Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane…oh…it’s an ATV leaping over the wing of a plane in mid-flight. …well, you don’t see that every day. Such is the premise behind Techland’s high-flying and downright absurd (in a good way) off-road racer, nail’d. I confess to not having high expectations after cracking the cellophane but I held out hope for a satisfying, over-the-top arcade-y experience that would act as a perfect contrast to Gran Turismo 5. I’ve reviewed a lot of disappointing/mediocre titles this fall and in all honesty, I was preparing myself for yet another letdown; for the time when I would put down the controller and go, “ehh, it’s all right but it’s not good enough.” Fortunately, when I put down the controller after my nail’d experience, I did so with a grin and a fair amount of adrenaline coursing through my veins. Hey, maybe that’s why they sent me White Knuckle Cream and Altitude Sickness Pills.
I suppose one could make the argument that the graphics are the low point of this production, as the textures are questionable, there’s a definite lack of crispness and sharpness, and some terrain isn’t so pretty when up close and personal. It’s sort of tough to gauge the detail and overall polish of your surrounding environment, though, because you’re always tearing through it at breakneck speed, causing most everything to blur. For the most part, there’s good color, a fair amount of detail, and some very cool effects that enhance the experience. The technical presentation isn’t anything special, really, but there’s one element that stands out above all: the totally awesome track design. With a ton of branching paths, ridiculous altitude, very diverse terrain over 14 tracks, and a great deal of intuitiveness, you will never tire of the available circuits. Every turn, every jump; it’ll keep you “nailed’ to your chair.
Much like Splatterhouse, this game utilizes a healthy dose of hard-hitting heavy metal to kick the atmosphere up a few notches. But unlike Namco’s uneven and flawed audio, the soundtrack is well balanced here and does its job absolutely; bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Slipknot are perfectly selected for this adrenaline rush. I also think it’s pretty impressive that Techland was able to blend music that wants to dominate with decent special effects. Granted, the soundtrack can often drown out the effects, but that’s okay, especially because there isn’t anything notable about the racing audio. It’s quite generic, actually, as sliding around a dirt turn always sounds the same and the roars of the engines are somewhat muted and uninspired. There’s just a lack of richness to some of the sound, that’s all. Thankfully, the music and balance make this category a bonus for players.
nail’d is not realistic. It’s not complex. It holds no semblance of reality whatsoever. That much you might’ve been able to anticipate, yes? Here’s the entire summary regarding anything technical- you can purchase different parts for your vehicle, which can be unlocked by winning events in the Tournament mode. Such parts can change the ground steering, air steering, boost regeneration, total boost capacity, boost acceleration, and general acceleration. …geez, even the upgrades seem supernatural. Anywho, you can also select the sex and outfit of your rider, and other than Simple Race, you can try Stunt Challenge, Boost Madness, and Detonator; the latter straps a bomb to your back and if you can land a stunt, the bomb (the “hot potato”) passes to another rider. Nuts. You can also race online with up to 12 players and that’s more than enough to have a big-time, “oh sh** did you see that?!” party.
And that’s just about it. That’s all we need, too. The controls are as simple as simple can be: R2 accelerates, L2 brakes (but there’s almost no need to ever use it), Square or L1 boosts, and the analog sticks do what you would expect, with some slight variation. For instance, you can control your vehicle in the air – considering the amount of time you spend defying gravity, this is only natural – with the left analog stick. You can steer in mid-air by pressing left and right, and you can shorten or extend the length of the jump by pressing down and up respectively. This last feature is implemented well and gives the player all the control he needs, even during the most daunting leaps of faith. However, there are many times when you’ll go off a particularly huge jump and have no idea where to “air steer.” Some arrows before the jump may give you an indication but that often isn’t good enough.
It’s one of the few glaring flaws I noticed. It’s true that you can simply learn the track and thus, know where to lean on each and every jump, but I really think I should’ve had a clearer understanding before taking flight. Also, let’s not forget that some tracks are very long (one will take upwards of 6 minutes to complete one lap), so it isn’t easy to quickly memorize everything. And while I’m on the subject of flaws, let me finish with the drawbacks- in addition to a lack of direction during jumps, I also felt a lack of direction and visibility on the ground. It didn’t happen often and like I said, you can certainly learn any given track, but sometimes, the texture issue and the overall speed of the game had me flying off the track several times in a row. Lastly, the collision detection can be a mite iffy, as I’d barely graze an in-air obstacle and end up falling to my demise.
That all being said, this is a great experience on the whole. You’re always so wrapped up in the insanity that you spend way more time grinning like an idiot. The various environments, the unbelievably well-designed tracks and jumps (sometimes, you almost feel as if you’re piloting an aircraft), and the different types of events keep you coming back for more. It’s true that a Stunt Challenge isn’t that much different than a race as it merely institutes a point system, but Boost Madness and Detonator are oodles of fun. The sensation of speed is fantastic and even after a few hours of play, I only spotted one or two slight drops in frame rate; certainly nothing to have a drastic impact on my entertainment. And there are freakin’ dirigibles (blimps, people) up in the sky. There are planes, cranes, windmills, canyons, bridges, and let’s not forget about the ability to ride along the walls of tunnels.
Yeah, in one instance, there’s a train bearing down on you, and you can zip along the wall to avoid it. The jumps will leave you breathless and the AI, while competent, isn’t overly annoying and although we do get the rubber-band AI, it seems to benefit the player more than the CPU. You can usually catch up even after several disastrous falls – the boost really helps in that capacity – but if you build a substantial lead after riding clean for a while, you’ll build a sizable lead. Of course, I was only playing it on Easy but that’s the default setting and in all honesty, I would suggest leaving it the way it is. It’s plenty competitive, even once you become more familiar with the more outlandish jumps. The core appeal undoubtedly lies in the sensation, the atmosphere, that feeling that often gives way to loud exclamations as you sit in your chair, gripping the controller tightly. It just might be the epitome of “greater than the sum of its parts.”
I say this because if a critic really wanted to be anal and all curmudgeonly, he could focus on the myriad of small downfalls and chisel away at the score. Yeah, I’m not so impressed with what the Chrome Engine 4 delivered in terms of professional quality, I got lost and went off the same jump the wrong way about a dozen times, and the effects aren’t great. But you can’t imagine how fast all such flaws melt into the background amidst a ceaseless onslaught of complete and utter bad-assery, highlighted by a kick-ass soundtrack, solid and reliable control, borderline ingenious track design, intense online play (with few technical misgivings), and oh yes, the highest altitudes you’ve ever seen in any racing game ever. And best of all, after finishing any given event, you have a burning desire to do another.
nail’d is a blast. It’s a mildly flawed blast but a blast nonetheless. It’s definitely recommended for just about anyone who wants a massive, fulfilling adrenaline rush. …finally. I can wholeheartedly recommend a title that isn’t expected to be huge and isn’t among the mammoth franchises that hit like a ton of bricks in the past few months. This is one hell of a stress reliever. By the way, for a laugh, check out the White Knuckle Cream commercial.
The Good: Awesome sense of speed. Kick-ass soundtrack. Mind-numbing jumps are a constant highlight. Good control. Intense, reliable online play. Diverse locations adds more flavor. Solid tech and AI balancing.
The Bad: Some muddy textures. Sound effects aren't anything special. Visibility and direction is often lacking.
The Ugly: "How many times am I gonna mess up the direction of that jump?!"
11/30/2010 Ben Dutka