAR license go and Activision promptly scooped it up. When Activision got the license, I thought that at the very least, they would bring a fresh set of eyes to it, which I felt could only help. In the end NASCAR 2011: The Game is not a bad game, but it won’t take the checkered flag in any races.
The highlight of the game is its’ career mode, in which you work your way up the rankings, try to make the Chase, and ultimately win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. My problem with this mode is that you have to pick a current driver instead of being able to create your own. While some people will want to take on this mode with their favorite driver, there is something to be said for creating your own driver and developing a story of your own. Without that element this mode loses some of the luster that it could have. What I did love about the game was a lot of the pre-race commentary; it was informative and interesting, if not a bit long. As you progress through the mode you will get bonuses for completing certain goals that will give you NASCAR experience points (NXP), which you can use to improve your skills and your car through new car paint schemes, track variations, and sponsorships deals. Sponsorships aren’t just for show, they give you multipliers and boosts that allow you to gain even more NXP. The mode even lets you know who your rival is, and gives you the chance to get more NXP by whipping their butts out on the track. A nice touch in this mode is that when you win a race you get 30 seconds to celebrate doing burnouts and donuts, that let you gain additional NXP. This mode has so much more potential, but I understand Activision wanting to play it safe with its first foray into NASCAR.
When it comes to the actual on-track dynamics, it was a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I loved the execution of drafting both regular and bump drafting. Your crew chief will even tell you who does not mind bump drafting, and who won’t go for it. On the other hand, I felt like when it came to bumping and rubbing other cars the effect was too sensitive. More times than not, you will find yourself in a tight battle and a guy will get into your backside just a bit, which spins the whole car out. Spinouts happen all the time, but I felt like it was just a little too easy. Speaking of crashes and spinouts, I think they missed a great opportunity to make it a lot more interactive during these sequences. As it stands, if you get spun out your car kind of gets dragged along, and it’s almost impossible for you to regain control. It would have been nice to maybe have some sort of QTE sequence that allowed you to regain control of the car and avoiding a spinout. Maybe even some kind of tunnel vision that you popped into when driving through a crash. For the most part the car was pretty responsive and easy to drive, so it won’t be hard for anyone to master. When it came to damage, I thought that it was pretty accurate and seemed to match up with what you would expect from normal bumping and shifting. The game does feature realistic fuel usage and tire wear. It’s hard for me to tell how accurate this is because everyone drives different, but it was believable.
Another great thing about NASCAR 2011: The Game is car customization. You have the ability to customize your car to your heart’s desire. There are so many options as far as colors, decals, and sponsors that you could easily spend hours building your perfect stock car. This mode really stands out for its robustness and ease of use. When it comes to multiplayer it’s underwhelming. The games doesn’t really have a true lobby system, so if you want to get a race going you can either jump into an existing lobby with a race about to start, or you can create your own match and wait for others to join at random. The game does feature local multiplayer so you still have that option, which might be the best of the available options.
My final call on NASCAR 2011: The Game is that it’s a solid first try from Eutechnyx and Activision. If you are a racing fan, you won’t mind the limited career mode and slightly weak multiplayer. The actual racing action is what you come for, and you won’t be disappointed. The game’s default difficulty might be a bit easy for your seasoned veterans, so consider amping up the difficulty a bit to stay challenged. NASCAR 2011: The Game is a decent first installment, but we expect much better the next time around. With that, we give NASCAR 2011: The Game 7 out of 10.