NASCAR 07 Review
NASCAR is one of the most popular sports on earth, so it stands to reason the games should be equally popular. Well, they are, but for whatever reason, each new installment in the franchise tends to be somewhat dated and largely unchanged from the previous installment. We honestly can't begin to guess why this continues to happen, but then again, most sports games are accused of this very same thing. After all, you can't exactly affix machine guns to a Nextel vehicle or install hover mechanics so you can race ala Wipeout style. As these sports titles are designed to be simulators, the developers are always constrained by the laws of realism.
But even so, despite being another fairly solid piece of the series, EA just refused to update NASCAR 07 enough. This is evidenced immediately with the graphics, which are wholly unsatisfying, especially if you're familiar with NASCAR 06...because they're identical. And even the 06 visuals appeared behind the times; the PS2 has been known to produce some seriously jaggy titles before, but they're on full display in this one. The color palette isn't vibrant enough and the detail is only average, but at least we have a consistent presentation throughout the game. In the end, the graphics aren't so mediocre that they're a debilitating facet, but would a bit more sharpness and refinement been too much to ask for?
Thankfully, the sound is significantly better, but hardly impressive. We've got a healthy set of soundtracks, which are actually somewhat diverse, and the car radio (always essential for a realistic NASCAR game) is really quite good. When racing along, it does sound - to some extent - as if you're really speeding around the track; the engine roar is excellent and the squealing tires is accurate. It's difficult to believe that scraping the wall at 200 m.p.h. sounds like dragging a coring knife over an aluminum can, but that's more of an eccentricity than the norm. In general, despite a few drawbacks, the sound effects and tracks work well in contributing to the overall appeal and realism of NASCAR 07.
In terms of the gameplay, several modes have made their return while others are brand new. It's just too bad that the returnees haven't undergone any sort of change or upgrade, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. First of all, players will notice that they can create their own car and driver right off the bat, which allows them to instantly jump into the deepest modes; Fight to the Top and Season. If you're not into the whole micromanagement thing, Quick Race and a few Dodge Challenges might be the order of the day, and in fact, might actually be the most fun you'll have. Then again, diehard NASCAR fans will probably pass those up for the more realistic career-oriented modes.
But whichever you choose, if you're a fan of the series, you'll easily notice the race controls have remained mostly the same. Steering is still too sensitive, but that can be fixed - kinda - by adjusting the sensitivity bar in the options menu. The rest is pretty standard stuff, although the default controls are just plain confusing; all the more confusing because EA chose to make that crazy scheme the default. But again, it's fixed with a quick trip to the settings, so don't think you'll be forced to adopt the R2 button as your accelerator. You can also issue commands to your teammates while driving, which is easily accomplished control-wise, but rarely seems to have much impact on the race itself. If the race is short, they probably won't matter at all, and even for the long events, teammates just seem to ignore you more often than not. Thanks, guys.
And speaking of default controls, we may as well jump right into the tutorials...or lack thereof. NASCAR novices would've found it useful to better understand the pit procedure, or exactly how the voice commands work, or exactly what differences there are between drivers, or why changing the gear ratio in a certain way increases acceleration and decreases top speed. But we really don't get any of that, so after fiddling with the settings for a great deal of time, and flying into the pits without fully understanding what's happening for the umpteenth time, you'll likely get just plain irritated. We certainly did.
But at the same time, we do have to acknowledge the good. The gameplay is accessible to both novices and experts, there is plenty to keep you occupied, and you'll likely find your favorite racer. Plenty of big names are there, including Elliot Sadler, Terry Labonte, and the 24 car of Jeff Gordon. You can sign contracts, purchase equipment and even entire racing teams, and alter your vehicle depending on the track you race and your own personal racing style. The only problem with "Fight to the Top" is that it's tedious as all hell, as you're forced to start all the way at the bottom - the Modifieds - and work your way up to Nextel. This could take the rest of your natural life, but we assume it's exactly what the NASCAR nuts are looking for.
But even for casual gamers, racing against a friend or participating in the Dodge Challenges can be entertaining for a while. The latter includes fending off a charging racer, and our very favorite, changing the course of history by winning a race you should've lost. The only downside is these challenges are all over too quickly, and then you're back to the drawn-out season mode, which really doesn't appeal to anyone but the aforementioned diehard fans. And getting back to the multiplayer aspect for a second, online play only supports up to four players, and only two players can race split-screen on the same television. ...perhaps you remember our early complaint about a lack of updating? Yeah, this is exactly what we're talking about.
NASCAR 07 is, quite simply, another NASCAR game. There isn't anything too special about it or anything that makes it stand out, but then again, there also isn't anything to really get in a twist over. Nothing mentioned in this review stops it from being enjoyable, especially for the fans, but at the same time, we wish there were a few more positives to crow about. The graphics are dated, the deepest aspects of the game aren't fleshed out enough, and in the end, EA was apparently content with re-releasing NASCAR 06 with a thin coat of gloss. A very, very thin coat of gloss. It's a good thing they had a successful formula to start with, allowing us to give it a pretty decent score. But that ain't enough for a full-price purchase, now is it?
1/21/2007 Ben Dutka