Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: September 6, 2006
One of the first genres in computer gaming was the simulation. Initially, it was fixed-rule, board-based games, like chess and checkers, and when graphics came along, the genre quickly grew to encompass more action-oriented activities like sports, flight and even racing. Racing has a distinct group of followers who has had to wait while technology improved to the point of offering an almost picture-perfect experience. If we take a snapshot of gaming simulations as they are today, it is both exciting and remarkable to find that in such a short span of time, we not only get high levels of detail, precision, and processing speed, but we also get it all on a small pocket-sized box we can play just about anywhere.
NASCAR is the 2006 offering for race fans who like to take the track action with them on their PSPs. NASCAR is filled to the brim with game modes and unlocks and is actually surprisingly responsive when you are behind the wheel. You will get the opportunity to participate in four different race series: NEXTEL Cup, NBS, Craftsman Truck and Whelan Modified. It is fairly easy to become overwhelmed by the numerous game options and modes in NASCAR, but if you are just interested in a quick bit of racing, you can select "Race Now" on the main menu and quickly get to the action. The game will require some training time to become reasonably competent during a race, and although there is no formal tutorial, some modes come reasonably close to helping you learn and practice the skills you'll need to become competitive.
After setting up your user profile so that all of your racing statistics will be saved, you'll want to decide on which of the four primary game modes you will want to play. "Fight to the Top" is the main simulation mode in NASCAR, where you're an owner and/or driver of a NASCAR team. If you don't want to be the owner, you can choose to operate as a "driver only" through a season. Once you work out your role in the simulation, you're given a calendar to select the race events in which you want to participate. Participation depends on several factors, such as the type of race, your contracts/sponsorships, and the race series on which you've decided to focus. You'll find that some events will be on the same day as others, so you'll need to pick and choose. If you're also playing as the owner, an alternate option would be to hire another driver to race in the other event, but this costs some serious cash. To assist you through the season, you have an agent who can occasionally provide useful information but is usually annoying and distracting.
The main rewards system in NASCAR is the skill point, and just about every possible accomplishment can earn you skill points. The points can be used to unlock over 100 goodies, including tracks, cars, and sponsors. If you're primarily going for skill points, NASCAR includes a task list which is divided into four categories (from easy to extreme) and details the points and required tasks.
In NASCAR's "SpeedZone" mode, you have a chance to practice some of the more critical techniques you'll need to master to be reasonably successful on the track, including: drafting, blocking, and passing. This mode is presented as a series of mini-games with five levels per category, and it's a great way to quickly build up skill points. Another race feature of NASCAR is the "Dodge Challenges" mode, which allows you to try and change history a bit by reliving some of "NASCAR's greatest moments." These events include tasks such as completing the last few laps of a race and changing what actually happened. The final NASCAR mode into which you can jump is the "Season" mode, which, as you can probably guess, allows you to race for an entire season in any of the four included race series. A nice addition to this mode is the ability to adjust race parameters and season schedules. It is also even possible for you to have the AI to drive a selected race for you.
An additional feature included in NASCAR for use during races is the "rewind" button. By pressing the Circle button on your PSP, you can basically rewind yourself back before a point in a race that you would rather have happened differently (if only this worked for real life!). Of course, you will pay heavily in skill points.
NASCAR is fully customizable, from the car design down to the background music. In the "Custom Car Garage," you have the ability to customize your race cars by adjusting everything from body style to color schemes. This feature is so well designed and intuitive that it's possible to use the editor with little or no instruction. These types of user-controlled options help make NASCAR more of a simulation than a simple racing game.
When you consider the size of the PSP and the processing power that's required to make a decent racing simulation, the speed and quality of NASCAR is pretty impressive. You even have multiple camera views available while you are buzzing around the track. The graphics are very pleasing, although you can get a bit cross-eyed if you spend too much time in the game, due to all of the motion.
NASCAR includes an 18-song soundtrack to help fill out the quiet moments. I was not too impressed with the racing sound effects, as the cars often sounded like a collection of old electric can openers, but on a more positive note, the crew chief's accurate comments definitely heightened the realism of the races.
NASCAR features multiplayer capabilities for up to four players via the PSP Wi-Fi Ad Hoc Mode. In multiplayer, you can race alongside your friends in the Race Now, Season and SpeedZone modes. I did not have an opportunity to test this feature, but if it is as well coded and responsive as the rest of the game, it should be a blast to play.
NASCAR is a quality simulation with more modes and features than you'd expect from a PSP title. I am genuinely impressed by the excellence and speed of the races, and my only complaints are with the often-annoying agent in the "Fight to the Top" mode and the poor sound effects during the races. I certainly wouldn't miss the opportunity to add this title to my collection, and I recommend PSP racing fans do the same.