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Review: NASCAR 09

Get ready to start your engines once again as yet another EA racing game is released. This time it’s the motor sport where you only go in one direction–left. Yes, you guessed it; it’s NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing). It may only be Summer 2008 but EA Sports are revved up and ready for the new season. NASCAR 09 is the twelfth instalment of the series which began in 1997 on the PlayStation and SEGA Saturn. Eleven years on and it seems people are still enjoying driving in circles…

Like many EA Sports titles, the amount of game modes within the game is fairly large. Right from the start, you get straight into the action as players are introduced to the “Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup” – the Career mode via a tutorial which is very cleverly done. Players are introduced to a digital version of professional race car driver, Jeff Gordon, (who?) who goes on to talk about which driving style you want to use – Normal or Professional. Normal is recommended for a “forgiving, arcade-style experience” whilst Professional features a “simulation style driving model”. After trying both styles I did find a notable difference. The Professional style allows players to alter their gameplay settings before a race unlike the Normal style. The tutorial continues with the introduction of the usual teams, sponsors, and contracts etc. to choose from before you finally get racing. Personally, despite the excellence of the tutorial, I feel it drags on a bit as you eagerly just want to get on with the racing.

Within the career, players get to race in the three racing series, the NASCAR Nationwide Series (stock car racing), NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (race modified production pickup trucks) and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (the top racing series). Each series is about twenty races long and with each race being fifteen and above laps, that’s a lot of racing to complete.

The whole business side of NASCAR 09 is done very well. Each sponsor has clauses it needs fulfilling in order for you to receive the reward of performance points and reputation. Performance points can be used to upgrade your vehicle including the engine, chassis, aerodynamics and durability. Reputation is gained by completing races as your created driver (in Sprint Driver Challenge Events) and in your created car (in Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup). The more rep you have, the higher expectations you’ll receive.

Jeff Gordon also introduces you to “Sprint Driver Challenge Events”, a game mode in which players have to complete challenges such as not exceeding a certain speed and overtaking so many cars. Each challenge has its restrictions and reputation, with performance points are rewarded at completion. This is my favourite game mode in the game, as challenges are quick and can be entertaining.

The rest of the game modes include Test and Tune, Season and XBOX Live. Test and Tune mode is a great mode to race around tracks without the threat of opposition. Players can gain track experience as you simply choose a car, choose a track and race on a course without opponents. In Season mode, players can race in a full, partial or custom season as a professional driver. I found this mode to be pretty lame as there’s none of the gaining performance points and reputation as seen in the “Chase for the Sprint Cup” mode, though NASCAR fans may enjoy the thrills of racing as their favourite driver. The online play consists of quick and custom matches in which you have the choice of Ranked or Player matches. I struggled to find games online, though when I did manage to get a game, it felt a lot more competitive than the AI. Unfortunately, I noticed there is no split-screen which is a bit of a downer, though the fact you can have up to fourteen players online makes up for it. The XBOX Live mode also features leaderboards and MY NASCAR, in which you can upload your car setups to share with friends. It might not be new but it works really well.

As well as MY NASCAR, there is also EA Locker. In EA Locker, players can create their own car designs in various graphic editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop using templates from the official NASCAR website. Once you’ve created your design, you simply upload it to your EA profile and it can be added to an in-game vehicle. Alas, some images don’t come out too well in-game, but it’s a good leap forward for in-game car customization. In addition to EA locker, there is the Paint Booth in which you can choose paint schemes, sponsors and logos etc. for your custom car. Unfortunately, your custom-created template, in both EA Locker and the Paint Booth cannot be used over XBOX Live.

The gameplay for NASCAR 09 is quite simply dull – unless driving round in circles is your cup of tea. Racing fans take note; this is not your normal racing game. The control system is very simple and makes the game easy to pick-up-and-play. NASCAR 09 has steering wheel support for those who would prefer to use their steering wheel controller.

Graphically, NASCAR 09 is average though a good improvement from NASCAR 08. The menu and HUD presentation are alright, but could do with a little spicing up. The shadow effects have been done very well and the in-car camera angle boasts quality. Every little detail which makes it look that little bit more realistic has been done to almost perfection and the frame rate feels smooth. The only aspects which lets the game down graphic-wise is the spectators give the impression of being like cardboard cut-outs and some of the crashes look weakly designed.

For an EA Sports title, the music is very disappointing though I see it appealing to some people. The rest of the sound is average at the most. Cars, spectators and radio-voice (for the car) all sound genuine (like they should).

Unnecessary secret achievements and too many high-scoring achievements make the NASCAR 09 achievement list poor. I feel EA should have put a lot more effort into the list in spite of the fact that some of the achievement’s names are clever.

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