It’s racing season! Since most of us can’t get behind the wheel to feel the exhilaration of speeding to victory on the racetrack, video games are pretty much the next best thing. Here are two new options.
|NASCAR The Game 2011
Activision for PS3, Wii, Xbox 360
Replay Value: 7.0
Overall Score: 6.5
Pros: Has potential for next year; many modes; cars are nicely modeled.
Cons: Play isn’t well-balanced; online play has issues; doesn’t feel real too often.
This isn’t an arcade game. It’s a simulation that let’s you tweak the most minor detail – including your engine and the amount of air in your tires.
And, boy, the opening video sure gets you in the mood. You feel like you’re in the middle of the big pack, and when a car flips and comes at you, almost like you’re in one of the Transformers movies. And the rock music before your first race really gets your heart pumping.
PUT ON THE BRAKES
But when you start career mode, the complex tutorial becomes confusing. How exactly do you rewind and turn back time if you crash? It’s really uncertain. You’ll figure it out as you play, but it’s not explained well.
Then, when an announcer gets you psyched about your first race, the bird’s eye view from above Daytona shows something that’s somehow lonely. You should see what you really see at a NASCAR race: tons of people having a great time, many camped out inside the racetrack itself. All you see are cars or buses on the inner track. It’s like everyone left to do something better.
CATCH A DRAFT
Once you begin the race, you immediately feel like a fool. You’re really not a fool. It’s just that the game is so unbalanced, the difficulty ramps up way too early.
The key to winning a race is to follow behind another car and catch its draft for a few seconds. You’ll see a spike of energy build up in a meter. Once it’s built up, you can race forward past another car, and another and another.
That’s not too easy to do, however. And it should be easy early on because you have to get used to the controls, not to mention pro racing itself. Later, I found that I could adjust the game’s ease of play. But even that was hard to find, so that initial hour or so of difficulty soured me.
THE GOOD STUFF
There’s a lot in this game: tons of pro racers, two good announcers and lots of trivia during the long load times before each race. Radar shows you where the other cars are, either behind you or to your side. There’s a Draft Indicator that tells you when to slingshot in front of the next car. There are many modes, including online (which also has issues).
And there’s your spotter who, in a calm voice, gives you hints on how to progress in a long race. But often his words come late. If you hit the wall, it takes him a few seconds to respond. That doesn’t seem real, and it takes you out of the game.
NASCAR 2011 The Game has potential for next year. At its core are the makings of a solid game. But what should be the heart-pounding, tense thrill of racing in the pack often becomes a worry that you haven’t stayed in the draft. Too many times, you get left far behind, never to get the draft again.
Rent this one first to make sure it’s for you.
|Shift 2: Unleashed
Electronic Arts for PS3, Xbox 360, PC. Rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older
Replay Value: 9.0
Overall Score: 8.5
Pros: Very well-balanced; exciting to play; Helmet Cam.
Cons: A little repetitive; option to buy upgrades stinks; drifting is too hard.
On the other hand, you have to give kudos to the people who made Shift 2: Unleashed. They take what could have been a scary, crash-filled experience – racing at night – and make it really thrilling.
Right from the beginning, you know you’re in for something special with this arcade and simulation combo. The opening movie is full of hot graphics and stop-action video. Soon, you find that it’s easy to tweak the game to your level of expertise because the options screen pops up before you play.
Then, Formula Drift champion racer Vaughn Gittin Jr. takes you through the tutorial like a great teacher: He gets you excited, but you learn a lot, too.
And even if you don’t adjust the options to your play level, the game will do it for you after your first race. That’s important because it not only prevents crashing into walls, it also makes for a deeper, more enjoyable experience on the tracks.
One of the early three-minute races is a little frightening, with a lot of twisting curves before the straightaways. And somehow, those three minutes shine because you seem to see everything around you perfectly.
Your goal is to move up the ranks to become the winner of the FIA GT1 Championship. As you race, you’ll collect XP and eventually move to the next circuit. You’ll get fake money to buy new cars and receive gifts like paint jobs, too.
With the Helmet Cam function, you can see what a real driver sees as he races. You can follow behind arrows on the road to achieve the fastest speed. (Or you can turn the arrows off for more realism.)
When you’re experienced and ready for a tough challenge, turn on Elite Handling for new excitement.
CHECKERED FLAG FINISH
Because Shift 2: Unleashed is a well-balanced game, you never get winded or bored. You just seem in the zone and ready for more. Ultimately, almost everything about the game feels alive – the people mingling on the tracks, the flags tugged by winds and the constantly revving sounds of other drivers trying to beat you.
I don’t like the fact that the drifting challenges are too difficult and that you have the option to buy upgrades with real money. (You’ve already paid $60 for the game! It’s insulting to ask you to spend more.) These are minor problems, though.
Overall, you can’t go wrong with this one.