NASCAR’s most popular race, the Daytona 500, will this weekend mark the return of three time Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart. After breaking his leg in the middle of the 2013 season, the multi-discipline racer also known as “Smoke,” will begin his hunt for a fourth championship. As the only race car driver in history to win a championship in both IndyCar and NASCAR, Stewart is hugely popular in his own right. It’s no wonder the owner/driver was selected by the fans, to grace the cover of Eutechnyx‘s NASCAR 14. Smoke easily won the five week “Drive for the Cover” campaign.
As far as racing games go, titles like the NASCAR and F1 series are unfortunately kind of a breed of their own. While it might seem a bit unfair to compare them to games like Forza, Gran Turismo, Need for Speed, and even the Dirt series, those are the pinnacle of racing games. Both the NASCAR and F1 games, seem to milk their licenses while delivering substandard racing videogames. NASCAR 14 does have some things it does pretty well, but as a whole is left in the smoke of other racers.
Because of the nature of professional auto racing, there are a few limitations that are going to be built into a NASCAR racing game. The vast majority of the Sprint Cup races are on oval or nearly oval tracks, with only a couple of road courses. That means NASCAR 14 doesn’t even have the opportunity to provide the scenic vistas of a game like Forza 5. The sponsorship nature of the game also means players will have to account for branding when customizing the car. Those organizational issues alone don’t excuse the other omissions, however.
First amongst these is the fact that NASCAR 14 is closer to an arcade racer than a driving sim though it does allow the option of enabling and disabling driving assists. Between all of the practice sessions, qualifying and racing, the vast majority of your time will be spent massaging the dual shock’s triggers. All of the practice sessions do feel a bit unnecessary, since your vehicle upgrade choices are fairly limited. From the engine to suspension and tires, all you get is basically good, better, and best. This is a shame considering all of the work a racing crew puts into tweaking the cars for the drivers.
Speaking of the crew, your spotter will stay in constant communication with you throughout the racing sessions. The car locations he’ll give are not terribly necessary if you utilize the camera behind the vehicle. Players do have a handful of options regarding the camera position and it can be changed on the fly.
Also on the down side, the A.I. is both brutal and somewhat unrealistic. It will take some massaging of their level to find a setting where you can compensate for their over-aggressiveness while keeping the races competitive. On tracks with more turns, you can typically leave the difficulty higher, because a more skilled driver can get through turns better.
If you don’t want to deal with the problematic A.I., NASCAR 14 does have split screen and online multiplayer. The game offers skill-based matchmaking and tournaments for online racing. The game also now features online leagues, supported by statistics, challenges, rankings, and a replay system. Publisher Deep Silver has also promised regular updates and DLC. A prime candidate for the DLC is the “NASCAR Highlights” system, which creates situational racing opportunities for fans to rewrite history.
While the overall level of graphical presentation in NASCAR 14 is average, the car models and damage modeling are pretty good. The game will also allow you to decide if you want that damage to be purely cosmetic or if it will actually affect the car’s handling. The tracks are also well represented in the game, but they don’t feel terribly lifelike or look very appealing. To be fair, that is more art direction than pure graphical prowess. The characters are animated well, but the models are fairly rudimentary at this level. You also will only see your personal character in career mode if you make it to the Winner’s Circle. It would be nice for some of NASCAR’s well established personality to rub off on the game.