Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Initial Thoughts: NASCAR The Game 2011

For the first time in roughly three years, we have a new NASCAR videogame. Activison released NASCAR The Game 2011 for Xbox 360, PlayStation3 and Nintendo Wii on Tuesday -- marking the first since NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona that anyone other than Electronic Arts released a serious NASCAR game for consoles.

I'll have more in-depth thoughts in the coming days and weeks, as I spend more time with the game, but here are some initial thoughts as I work my way through the game.

The Good
-Tremendous sense of speed. I've played my share of NASCAR games (and really, racing games in general) where there's no sensation of speed. The screen might say you're going 195, but it doesn't look like it. NASCAR The Game 2011 doesn't have that problem.

-Visual style. Obviously, getting each of the 23 Sprint Cup tracks right is paramount -- and boy, does NASCAR The Game 2011 get this one right -- but the entire game simply *feels* like NASCAR. The menu screens have a flair all their own, which adds to the overall feel of the game.

-Control. One of my biggest issues with the Xbox 360 version of NASCAR 09 was how clumsy the game felt. Driving a stock car in that game felt more like a chore than anything else, certainly not as smooth as some of the older NASCAR titles I still play today. NASCAR The Game 2011 doesn't have that problem -- in some ways, it handles a lot like Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit.

-Authenticity. Though the cars and drivers are based off 2010 -- Kurt Busch is still in the No. 2 car, and those damn splitter braces are back -- this game still manages to get virtually everything right. If a track has progressive banking (Bristol, Homestead), you feel it -- and my inner geek loves seeing the new videoboard as I come off Turn 4 at Martinsville.

The Bad
-One series only. You can only run in the Sprint Cup Series in NASCAR The Game 2011; sure, drivers from other series make cameos (Todd Bodine, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Trevor Bayne), but if you're hoping to run those new Mustangs or Challengers, you're going to be disappointed. Though I soured on EA's later titles, I appreciated that the series offered all three series -- and even Modifieds, as far back as NASCAR Chase For the Cup 2005.

Blah Career mode. Somewhat in line with the above complaint, NASCAR The Game 2011 features a bare-bones, sort of pointless Career mode. You pretty much run the 2010 Cup schedule and fight for the championship. Hopefully, future games in this series will add the other racing series and build a more robust career.

Cautions, anyone? I know I have cautions turned on, and yet ... through roughly 20 races or so, I've yet to see one. Which, if you just happen to run a race in which nothing happens to bring out the caution, is fine ... but I was in the middle of a 15-car pileup on the backstretch at Daytona -- and the caution never waved. Weirder still, the caution lights along the catchfences are always on.

-Incomplete? In some regards, NASCAR The Game 2011 feels incomplete -- which is a shame, considering this game's release was delayed a month. Why push back the release date and not finish the job?

Still, given these relatively minor (but noticeable to NASCAR fans) shortcomings, NASCAR The Game 2011 is proving to be a pretty good racing game. I'll post a more in-depth review once I've dug even deeper into the game, but so far I'm having fun with it.

Preliminary score: 7 out of 10

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