Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


(Electronic Arts for Playstation 3)

By Michael Palisano

EA's NASCAR 08 for the Playstation 3 is a disappointing title that doesn't really take advantage of next-generation technology. Its modes and features are lackluster for the most part. The ability to you use the draft of another vehicle for a speed boost is pretty cool, but that's about it in the innovation department. Unfortunately, the game's positive features are mitigated by some fairly significant flaws. The controls take some getting used to, and the driving never feels right no matter the how you tweak its settings. Visually, NASCAR 08 is disappointing with flat textures, low frame rates and an uninspired presentation. The game offers what you'd expect, but has little flair and polish, making it fall far short of next generation racing standards.

NASCAR 08 offers the promise of a full fledged racing simulator, and while it has all the features you've come to expect, it doesn't really go the extra mile you'd expect it to, making for a disappointing experience overall. The game offers several modes of play, including single races, practice modes and challenges along with the ability to compete in a full Nextel Cup season consisting of dozens of races. You can choose to play either a single race or compete in an entire season. Before each race, you have dozens of options including the ability to turn driving assists on or off - these include braking, turning and other assists. Players can also choose the length of each race, set the level of damage, choose whether to play using flag rules and even choose whether collisions or damage will occur. Other options let you choose whether you're car will take damage, set the level of wear on your vehicle and tires during the race or make other changes. You can also adjust the responsiveness and linearity of the controls at the options menu, adjust your vehicle's weight and transmission to your liking as well. NASCAR 08 further lets you choose from several different control schemes, with either a fairly standard dual shock analog mode or a new mode that lets you steer the vehicle using the Sixaxis controller's motion sensitivity. This is met with mixed results.

Once you get on the track, you'll find that the controls for your vehicle are incredibly touchy and picky to use. You can select from either a standard analog mode or use the Sixaxis motion controller. After you've chosen your preferred mode, you can change the responsiveness and linearity of the controls, and also change the turning ratio and dead spots, and these can make a noticeable difference in how easy your car is to maneuver. However, this isn't really much of factor in NASCAR's overall difficulty. Either way, there's a steep learning curve that will probably turn off a lot of players. You have very little room for error and most players will find that they'll need to concentrate on things or face a serious crash. Wrecking the cars occurs frequently and since these cause significant downgrades in performance, you'll have very little room for error. Damage occurs from even the smallest bumps and since the opposing vehicles are quite aggressive, avoiding wrecks and bumps is essential, yet very difficult. Once your vehicle skids off the track, you lose plenty of time and this, making it very hard to catch up once you get behind. You can use the vehicle draft to make up some time, but it isn't easy to line up your vehicle perfectly in order to achieve this. When you're in the pack, you need split second reflexes as well, which makes it even harder for you to avoid crashing.

Another factor that makes NASCAR difficult are the tracks themselves, which vary in design and look. While the differences are subtle, you'll have to adjust your strategy to account for the different banking angles of the curves and the overall width of the tracks. Most of the tracks are the standard oval design, which is what you'd expect, but you'll find that these are deceptive, since you need to practice for a few laps to get the feel of them before you have a chance of winning. The game isn't so much about racing as it is about keeping your vehicle in a steady consistent line and waiting for your opponents to mess up. As you might expect, you'll also have to keep a steady eye on your vehicle indicators and damage so you know when to pit and how far you can push your vehicle. It's easy to get distracted, which leads to trouble so you definitely need to have this timing down as well. One of the strategies you might need to apply is waiting to pit until you are under caution flags, which reduces the amount of time you'll need to make up. NASCAR does a good job in recreating this aspect of the sport, and it adds a level of authenticity to the game that makes for a faithful experience.

While this level of realism is impressive, it makes NASCAR 08 much less enjoyable than it should have been. There are too many crashes, which occur for the smallest mistakes, which makes NASCAR 08 a surprisingly frustrating experience at certain points. It doesn't seem to matter how you set the controls, the game requires a great deal of concentration. This makes for a game that isn't nearly as enjoyable as you might expect, you can't really ever relax and once you crash, you might as well reset the race since you have virtually no chance of catching up. Between the touchy, imprecise and frustrating controls and the game's steep AI, NASCAR 08 is one of the more difficult racers on the market.

At first glance, the game offers some impressive visuals, but once you get a bit closer, things begin to fall apart. You can choose either a behind the car viewpoint or go inside the cockpit during the race, which is a nice touch. The game runs at a decent frame rate, but you'll notice some minor flaws, such as the dreaded jaggies, that continue to rear their ugly heads at certain points during the race. However, the game does offer fairly accurate renderings of more than 20 courses and the vehicle models themselves are fairly decent, if uninspiring. NASCAR 08's presentation and production values are adequate in and of themselves, but when you compare the title's visuals to similar racers like Need For Speed Underground, Ridge Racer 7 it's flawed presentation and behind-the-curve production values really come into sharp contrast. Sony's own demo of Gran Turismo 5 offers a vastly superior experience from a visual standpoint, making NASCAR 08 feel all the more lacking. The game's flat textures, undetailed cars and lackluster renderings of tracks make the experience feel more like a last-generation release than a current offering. There are some decent weather and lighting effects when the tracks go from day to night, and it's pretty cool to see all 42 opponents on the track simultaneously, but NASCAR 08 doesn't feel nearly as impressive as it needs to be. The game's soundtrack consists mainly of country-rock and is fairly innocuous since it only appears in the menu screens. The roar of engines is also fairly impressive, and the constant chatter from the announcers and you pit chief helps to put you into the action. However, the overall presentation is far from the levels where it could have been, lending the experience a disappointing aesthetic overall.

Unfortunately, between NASCAR 08's frustrating controls and lackluster presentation, it falls far short of the standards set for next-generation racing titles. It includes all the major elements you'd expect from a licensed game, but lacks the flourish and polish of a true high-definition title. The game is difficult to play and its controls never feel right thanks to their touchiness and responsiveness. While it looks good in screen shots, but in motion suffers from bland textures, dull car models and a somewhat choppy appearance that isn't helped by the grating jaggies which appear throughout. The game modes are fairly dull and even the attempts at brining in mini-games seem to fall flat. In the end, this isn't what NASCAR fans were probably expecting, and it falls far short of the mark. Overall, NASCAR 08 is one of the most disappointing Playstation 3 titles released to date and doesn't really deliver on its promises.

- Michael Palisano


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