Published on April 2nd, 2012 | by Nichomaxwell0
Four Things that NASCAR Games Continue to Get Wrong
>>>As a diehard NASCAR fan and a video game connoisseur, I feel that I’ve earned the right to not just one, but a SELECTION of strong NASCAR games to choose from. Just like Madden NFL brings the authentic experience of American football into your home play-by-play, I’d hope to experience life-like NASCAR racing on my console, especially with game systems being as powerful as they are today. A tackle in Madden looks like a tackle in a live game on TV. A slam dunk from Lebron James on the XBox 360 emulates a slam dunk during a real playoff match-up verbatim. So a 7-ton stock car should handle in a game just as it does in a real life NASCAR race, right?
Apparently not, according to certain game companies. EA Sports handled making games based on the once fastest-growing sport in America from 1998 to 2009, and not once, even with smaller details becoming easier to manage on better systems, did they truly capture the essence of NASCAR racing. You slammed into another car hard enough and you lost a tire. You run head first into a wall and go flipping through the air for a couple of minutes, but can’t blow over to save your life. You can do tremendous damage to your own car, but as hard as you try to turn somebody, their car won’t budge, as if it were armored in cobalt. That’s not a NASCAR game, that’s an arcade racer. This has been EA Sports’ formula for years, and Eutechnyx, which took over the role as the NASCAR video game developer in 2010 with its latest release NASCAR The Game 2011, has gone on ahead and replicated that formula. I guess that it didn’t have to be changed much because it’s enough for us NASCAR fans to at least have a new game to play each year (after all, NASCAR is like the NFL and MLB- its players and teams are constantly changing from season to season), but we still want to be treated like our desires matter. We want an authentic experience that truly replicates what we see on television. That is why NASCAR Racing 2003 has lasted as long as it has! It is NASCAR racing from the sound of the engines to the handling of the stock cars to the realistic crashes. We want a company that can do what Madden has done for football in building a winning formula and then carrying it onward from year to year with additional changes every now and then.
But in order for our desires to be met on the console, Eutechnyx and any other company that may venture into NASCAR territory must address the glaring issues below:
Even for all my admissions that I secretly enjoy watching the crashes (that’s many a NASCAR fan for you- don’t think we’re all that innocent…oh wait, sorry, you never assumed that…), I can’t help but cringe every time I watch as a couple of hard hits from AI vehicles send another AI vehicle up into the air before it bounces around the track like a rubber ball. But somehow, once the car comes back to rest on the ground, only a few scrapes and dents appear, as opposed to missing sheet-metal and folded-in fenders that usually characterize the shape of car that has experienced that kind of crash. Should a car leave the ground every time it takes a hard lick from the wall or another vehicle? Absolutely not. Does it happen in NASCAR? Sure it does, but the hits it takes to flip a car over occur at certain angles or at high speeds. Cars constantly flipping over at Bristol and Martinsville is a bit ridiculous. Are the flipping cars spectacular to watch? Certainly! In NASCAR Thunder 2003, it was simultaneously frightening and breathtaking to watch as one backwards hit from me triggered a huge accident that saw twenty- TWENTY different cars barrel roll over each other. But when I cause a big accident in the sleeper hit NASCAR: Dirt to DAYTONA, one car may flip over while the rest just run into each other and smash up their fenders and rear-ends. Just like they do in a big crash during a live race. The hits that cars take need to reflect visible physical changes to the car like missing parts, but the crazy accidents need to be toned down. Also, cars don’t bounce. That’s NOT how physics work.
