NASCAR 08 Preview
Provided EA continues to keep franchises fresh, they could probably continue on forever. Their NASCAR series has always been popular, but they're not sitting back on their haunches for this year's installment, and that's good news for fans. They're not only overhauling some of the gameplay, but they're also including a brand new career mode and other key additions that will enhance the overall appeal of the game. Now that EA has dropped plenty of information on their upcoming sports titles (see our recent Madden 08 preview), we can get a closer look at what they're planning for NASCAR 08, and you're gonna benefit. Don't think you've seen it all before, because Tiburon and EA have some surprises in store!
As any avid follower of the sport knows, NASCAR recently introduced the new car model, known as the "Car of Tomorrow," which is designed to be safer by implementing more safety restrictions at slightly slower speeds. Obviously, if the team wanted to keep this a current simulator, they had to feature this new car in NASCAR 08, and they've done just that. And while the debate still rages as to whether or not this change is a good one in real life, those who have gotten up-close-and-personal with an early build of the game say it's a positive upgrade. The cars are more aerodynamic, providing less drag on the car and a wider wheelbase, thereby making it easier to pull alongside opponents and race side by side. And while the car is indeed slower, the developers are working to create the most realistic sense of speed ever, so players likely won't experience a slower-playing game. Furthermore, Tiburon is upping the AI to reflect the design differences in the car, which nicely reflects what real drivers are doing to compensate for the changes.
Now, the next change will certainly raise some eyebrows, primarily because it's moving away from the traditional Career mode most fans were probably expecting. In this new title, the standard Career will be replaced with The Chase, which focuses less on actual races and more on the skills of your driver. The Chase consists of more than 55 challenges, ranging from pitting to drafting to passing objectives, and you must pass them to continue forward. The big pay-off is that successful completion grants you contracts and unlocks special cars. Now, obviously, we assume it's not going to be limited to a bunch of lessons (similar to the ones found in the License Tests in Gran Turismo), and that racing results will certainly matter. But for now, it appears like a major shift away from the same ‘ol same ‘ol, and it remains to be seen how the fans will respond. From where we sit, this franchise could use some shaking up, so perhaps it's a good move.
The intricate details found in racing will all be enhanced, from better damage modeling to the most in-depth car customization the series has ever seen. Rather than the sliders EA has become famous for, players will be faced with over 50 variables for vehicle customization, which means you can fiddle away to your heart's content. This is a feature that will satisfy even the most hardcore gearheads out there, although it may prove a bit much for the casual gamer. Yep, it's all about detailed subtlety, because everywhere you look, you should see something new that adds to the realism. You'll have a pit crew, of course, but you'll have to contend with all the other pit crews, now visible on the sidelines. Be careful! You don't want to hit a crew member! One final feature is the inclusion of a full 3D cockpit view when racing, which is yet another addition that ramps up the simulated realism.
And perhaps above all else, we expect a fluid, fast, and seamless racing experience thanks to the power of the PS3 and Xbox 360. Fans will reluctantly recall past installments when the game might chug with 40 cars out on the track, but that shouldn't be an issue this time around. The cars and tracks will look darn pretty, sure, but the engine will benefit greatly from the next-gen console capabilities. While we're convinced the visuals will be awfully impressive, we always want graphics engines to handle the gameplay with ease and accuracy, and NASCAR 08 should be silky smooth. So with the gameplay nailed down, you won't have to worry about slowdown, and you can admire the latest and greatest visuals: the sun will rise and set in real time, smoke from crashes or other miscues can seriously affect your vision, and that greatly enhanced damage modeling translates to more vehicle pieces bouncing around after a collision.
Last but not least, we'll finally have a better online mode. No, you still won't be able to load 43 cars onto the track when online, but at least you'll have a 12-player online mode. Furthermore, the hosts will be able to customize their game any way they wish; if you want a loosey-goosey type race, you can turn off many of the rules and restrictions. But if you want the race as simulated as possible, you can turn ‘em on for those who want to get as close to virtual reality as possible. We have no idea if we'll be able to set up a variety of different events, though...will we be able to recreate many of those challenges we find in The Chase? And if not, will we be able to compare our best runs with other players online? Whatever the result, it's good to see EA and Tiburon taking a step in the right direction in this category, although the ultimate goal may be a ways off.
The NASCAR season is in full swing, and fans won't have to wait much longer to get their gaming fix. NASCAR 08 will release for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PS2 next month, and we'll be sure to bring you our review when the game becomes available. We've entered a new generation, and EA really understands that- they're not about to recycle last year's last-gen installment, and evidently, that goes for all their sports franchises. Sounds good to us!
6/20/2007 Ben Dutka