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9/07/2006 12:13:00 PM
NASCAR 07 Review
Even fans who don't follow NASCAR can enjoy NASCAR 07.
Photo by AP
By Lang Whitaker
I am a very good driver. I'm not saying that to boast or to try to get a better rate from Geico, but it really is the truth: Throughout my life, historically, I have always been an above-average driver. I am by no means perfect -- the mail truck I hit on North Hills Drive when I was 16 was a total accident -- but I have always felt that driving is just one of the things in life that I've excelled at.
Which makes my career performance on EA's NASCAR series all the more puzzling. You might think that being a perfectly competent driver in real life and having a cursory knowledge of NASCAR and the general tenets of racing would make someone a natural at a NASCAR video game. You would be wrong.
NASCAR 07 is EA's 10th entry into the racing video game sprint, although they haven't really had any competition in the market since 2003 (when they inked NASCAR to an exclusive deal). The last few years, the NASCAR series has had an annual theme. For instance, last year it was teamwork, and in 2004 it was grudges and alliances. This year's game incorporates most of the previous innovations while adding a Momentum Meter, which gives you a boost whenever you survive "the most dangerous situations in NASCAR racing." I'm pretty sure real NASCAR drivers get a boost in those situations as well, though it's probably not anything displayed on a monitor in their cars.
Look, I'm not pretending to be a NASCAR expert; I didn't know the name of the guy on the cover until I was a few screens in and saw "Elliott Sadler" embroidered on his belt. (Do all NASCAR drivers have their names embroidered on their belts? This should totally be a trend sportswriters get into.) I know as much about NASCAR as a casual fan, and though I've never altered my schedule to make sure I saw a race, I'll watch one now and then and find myself enjoying it.
And for us casual fans, NASCAR the game is more fun than NASCAR the televised entity. TV gives the fan time to sit back, crack open a cold one and admire the ability of various men with huge commercials on their vehicles fly around the tracks at speeds around 150 mph. It looks simple in theory, almost like a video game.
In practice, it's much more difficult. Basically, you keep the gas floored for almost every second of every race, reading tracks and maneuvering your car to take advantage of the curves in order to gain (or lose) time. NASCAR 07 is one of the simpler games available, because it's mostly just using one button (gas) and steering with the joystick. The difficulty with NASCAR 07 is mental, maintaining the proper concentration required to keep from drifting away and thinking about the girls waiting with the soft drinks in Victory Circle. I can drive from Atlanta to New York in one day without incident, but I can barely make it three laps in this game without getting another driver angry with me.
I'm not sure how realistic the damage in the game is, but during my second race, at Milwaukee, I spent the majority of several laps with my car grinding along the wall and still managed to finish the race 12th, no pit stop required. Two weeks later, I cut out the scraping and won the Appalachian 150 at Martinsville.
Mostly, NASCAR 07 seems pretty similar to previous versions of the game. Drafting remains an emphasis, and the game still has the corny animated cut scenes after races, where opposing drivers that you might (or might not) have bumped awkwardly confront you in the garage.
There are several game modes available, including online racing, but the most popular mode is probably the Fight To The Top section. You begin a no-name driver (wanna bet a record number of people create a racer named "Ricky Bobby") and race your way from the Whelan Series all the way up to the Nextel Cup.
I've spent the last week tooling around with NASCAR 07, and it's a great way to pass the time. It's not a groundbreaking leap forward from previous versions of the NASCAR game, but it is slick and fast and everything NASCAR aspires to be. Whether that means the rest of us are any good at it, well, that's another issue.
Ratings System (1 to 10)
Game Play: 7.5
It's not bad, but it's not amazing, either. NASCAR 07 works best when you've spent a few days getting acclimated to the steering. The whole issue of having grudges and alliances is a little nebulous, but NASCAR 07 makes turning in circles engrossing.
I thought the game was generally a little bit blocky, but the shadows on the tracks are pretty amazing. I love how after a spin-out on the track, when you come around on the next lap the smoke still lingers in the air.
When you think about it, each race is mostly about replayability, since you're doing multiple laps on the same courses. But this game is made to be played over and over, since you never know how the computer cars will react, particularly when you clip their rear tire and send them spinning into the infield.