If there has ever been a form of motorsport more misunderstood than NASCAR, we haven't ever heard of it. For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the sport, the races seem to do nothing more than strip away the handling, braking, and mastery of more 'refined' forms of racing like Formula 1. But to the millions upon millions who live and die by the oval track, the simplicity of the form is also the source of its greatest strengths. While many developers are making it their goal to put video game players into the driver's seat, NASCAR The Game 2011 plans on putting players into the middle of the pack, fighting for every inch.
While games like Gran Turismo 5, Forza Motorsport, and even Shift 2 Unleashed are pushing the envelope forward by bringing the greatest racetracks of Europe to living rooms around the world, NASCAR The Game is doing things a little bit differently.
With NASCAR having a firm hold on the title of the only real American form of racing, no pastime is more overdue for a proper next-gen release.
With more and more racing titles making it to market, it's becoming more and more evident that the hardest thing to manufacture is passion and excitement. The latest batch of games prove that we may have the vehicle skins and technical specs down pat, but the human factor inherent in competing against a field of fellow drivers isn't as simple.
Most AI drivers follow a small variety of paths throughout a race, adjusting to the player's actions in real time. If you're lucky, maybe one driver will show a bit of aggression and frustration, taking a few not-too-friendly bumps. In the end though, most players are very aware that they're not racing against real people. After all, the most common phrase uttered by racing fans is that they were "beaten by the computer."
In a sport as famous for its unique drivers and personalities as it is for the gas and tires, that same formula just wouldn't work. So the team at Eutechnyx has changed things up in a big way, and set themselves a near-impossible goal: model each of the 43 cars of NASCAR after the real-life driving styles of their respective drivers. For every race.
To hear a bit more about the goals and challenges facing the team, take a look at the latest developer diary:
The amount of detail being put into the airfoil, pack navigation, and commitment to picking up the aggression throughout the race all promise an experience that is much closer to the sport than GT5's extra modes. To hear that certain drivers will be given different styles and habits is enough to open up a world of game possibilities, but the fact that every driver will get the same treatment boggles the mind.
It's easy to think that NASCAR is nothing more than cars traveling at incredibly high speeds without having to worry about cornering and braking, but that assumption is based in ignorance, not understanding. When cars are all built to the same specifications, traveling at the same speeds, and making the same turns, something has to separate the good from the bad. That's where NASCAR shines.
In nearly every racing game the drop of the flag means it's every man for himself, with drivers doing everything they can to find an optimum line through every corner, and keep drivers behind them from gaining position and passing them. But NASCAR is based on one fact: two cars can travel faster than one. A driver can break out and put the pedal to the metal, but a column of cars sharing the wind resistance will leave him in the dust.
So with drivers having to work together just to stay in the race for the first hundred or so laps, having a teammate talking you through your strategy will prove invaluable. Some drivers will be willing to help, while others will do everything they can to put you out. The developers have also mentioned that if you find yourself constantly running into the same opponent race after race, he will definitely remember.
The amount of focus and attention being given to creating a faithful recreation of NASCAR is nice to see, and with the popularity of the sport, it's a smart move for Activision to try to get in on the action. Eutechnyx may not have a strong or proven history with simulation racers, but commitment and dedication are all we can really ask for. They seem to be taking their time to get everything right, and that only means better things for the final game.
We'll have to see whether it can break into the mainstream racing crowd, or remain a niche title for the hardcore. But with the size of the niche, even small success could turn into a major franchise in the future.
What are the odds that you'll be giving NASCAR a try? You may not be a fan of watching the sport, but taking a spin in a new form of motorsport is something anyone can look forward to.
NASCAR The Game 2011 will be coming soon to the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii.