By: David Tavernier
NASCAR: The Game 2013 is the latest offering from veteran game developer Eutechnyx, which has been behind a plethora of racing games, from Big Mutha Truckers to Street Racing Syndicate to Hot Wheels. Eutechnyx’s latest outing has a lot of content to offer, from a deep career mode to online multiplayer. Due to some flawed racing mechanics, however, NASCAR: The Game 2013 falls flat.
NASCAR‘s controls are simple enough. You can use either a manual or automatic transmission, and the arrow keys are used to accelerate, turn and go in reverse. This isn’t to say that controlling your car is easy. Quite the contrary, spinning out or getting into a crash with other drivers are the easiest accidental maneuvers in the game. I found the game to be more playable when enabling all the driving assists, but this seemed to lower my car’s driving speed. So while I would spin out less, I’d often end up between 20th and 43rd place anyway. Playing the game with a controller or a wheel is also possible, and I found the game more responsive when using a controller. It wasn’t a great leap forward in playability though, just a minor one.
There are some tricks you’ll learn as you become more experienced. One strategy I came up with to improve my times was shifting into third gear on the turns and back to fourth on the straightaway. This didn’t drastically alter my placing, but I could at least gain some ground on the pack and do a little bit better than average at the end of each race. All in all the controls have a simple layout, but actually controlling your car proves difficult in the end without any driving assists.
The graphics are one of the nicer aspects of NASCAR: The Game 2013. The cars look good, and you can modify your car’s paint scheme to suit your aesthetic tastes. The backgrounds look a lot like cardboard cutouts, however, and are not a step above average. If you are a NASCAR fan you should have a greater appreciation of the details of each track as they’re modeled after their respective original locations. Thus, you should be able to tell if you are on the Daytona raceway or driving at Talladega.
The game’s sound effects are also well done. Each car’s engine growls appropriately, and crashes resonate pleasingly as cars collide into one another. As far as the game’s musical selection is concerned, there are quite a few catchy tunes on the soundtrack that play while you are navigating the game’s menu system. Unfortunately, there is no music while actually racing. So, if you enjoy racing to music you will have to provide your own by alt-tabbing and selecting your favorite tunes, which isn’t terrible but certainly doesn’t speak very much in the game’s favor.
A good racing game is challenging but also possible to win. Even on the easy difficulty, NASCAR: The Game 2013 is unforgiving in its difficultly. When you get the pole position, without fail the cars behind you will accelerate faster than you could ever go and spin you out. And when starting at the back of the pack, even driving at maximum speed it still feels like the other drivers are going faster than you.
Earning credits and spending them on better engine parts can help you improve your times. However, you shouldn’t be required to grind your way up to a better engine in order to perform well on the beginning races. As it is, easy mode is so hard that even after 50 career races I had only placed first one time (without doing any retries, however). Therefore, NASCAR 2013 can be tiresome to play because it feels like every race is the same whether you qualify to be in the front or not.
The computer A.I. is also pretty bad. If you enable Cautions, it seems impossible to get through an entire lap without the computer-controlled cars crashing into each other and stopping the action. Also, for some races you can’t disable Cautions, and these races are particularly annoying as you have to watch over and over as the A.I. cars collide and hold up the progress of the race.
NASCAR: The Game 2013 also offers several multiplayer options. You can play with other players online, but the game unfortunately has no split-screen multiplayer. I tried playing online multiple times, and so far have only played one-on-one due to there being so few players. So I wouldn’t expect much from the multiplayer modes due to a dearth of players actually playing online, and the inability to play split screen with your friends.
Don’t get me wrong, NASCAR 2013 has high production values. Its menu system is extensive and there are a lot of options to explore. The level of detail in everything is impressive, but because the fundamental racing mechanics and A.I. are so tarnished there is little motivation to grind long enough to explore all of these options.
NASCAR: The Game 2013 is — in a word — aggravating. NASCAR fans might get more out of it from knowing each track in detail, and quizzes during loading screens that test your NASCAR knowledge that could also add to the experience. Judging from my position as a more conventional racing fan, though, NASCAR: The Game 2013 is a major disappointment that I would steer clear of.