Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: July 23, 2007
NASCAR is all about fast cars and amazing race teams. Whether it's on the fast tracks, like the Bristol Motor Speedway, where drivers zip around the short track for 500 laps at an average speed of 80 mph, or the big Superspeedways like Talladega, where they cruise around miles of asphalt at an average of 188 mph, these guys get the job done, and it takes some skill. Electronic Arts has been the publisher for NASCAR games for almost a decade now, but is it someone else's turn to take a shot at creating a realistic NASCAR title?
Back in 1998, EA released the first ever genuine NASCAR game for the PlayStation. Since then, they've released over 12 different NASCAR titles in just a little under a decade, increasing performance, graphics, and overall gameplay features with each and every iteration.
In 2004, EA released NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup, which introduced a variety of features that pushed the racing genre to an all-new level. The career mode allowed players to work through NASCAR's ranks as a driver, and EA also included tons of managerial features, such as managing drivers, racers, pit crews, and even entire teams through a handy new interface that was both easy to use and very powerful. Other features were introduced, such as an AI that would respond to your need for drafting and blocking assistance based on past experiences with them, and a "stats" system that would benefit your play style no matter what you choose to do (In NASCAR 2005, you could bump and slam into people and it would be worthwhile, thanks to the intimidation stat).
NASCAR 06: Total Team Control improved upon the features but mainly focused on the entire team, as opposed to just your driver. Everything about your team could be altered to truly craft it into just what you wanted.
So what does this lineage mean for NASCAR 08? All of the cool features that were in NASCAR 2005 and 2006 are gone in NASCAR 08, and honestly, it was a very bad move. It's as if NASCAR 08 planned to sell simply by being the first next-generation NASCAR game. As for a career mode, you have two options, which is nearly the entire selection of offline features available to you. First is the generic Season Mode, which consists of choosing a driver and racing through a season of races.
The second is The Chase, which is the main game mode and consists of a series of challenges you must complete in order to earn licenses to race on certain types of tracks, like Superspeedways. These challenges include passing a number of cars, staying above a minimum speed, and avoiding a car pileup. Often these challenges prove to be tedious, but occasionally there was a bit of fun to them. After obtaining licenses, you must achieve certain contracts for certain NASCAR teams, such as Hendricks Motorsports, Gibbs Racing, or Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. To achieve these contracts, you must race using one of the team's cars and achieve a certain position or better. Upon accomplishing these contracts, you unlock the ability to race in actual races using that specific car. While this new mode was something different, it really was not that fun, and previous modes in the NASCAR series proved to be a lot more enjoyable.
Graphically, NASCAR 08 is everything it should be; finely detailed tracks from all over the country look almost exactly as they should. I've personally been to three NASCAR tracks in my life, and it was exciting to play on those tracks. I could even point out where my seats were! Tire marks on the track and each blade of grass seem detailed enough to be considered realistic, and NASCAR 08 achieved the goal of looking good on a next-generation platform.
The controls of NASCAR 08, on the other hand, seemed to travel backwards as opposed to advancing forward. Turning in the corners of the tracks is too much of a pain, and on any banked tracks, the car slides down automatically to reflect gravity. Despite how realistic this may sound, it is really a pain to have to keep tapping the thumbstick to the right anytime you're on a banked track. The game does have support for a racing wheel, but unfortunately, I didn't have one on hand to try out this feature. All in all, the controls for this title are what really made it unpleasant.
The music associated with almost any NASCAR game consists of exciting country and classic rock tunes, and NASCAR 08 continues that trend with music from artists like Brooks & Dunn, Crossin Dixon, and Velvet Revolver. If one thing's for sure, enjoyment can come out of NASCAR 08 just by sitting at the menu screen while multitasking and enjoying the tunes. Alongside the soundtrack are the intense sound effects of the NASCAR world, like car collisions, wall scrapes, squealing tires, and much more. NASCAR 08 brings these sounds to life and makes the experience a bit more realistic.
As far as multiplayer content goes, NASCAR 08 allows up to 12 people to race in an online game at once. Online, you'll participate in three parts of the race: practice, qualifying (which is done real-time), and the actual race itself. Different criteria can be set in the game room prior to each race, such as how many laps will be run, whether or not to include yellow flags, and damage efficiency to the cars. The races are competitive, but as always, you have the stubborn participants who simply enjoy wrecking as many people as they can.
Is NASCAR 08 worth your time? Maybe. If you're looking for nice graphics in a realistic racing environment on a next-generation platform, then perhaps this is right for you, but if you're looking for an exciting career mode, crazy pileups, or the ability to manage a team, then an older NASCAR title is what the doctor ordered. NASCAR 08 suffers a decline in performance from its predecessors, but maybe this was just a learning experience for EA and its NASCAR series on the next-generation platforms. One can only hope.
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