2) Contact with Other Cars
This somewhat goes hand-in-hand with crashes, but this reflects the competitive aspect of the game more than anything else. When I try to turn a guy in an EA Sports NASCAR game, I might as well be siding up against a moving wall. Each driver must possess Superman’s car control (which, if you’re a NASCAR fan, is a scary thing to say about Sam Hornish, Jr.) in those damn games because you’re going no place if you’re trying to be aggressive. Of course, if they hit you, then they’ll turn you without any issues. Contact with other cars depends highly on where you hit them and how fast you’re going, but none of these basic rules seem to apply. This makes racing the competition that much harder, and in NASCAR, the core experience IS racing the competition. I want to really feel like I’m competing against the powerful but vulnerable machine of Jeff Gordon, instead of an impenetrable racecar that seems to be carbon-copied for every other driver out there except me. Which brings me to another point…
3) Drivers’ In-Game Counterparts
In a Madden or NBA title, the chief component for a successful playing experience is making a player respond just like his real-life counterpart would in a similar situation. Randy Moss in real life is Randy Moss in Madden ’10. Lebron James in an actual NBA game is Lebron James in NBA Elite ’11. Jeff Gordon in real life is a drone in NASCAR ’09. His racing style is inseparable from that of Paul Menard. Jeff Burton, one of the cleanest drivers in the sport, will handle you in the same way on the track as the maniacal Kyle Busch. On top of that, the AI drivers are extremely boring to face, unless you hit them and a certain feature propels them to hit you back. They tend to keep the preferred line, rarely pass each other, and only react if you’re moving your way up. I get that this is a game, but in NASCAR, the final laps sees the drivers blocking anybody. They’re blocking each other! They’re blocking the wall! They’re blocking when there’s nothing else to block. If there are three guys up ahead of you competing for the lead with one lap remaining, they’re not worried about you. They’re too busy slamming into each other to notice you’re there. Part of the fun in NASCAR is the wide range of personalities you see behind the wheel. Experiencing what it really feels like to race Carl Edwards or Kyle Busch is a dream of many race fans that has yet to be realized on any system.
4) Plate-Racing VS. Regular Racing
Only two games in the NASCAR franchise demonstrated perfection in separating the two styles of stock car racing that take place on the Sprint Cup circuit. Both of those games, NR2003 and Dirt to DAYTONA, were both games that weren’t mainstreamed like the EA Sports collection. What I’ve noticed is that later versions of NASCAR tried, especially when it took root on the higher powered systems like the Gamecube and the Playstation 2, but when they try to do plate racing, all of a sudden EVERY racetrack features plate racing, even Bristol! That, or it still remains too easy to break away from the rest of the pack at, say, Talladega, and then run solo.
First off, let me explain. Plate racing is a style of racing featured at NASCAR’s two biggest and fastest tracks, Daytona and Talladega, that keep the cars from reaching maximum speed and, if spun, flying off the racetrack. The use of restrictor plates on the vehicles groups them together so that the drivers are essentially racing in a big pack. This is exciting racing for the fans because, one, any one driver can emerge from a group of thirty to win, and two, one minor misstep can cause a big accident that sometimes sends one car airborne. As for the rest of the races, the pack can usually spread out. But in most NASCAR games, it’s either that you’re racing in a big pack all the time, or that you spread out THE MOST at both Daytona and Talladega. Keep in mind that I’m not saying that most NASCAR races haven’t gotten the tracks right. One of the biggest strengths displayed by a majority of the NASCAR games is their ability to emulate the racetracks to perfection. Martinsville indeed handles like the slowest track on the circuit, Darlington makes no sense and WILL get a scrape of the wall out of you, and you don’t ever have to mash the brake at the high-speed Atlanta Motor Speedway. But the differences between free-form racing and the restrictor plate events are essential aspects to capture for the NASCAR fans because they compose a majority of the excitement that fans usually receive from a season. Daytona and Talladega are fun to watch BECAUSE they feature racing in packs. Daytona and Talladega on Dirt to DAYTONA, therefore, are extremely fun to play BECAUSE they feature you clawing your way through a big group of cars while you’re pretty much on your own at any other track.
Some games have indeed gotten one or more of these points right. As you can probably see, I favor NR2003 and Dirt to Daytona over the more popular NASCAR entries like the EA Games, and that’s because these two games focused more on getting the racing right than in obtaining licenses from drivers, manufacturers, and sponsors. Dirt to DAYTONA wasn’t saying “oh, hey! You get to be Jeff Gordon!” It was saying “Do you REALLY want to know how it feels to drive a racecar in NASCAR? Here you go! Enjoy!!!” But the problem is that those two games were one-shots while mainstream entries continue to frustrate fans. It’s only until these four issues are addressed that we racing fans will continue to wait in agony for a game developer who knows NASCAR to come along and establish a successful multi-game franchise.