NASCAR 09 Review
The PlayStation 2 keeps on ticking, as EA Sports has delivered yet another NASCAR entry for the console, proving that they're not quite ready to abandon the PS2 and it's dominating reach. It makes sense to release another virtual iteration of the most popular American sport, on the most popular videogame system of all time.
Yes, NASCAR is a sport, if you think there's something remotely easy about controlling a vehicle constantly moving at speeds between 160 to 200MPH, with 43 cars on a fairly narrow road, you may want to get your head examined. Additionally, NASCAR is solely based on skill, as all NASCAR vehicles on the track are virtually identical in performance, and the only thing that separates them would be fine-tuning aspects such as tire pressure, transmission gearing, suspension firmness, and downforce. All of those intricacies find their way into EA Sports' latest NASCAR outing for the 2009 season.
NASCAR 09 stars Jeff Gordon, who is the game's guide. For the PlayStation 2 version, Gordon is nothing but a picture and some text, which is in contrast to the PlayStation 3's living-breathing Jeff Gordon talking to you and moving around the screen. Upon booting the game up, Gordon will appear with various informational guideline for you to keep in mind. At the beginning of it all, you'll select your drive style (Family or Pro) - the difference is you can either play the game with a horde of assists (Family), or take full control of your vehicle (Pro). Unless you are the world's worst videogamer, I would stay far away from the Family Mode, as it practically plays the game for you.
After you've chosen a game setting, the main menu is accessible. You'll be able to enter the Custom Car Garage and create a vehicle of your own, by allowing you to customize the livery with sponsors, decals, and colors. As is commonplace with today's sports games, your personal vehicle is the one you'll be using in the career mode, called Chase For NASCAR Spint Cup. Here is where you'll run across four different series, including the Whelen Modified Tour, Craftsman Truck Series, Nationwide Series, and the Sprint Cup Series. You'll not just use your created car, but also a created driver.
You'll start out with a few generic sponsors and teams, and make your way up through the ranks. You'll earn a salary from your sponsor, as well as prize money for winning races. Prize money can then be used to upgrade your vehicle, allowing you to go toe-to-toe with the big boys of NASCAR. You'll want to practice superb performance, such as leading the most laps, creating large a lead between you and your opponents, running a clean race, setting lap records, and so forth in order to pile that money on. Certain races will just require you to make it to the finish line, while others may have specific goals and objectives handed.
Car tuning can be done before races, with slight adjustments allowed during pit-stops. But because the tolerances in NASCAR racing are very strict, don't expect Gran Turismo-like details here. When you're not in the mood for career races, you can jump into the game's Season mode and take control of one of the game's 100-plus drivers across the four series events offered - the Whelen cars are only found on the PlayStation 2 versio.
The final race mode is the Test and Tune mode. Test and Tune is essentially a practice mode that allows you hop onto any of the game's 22 tracks and tune your vehicle accordingly. You'll spend a lot of your time here learning the ins and outs of the game and its physics. Online is good for four gamers, and you are free to have races run anywhere between 4% of a full event, to 100%. But good luck being patient enough to actually have to go through the hassle of registering to EA Nation in order to play online.
Visually, NASCAR 09 doesn't look bad for a PlayStation 2 game, but it does exhibit a lot of aliasing issues. Although there are over 40 cars on screen, considering the simplicity of all but two tracks, the game could've looked a bit smoother. But, surprisingly, the vehicular detail is decent and the sense of speed is very good. The framerate runs extremely well, and the game even supports proggressive scan. Car damage isn't bad, but perhaps the impacts are too forgiving in showing the damage done to your vehicle.
NASCAR 09's audio is made up of the typical EA Trax soundtrack - not a very good one, I might add - on top of your team manager's voice, the burly scream of a 358 at redline, and the crowd cheering you on. I'd have liked for the crowd to be a bit louder, without having to turn down the volume of the engine; the cheers just sound a bit too low. But the big plus is that voice chat is present for online gameplay, so get those headsets ready.
Overall, NASCAR 09 may not be an extremely pretty game to look at by today's standards, but it's certainly not ugly. What it lacks in eye-candy, it makes up for a solid NASCAR experience that enthusiasts of the sport should really enjoy. There are three solid game modes to choose from, which really keeps the value of the game high, in addition to an online experience with headset support. NASCAR 09 should keep fans happy until next year's iteration arrives...that is if it even arrives for the PS2 next year.
6/29/2008 Arnold Katayev