Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


NASCAR 2011 (Playstation 3)

Activision's release of NASCAR 2011 on the PS3 marks the return of open-wheel racing to its own dedicated titles after several years. While not groundbreaking, it's a fairly good racer in most areas, and does an excellent job in bringing the excitement and intensity of stock-car racing to the console environment. It has decent graphics, abundant licenses and extensive online features to help flesh out the experience while adding some depth. With the racing game flooding the market, the question is whether it can race ahead to the finish line or get lost back in the pack.

NASCAR 2011 brings the excitement and intensity of stock car racing home in fine fashion, with some interesting features. This is basically what you'd expect and NASCAR delivers a straightforward racing game. Your objective is compete in a series of races in the Sprint Cup. You have a choice of more than 40 real world drivers including Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon and many others. Each vehicle looks and drives like its real-world counterpart and players can race on many famous tracks including the famous Daytona, Bristol and Indianapolis circuits. All of the tracks have been designed and rendered to mimic their actual sizes and layouts. While you might think a collection of oval tracks might get dull after awhile, there are subtle differences in each one that give them an individual challenge. Some are laid out much tighter while others feature a more open design that gives you more leeway for passing and burning the floor in long straight sections. Finding the best windows in which to pass other vehicles while not getting excessively aggressive is the key element that defines a winning run from one that ends up in disappointment. It's a bit of a tricky balance to find, but once you do, racing success comes much more consistently.

As far as overall build-quality. NASCAR 2011 is a solid performer. The game moves along at a consistent frame rate throughout and while the overall game engine isn't as elaborate as something like Gran Turismo 5, it gets the job done. You'll have several different modes of play to choose from and these add some depth to the gameplay. For single players, the game allows you to compete in a single race, or compete in a career mode where you can recreate an entire NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Before you begin, you can pick a driver to use in your game and can use them throughout, building their stats and experience as you play. In the career mode, you can play through a race as you would in reality with practice, qualifying rounds that lead up to the actual race. The number of laps in Career mode is much higher than in single-race, making these more like endurance matches. Multiplayer is fairly decent and allows up to 16 players to compete simultaneously. These are fairly standard for most racing games, so NASCAR doesn't diverge from the norm in this area. Overall, this area of the game is a bit simple, and its back to basics approach makes for a more accessible title.

Its approach is more arcade than simulation, but some of the situations you face can be quite authentic. You don't merely fire the accelerator and turn left. Once you get on the track, more subtleties emerge. This is particularly true in that game's strategies and approach. You on-track racing experience mirrors actual NASCAR racing in its pacing and aggression. You have to stay in the pack and look for opportunities to move ahead of other vehicles when the arise. This usually occurs on corners, but you can't be too hasty, or you'll collide with other vehicles or slam against a wall. You need patience and wait in the back for rival drivers to make mistakes. Another key strategy is to race behind other drivers, create drafts and use these to push ahead. The game's physics are fairly decent and you definitely feel each car's presence.

Maintaining a constant awareness of the other vehicles on track is key, since they'll frequently sneak up behind you or on the corners. This can be challenging when you are in the cockpit view, which limits you field of vision, but isn't as much of a problem in the outside viewpoints. Paying attention to your mechanic's instructions in you headset also gives you a heads up if someone is gaining on you. Obviously, the longer races feature pit stops, and knowing when to pit, refuel and repair damage is a key strategy in the longer sessions, where you have to avoid going in at the wrong time, which can effectively lose the race for your driver. Other drivers aren't as easy to beat as you might expect, and they'll aggressively target you vehicle and try to bump you. These can lead to disastrous spin-outs and devastating crashes, which can also put you out of the race. This sense of danger is only enhanced by the very tight racing conditions, where the pack is bunched tightly together, leaving you little room for error. It definitely adds to the excitement of each race, and makes you feel like you're in the driving seat. Driving with the standard PS3 controller is fairly easy, you use the analog sticks to steer while the game's braking and acceleration are controlled by the shift keys. The cars feel a little clunky compared to most action racers, but this sluggishness accurately represents the handling of actual cars. There's a small learning curve, but most players should be able to get the hang of these techniques with a little practice. Its simple approach makes it fairly accessible, and while there are some sim elements, NASCAR 2011 definitely veers towards the arcade-style of racing.

After each race, players gain experience points that can be used to upgrade their vehicles, unlock additional paint jobs and other extra items. It's a fairly basic structure, but one that is simple to understand and use. Progression is a bit slow in terms of unlockable content, and there's little incentive to keep playing. However, NASCAR 2011 delivers a smooth and engaging racing experience throughout. Its consistent presentation and easy to understand interface make getting on the track an easy task. Unfortunately, the game does suffer from some long load times which is a bit strange considering its somewhat average graphics and presentation. While there are more elaborate driving sims like Gran Turismo and Need for Speed Shift on the market, none has the prestigious NASCAR series in full form. This should be a key element that should appeal to gamers who want the authentic experience. It's not as elaborate as it could be, but there's enough depth and challenge here to keep players interested for a while. NASCAR 2011 will probably mostly appeal to hardcore NASCAR fans, and its decent recreation of the excitement, challenge and techniques of stock-car racing makes it a solidly enjoyable racing title.

- Michael Palisano 

Grade: B

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