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Who says you have to grow up? Here at SI.com's Game Room, our staffers review the latest sports video game titles to hit the market and welcome your feedback.
8/03/2007 11:19:00 AM

Review: NASCAR 08 (PS3)

By Lou Dubois

I consider myself a very casual NASCAR fan. I attended my first two races this year -- the Daytona 500 and Aaron's 499 at Talladega. My appreciation for the sport is pretty high. I respect the talent that the drivers and their teams have, and they all seem like relatively good guys, if not loyal to their thousands of advertisers.

So when I picked up EA Sports' latest foray into the sport with NASCAR 08, I was relatively excited. I always appreciate a good driving game, if not for the self-satisfaction that comes from beating a bunch of other drivers. And that feeling didn't fade in my time playing this game. It's still fun to win, but for playing sake, it's not as fun as being in the middle of the pack.

NASCAR 08 :: EA Sports
The main feature of this year's game, The Chase, is an enjoyable and semi-interesting concept. Essentially, you are required to complete a certain number of training tests and challenges to earn a contract from one of the major racing teams. The ultimate goal through all of these challenges is to own and operate your own racing outfit, with a garage stable of cars for every different race in the NASCAR season. This includes the Car of Tomorrow -- a strong and necessary addition to the game.

Despite the fact that you're not really racing, the challenges are fun and keep your attention. The best comparison I can make on these is to the Training Camp mode in Madden, as you're trying to hone game skills that will make you a better player. Some of the challenges become repetitive at times, as drafting, slingshots and passing drills are all essentially the same thing. And one challenge where you are asked to avoid a massive pileup and come out unscathed is entertaining, except that once you get into real gameplay you'll never actually need that skill. One thing that The Chase has going for it is replayability, as you'll have to earn various contracts to fill your garage of cars, and you can always improve your contracts with better challenge performances.

Imagine you're Tony Stewart. Now imagine you're blind in one eye and the other eye wanders a lot. Here's what would happen:

The conceptual ideas of this game aside, NASCAR 08 is a racing game at heart. And when it comes to the actual on-track performance, there were some things that left to be desired. It was obvious to me that the game was designed to be played with a driving wheel instead of the standard PS3 controller. With the accelerator as the R2 button, your finger will get sore if you're racing for hours. Add trying to steer with the left analog stick gets tricky and borderine impossible at times. You'll want the wheel if this is a game you want to play a lot.

When you're ahead of the pack and in first place, you're in great shape (though it will become boring after a while). But if you fall back a few spots to the rest of the pack then navigating through the crowd of cars becomes nearly impossible. It's difficult to maintain position in a pack, which makes waiting for the right time to pass -- a key to the game and the sport -- even more difficult. Add to the fact that the AI cars will continuously bump your rear and side -- requiring unnecessary pit stops for damage -- and your chances of winning fall even further. And speaking of pit stops, when you set up a race the default is to make it 10% of the normal distance. Using those settings the the Daytona 500 is reduced to 40 laps. This is good and bad. You won't have to race forever, but you don't have to pit, one of the most strategic elements of the sport.

NASCAR 08 :: EA Sports
I can't completely criticize the game, as there are many things that make it entertaining and will keep me coming back for more. Graphically, it's as realistic as NASCAR can get. The blocky experience from last year's game is an afterthought, as the rolling landscapes of each of the tracks will move with your vehicle. Visually, it's very aesthetically pleasing. One option you must turn on while you play is the drafting visual, as it will tell you when you can pass the car in front of you with the slingshot maneuver. And when it comes to online play, this game is solid. I guess EA is making up for the fact that it's not a two-player game at home. You can use the Bluetooth headset to talk trash to the people you're racing against. It never gets old hearing guys from around the country rip each other on their driving skills.

Overall, this is a solid game that surely will satisfy the diehard NASCAR fan and even bring in a few of the casual gamers. There is plenty of opportunity to race in this game without actually hitting the track for an event, which makes it fun but also makes you wonder since they're moving away from the core of the sport.

Ratings System (1 to 10)
Gameplay: 6
You want a driver’s wheel over the standard PS3 controller if you want to play this game a lot. It’s also annoying when AI drivers bump you to the point that you’re required to pit.
Graphics: 9
The folks at EA found a way to make last year’s blocky cars and scenery a lot better. When it comes to NASCAR, this game is as real as it gets. You really feel as though you’re in the car. My only criticism is the pit crew looks like they came straight from an old-school Mario game.
Replayability: 8
This game, and all NASCAR games for that matter, show extreme replayability. Add in the new Chase feature, and you’ll be earning contracts, upgrading your garage to get new cars and testing out tracks. You can then race through a full season with your team. When you consider the online capability of racing other people, this game really has no shelf-life.
posted by SI.com | View comments |  


Posted: 10:14 PM, August 07, 2007   by Anonymous
i really do like this game. i do agree with you on needing the steering wheel 100%. but what made me mad was not having carl edwards as a driver option. hes my favorite racer so im a little bit biased, but hes a top driver and they didnt include him...swing and a miss.
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