NASCAR 08 PS2 Review
Like some of the other recent EA sports releases this year, NASCAR 08 tackles a subject that is not as close to the hot beating heart of us Europeans as it is to the home shores of America. So it was with mixed feelings that I heard the tell-tell thud of game plastic on doormat that signalled the arrival of NASCAR for review. But never let it be said that we don’t give games our all, so I sucked it up and took one for the team.
Unlike other EA franchises that have recently found themselves in a more competitive market, this release stands alone as the only ongoing NASCAR racing game. To that end it is not a surprise that it is also the top selling game in the genre. Lies, damn lies and statistics, and then there’s box quotes! As soon as you put the game into the system you are confronted by the familiar title screen and music that has graced previous games in the series. Not the best start if you are hoping that EA have done the right thing and pushed the boat out for this release, even without the pressure of competition. But, let’s hold judgement until we can give the game a good run out.
As will be familiar to those of you that have played the previous games in the series, NASCAR 08 delivers a variety of both real and invented racing arenas. These are complemented with pretty much every driver to have graced a car on the NASCAR circuit. However, it is strange with such a large line-up that there are a few omissions from this list of drivers and tracks. Having paid for the licence you would think that EA would wring out every last drop of information, but for some reason a few have slipped between the development cracks. Maybe there were some technical limitations, or maybe (more likely) there were other licences on the table that kept some key players from being included. Either way, the game gets by through sheer weight of volume.
Comparing the game to previous seasons, we were slightly disappointed to see the PS2 version coming off as the poorer country cousin to the big guns of the 360 and PS3 next generation editions. Whilst they both benefit from a new tutorial mode, the PS2 gamer is left to figure things out on their own. Also of note, the dodge challenges are strangely absent in the 2008 version of the game. This is strange as their inclusion in last year’s game was warmly welcomed by public and pundits alike. Although these are all minor issues, they do communicate a lot about the commitment and intent of EA towards the PS2 version of the game. This seems to be a title winding down before the team is moved onto the next generation consoles.
These concerns not withstanding, we quickly headed to the racing proper. Here more than anywhere else, the game turns out to be little more than a recycling of last year’s release. Whilst there may have been a little work to remove some of the twitchy-ness from the driving experience, a nod towards the more casual-gamer market, the rest of the set-up looks and feels identical. This is not all bad as it includes some innovative features from the previous game such as the ability to muscle some drivers out the way by your sheer presence behind them and using the D-pad to get a team mate to run interference.
Like before, the computer drivers do a pretty good job of providing a realistic and believable set of opponents. At times it really feels like you are up against some awkward human driver who just won’t give up haranguing you around the oval. You progress through the game from your initial Whelan Modified car up to some pretty impressive mechanical monsters. The difficulty obviously ramps up along the way and provides a challenge that scales well to your improving skill and car performance.
We were again somewhat disappointed that only four friends can race online. Whilst the online mode is a welcome feature, limiting it to this many drivers really does hamstring the whole experience. It again felt like the PS2 was the poorer cousin of the fully fleshed out services that will no doubt be delivered to the 360 and PS3 versions of the game. It is a shame that such a large market is essentially being sidelined in this way.
As someone who followed Formula One rather than NASCAR growing up, I was not that inclined to warm to the game. However, it has to be said that once I had got used to the different language and set-up of the cars and races I found that a good few hours of fun could be extracted with very little effort. The left turn bias and the matching car setup (with its left-pull) was something of a shock, but again with a bit of practice I was up there with the best of them.
So there we have it. NASCAR 08 is a solid game, but not one that has received a lot of love and attention since last year. The changes that have been made are an attempt to widen the appeal to a less hard-core audience. The problem with this is that the majority of the fans of the series are those very hard-core gamers that they are ignoring. The end result is a game that has little to offer you if you have the previous edition. This game best serves those of us who are either new to the series or are hardened fans of NASCAR proper. Maybe a game to pick up once the price falls in a month or two.
A recycling of last year’s game that provides a solid experience but that could have been so much more.