Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: September 6, 2006
When someone mentions the sports-game division of Electronic Arts – EA Sports, natch – the first thing to come to everybody's mind, without question, will be its overwhelming success with the John Madden NFL license, particularly now that the company owns exclusive rights to publish football games. Well, the NFL isn't the only sport on which EA has a stranglehold. Likewise, for several years it's held the world of NASCAR stock car racing in its steely grip. Unlike the Madden series, however, EA Sports can't seem to decide whether it wants the annual NASCAR game to be a gearhead-loving simulator or an adrenaline-heavy arcade racer. This year, much like last year's NASCAR 06: Total Team Control, it's some sort of half-way mix between the two genres.
As in Total Team Control, the central gameplay mode in NASCAR 07 is Fight to the Top, halfway between a generic sports Season mode and Career mode. In the latter, you start in the good ol' modified Craftsman trucks, which handle like bricks on wheels, and slowly work your way up to the big teams and the big leagues, heading for the Nextel Cup and the quintessential "Chase for the Cup."
The only problem with this is that it's not all that interesting. If you've played NASCAR 06: Total Team Control, then you've played NASCAR 07. There are minor changes, such as a new system in which the better you drive, the more points you get – sort of how those Allstate Insurance ads want you to think they function. Points help you superficially perform better and get into the "zone," and whatever points you have at the end of the race can be used to unlock goodies like cars, tracks, and so on.
In addition, the control has been tweaked. Whereas in Total Team Control the control felt like skating around on ice, here it feels like moving through molasses. I'll leave that up to the reader's opinion as to whether that's better or worse; the controls feel floaty and kind of sluggish, and the "analog-sensitive" controls have major deadspots.
Not only is NASCAR 07 almost identical in every way, but some of NASCAR's newest and finest – Terry Labonte immediately comes to mind, as does Carl Edwards, who finished quite strong in the 2005 season – are completely absent from the game. It would be akin to releasing a Madden NFL title, but looking the other way and asking, "Vikings? We don't know about any teams from Minnesota." Football fans wouldn't stand for it, and in the same train of thought, NASCAR fans shouldn't stand for missing drivers from the roster – at least without having some sort of joke character from a recent movie (I won't mention any names).
Graphically, the game remains unchanged from Total Team Control, which isn't entirely a bad thing. The cars may not look as real as in a Gran Turismo game, and they may sport a fair amount of jagginess, but the details of decals and pit crew is quite nice. In addition, the game touts fantastic motion blur – codenamed the Absolute Adrenaline system – that, when it's not giving you a migraine headache, gives an overwhelming sense of speed that wouldn't be present on a normal circular track.
Aurally, the title screen sounds like every other EA Sports game ever. You're blasted with hard rock right out the door, and in the option screen, you have the choice to enable various southern country-rock songs, but unless you dig around that same screen, when you get on the race track, you'll be greeted with silence almost like in a German minimalist film, only the roar of a car's engine filling your ears. Oh, yeah, the other drivers on your team will radio back and forth, let you know if they want to pass you or chew you out if you just swapped paint with them, but like any other wireless radio, the voice is grainy, unclear and sometimes downright incomprehensible.
Sadly, that's not the only thing that's much like Total Team Control. As a matter of fact, I had to check the game case to make sure that my editor hadn't assigned me last year's edition by mistake. Then I did a double take at the manual, which was less like a manual and more like a small photocopied pamphlet, and it became immediately obvious just how much effort and budget EA Sports had put into NASCAR 07.
Ultimately, NASCAR 07, like many titles that EA Sports has released recently (I'm looking at you, Madden 06 GBA), is a rehashed, lackluster game hidden behind the high-energy, let's-kick-some-butt-and-chug-some-beer rock music blaring at you from the title screen. There's a lot of little nitty-gritty in here to get into, with very little explanation to it; the game seems like it was designed for the diehard fans of the sport, but at the same time, the outdated roster and lack of some of the most influential rookies of the season that NASCAR 07 is based on feels like a kick in the face for those same fans. This is a decent enough NASCAR game if you're desperately craving one; past that, though, it's best left to sit on the title screen all day at your local game shop. If you really want this game that badly, buy NASCAR 06: Total Team Control; it's essentially the same game, but $20 cheaper.
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