NASCAR Inside Line Review: Gameplay Impressions and Features for Racing Game

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NASCAR Inside Line Review: Gameplay Impressions and Features for Racing Game
image from cover of NASCAR the Game Inside Line by Activision and Eutechnyx

The virtual NASCAR season began on Tuesday with the release of NASCAR the Game: Inside Line. It seems peculiar for a NASCAR game to be released in November; the season is nearly over.

However, Activision and Eutechnyx released this answer via NASCARtheGame.com, per executive producer Dave Thompson:

Even though the game will ship November 6th, all the content has to be finished by early July. To give us the maximum time to include the latest paint schemes and track changes we decided it would be better to launch later in the year.

For the game to come out at the start of the 2012 season, the assets would have needed to be finished in September 2011. It's practically impossible for the game to be up to date under those circumstances.

That ideology makes sense as many gamers would complain about a lack of authenticity with paint schemes, sponsors and track changes. That said, there is a definite sacrifice involved with this decision. Activision lost out by not being able to market its game during the hype leading into the season.

Instead of riding the popularity of the beginning of the season and the months leading into the Daytona 500, the game is drafting on the hype of the late-season chase for the Sprint Cup championship, 

Let's see if the game is worth the wait.

 

Graphics and Animation

image from NASCAR the Game Inside Line by Activision

In some previous NASCAR games the squareness and sharp edged dimensions of the cars have not translated realistically, but that isn't the case in NTGIL. From a vehicle standpoint, this is the best looking NASCAR game I've played.

It doesn't appear to be a drastic change—if any—in the car models themselves, but this is a study in how shading and lighting effects can enhance overall visuals. The backgrounds look very similar to past NASCAR games, but the series may have pushed the current generation of consoles as far as they can go in this virtual setting.

One notable enhancement is car damage. 

image from NASCAR the Game Inside Line by Activision

It is far more noticeable and realistic in NTGIL. Pieces of the vehicle break off in the appropriate spots after wall scrapes, collisions and most anything that should cause a vehicle to disassemble.

Some racing games are more sparkling in their vehicle renders, ground and background textures. However, those games have the freedom of depicting a wider variety of vehicle types and environments.

Considering the format dictated by this aspect of the genre, NTGIL looks really good.

Score: 8.5 out of 10

 

Driving and Realism

This game is very challenging, but I mean that in a good way.

I like the fact that the overall control of your vehicle is different from other racing games. The driving is definitely slanted towards those in search of a simulation-style racing game. Throughout the early production of the game, it was clear that this was the direction the development team wanted to go with this title.

The A.I. from the CPU-controlled cars has been enhanced. Even on the lower skill levels your CPU opponents are more aggressive. They are especially tough to handle during pack racing. The game is called the Inside Line, and in previous versions you could take this route to routinely pass CPU opponents.

I immediately noticed that this method can't be used as frequently. A variety of situational strategies is the best approach. My only issue with the A.I. is that sometimes the CPU-controlled vehicles can be a little too aggressive.

I found myself asking this question to my television: "Do you want to have a wreck?"

Overall, this dynamic makes for some pretty intense driving sequences and a much bigger challenge overall. Honestly speaking, this game is kicking my butt.

Yet, I'm wanting to play it more.

Score: 8.5 out of 10

 

Sound and Presentation

image from NASCAR the Game Inside Line

The soundtrack is a decent blend of uptempo and contemporary rock with some country tracks. That's a fair representation of the direction this game and NASCAR is headed from a marketing standpoint.

At this point, I'd say "My Hometown" by Uncle Kracker is my favorite. I'm actually singing it right now.

As far as the audio directly related to the gameplay; the engines, screeching tires and collision sounds authentic. It is very comparable to what you hear when a NASCAR broadcast takes you inside the car or on the hood.

There isn't much more you can ask for in that vein, yet this is pretty standard.

The one aspect that becomes a bit annoying about the sound is the voice of your crew chief. His advice gets pretty mundane after about five minutes. Some variance in his phrases could inject some life into this attempt at audio authenticity.

The presentation shines bright during the pit stops.

The developers really took this part of the game seriously. A pit crew was motion captured doing nearly every pit crew duty to make this essential aspect of NASCAR racing look authentic. It really shows in the final product.

Track accuracy received a boost by using Telemetry data to recreate all 23 official NASCAR tracks as accurate as possible. This is the type of thing that NASCAR fans would have a legitimate beef with were it not accurate.

Things with the cars and tracks are presented very well, but the less tangible aspects of presentation could be improved.

I'd love to see and hear more pre-race analysis, graphics, overlays before the races. I'd even like to have the option to switch the audio during the race to the announcers. A broadcast presentation angle would be a great option to have.

NTGIL could use a few tweaks in the presentation and sound area.

As a franchise nears the end of the production time in a console's generation, the best ways to wow gamers with video and audio is through presentation. This is a decent package, but it is nothing we haven't seen in previous games.

Score: 7.25 out of 10

 

Game Modes and Options

The Career mode has been expanded for NTGIL. It runs longer and it gives gamers control over their crew and car upgrades. This is a welcomed addition, but the mode could have really taken off with better presentation. 

I'd like to feel more like I'm involved in The Chase. Giving subtle reminders through audio and/or overlays during the races or pre-race would have gone a long way. This year gamers must create a driver to play in Career mode.

In last year's version you could control a real life driver throughout an entire career.

You can still take Jimmie Johnson or any other NASCAR driver through an entire NASCAR season, but it has to be done in Season mode. This doesn't offer as much control as the Career mode, but this small tweak isn't of major consequence.

The Challenges mode is great for quick fixes and goal-based racing. You can choose various different moments from recent NASCAR history to relive, reenact or change. Some of them evolve very quickly, but others offer a little more lengthy assignments.

These types of modes have become standard for sports games. This is a solid representation of the concept.

I had a lot of fun with the Paint Scheme mode, as I did in last year's game. This year you can add more layers, and make use of the 60-plus official NASCAR sponsors available. These are unlocked in the Career mode.

Online play has been an issue in the past, but early on things look to be improved. Up to 16 human-controlled cars can race at a time. That many human-controlled vehicles on the track at once can be amazing as long as everyone is there to win.

Steps have been taken to eliminate the effect of gamers that just want to ruin others experience by driving recklessly. Now those gamers will have their cars turned into ghosts that have no effect on other vehicles.

That is a smart, but subtle change to improve the online experience.

An online career mode would be amazing, but it isn't available at this time. NTGIL offers the basics when it comes to options, but it doesn't break new ground or maximize any of the existing concepts.

Score: 6.75 out of 10

 

Overall

This is a game that makes its mark in gameplay. It could be the groundwork for a spectacular NASCAR gaming experience in the near future. For now, it is a game with good, solid gameplay, but only standard presentation and options.

NASCAR fans will love it because of how true to the sport it is on the track, but more depth in other areas besides gameplay would have made it amazing.

Score: 7.75 out of 10

 

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