Reviewed: October 1, 2006
Released: September 6, 2006
Itís probably a bit hypocritical of me to be reviewing NASCAR 07. Iíve been on my anti-EA soapbox forÖwell, ever since they monopolized NASCAR, NFL, and just about anything and anybody else they could buy with their bottomless coffers. But when you love racing and sports games in general you can only hold out for so long before you have to cave in.
As big a racing fan as I am, especially stock car racing, Iíve managed to hold out from playing any of the NASCAR games since Papyrus lost the franchise. Ok, I might have ďplayedĒ one or two, but I certainly never bought one, and thankfully, due to my gig here as sports reviewer I can still go to sleep tonight knowing I havenít financially fed the beast that is EA.
Even though Iíve been boycotting the NASCAR games for five years now I am not unfamiliar with what has been happening. Iíve watched in silent agony as one lackluster installment after another has released with annual precision. Papyrus had already nailed the franchise to near-perfection so one could argue there really wasnít much for EA to do with it, but then again, why buy out the license for five years if you donít plan to do something?
I have to admit I was surprised that EA didnít launch this title on the 360, a system still void of any licensed racing game, NASCAR, IRL, or otherwise. So I blew the dust off my dormant Xbox and dug out my racing wheel and prepared to make an endless series of left turns for a few days.
Last year was probably the only year that EA actually did anything significant with the NASCAR license; that being total team control, which you either loved or hated. There really didnít seem to be a middle ground with that new dynamic. This year NASCAR 07 offers a few minor updates and features that make for good media hype but do little to really change the fact that you are going to be driving in circles for hours to come.
NASCAR 07 delivers the standard formula of racing modes; Race Now, Season, Chase for the Cup, and Fight to the Top, only now these modes are enhanced with a sliding scale driver skill system, the Variable Driver Attribute System. This system rewards you with clean and skillful driving and penalizes you for unnecessary car contact and crashes. These points all combine to increase the level of your driver as well as offering more instant rewards for racing.
There is also a new wagering system integrated into the game. You can convert your skill points to cash and wager on races to earn even more money that you can spend on upgrades to take you further into the game. I have to admit, it can be pretty exciting to place bets on real-world drivers.
If you get tired with the traditional NASCAR season you will likely find something to tempt you in the Fight to the Top mode that covers multiple vehicle types and original courses. The Dodge Challenge mode includes some interesting racer interviews that give you a good insight into the sport.
Of course, most gamers will ultimate gravitate toward the season mode and it is here where you will find the most authentic NASCAR experience starting in the garage. There are numerous car settings giving you a full range of options to tweak like gear ratios, tire pressure, downforce, suspension, etc. These settings actually have a notable impact on car performance so you donít want to mess with them if you donít know what you are doing. Use the presets or leave them alone, but if you love to tinker and know what you are doing, youíll spend hours in these setup screens.
The NASCAR season is pretty large, so if you donít want to commit to playing all the races you are free to simulate any races or even the entire season. While you will almost always do better than the sim AI, I did find that some of my simulated races were pretty close to what I would have done if I had taken the time to play it myself.
Physics, car handling, and controls are spot-on. Iím a frequent visitor to the Texas Motor Speedway where I race these cars at least once a year, and if you have a good steering wheel this game comes mighty close to the real thing, especially from the cockpit view. The gamepad does a respectable job but definitely makes the game feel more like a ďgameĒ.
Driver AI is insane with computer drivers that remember you and actually hold a grudge, at least for the current race. This evolves into a Heroes and Villains concept where you can create alliances or enemies simply by the way you drive. Bump someone and you earn an enemy, but allow somebody to draft you for a lap and you can make a friend who might return the favor later in the race.
Total Team Control and all the tactics that go with it are back and relatively unchanged from last year. Using the right stick you can work with your teammates to perform various strategic moves or even swap positions with another team driver.
NASCAR 07 offers online supports via Xbox Live, but I never got to play any races that worked with any reliable success. While my car always looked good, other cars would flicker and warp around the track making for a very confusing racing experience. Framerate was also problematic, and I ended up just not playing online after a couple days of trying. If you can tolerate the inconsistencies, NASCAR 07 offers all the standard online features you saw in last yearís game.
I was a bit disappointed with the overall lack of presentation in NASCAR 07. The game fails to capture the flavor of televised races and doesnítí come close to actually being at the track. It almost feels rushed, like you are being pushed into the actual race. At least give us the option to skip the fanfare rather than just not offering it at all.
During the race I was very impressed with the new blurring effects being used to greatly enhance the sensation of speed. Unfortunately, it wasnít blurry enough to hide annoying jaggies on cars and trackside graphics, and even some flickering that I would expect on the PS2 but not the Xbox.
Aside from the colorful cars, the rest of the visuals are rather bland, mostly dominated with grays and blacks for the track and various shades of green for the infield. To spice things up there is excellent real-time lighting including some blinding sun and lens flare effects that will have you grabbing for your sunglasses. The cars also have a good damage model and there is some nice spark shower effects during the frequent scrapes with other cars and the wall.
NASCAR 07 offers the most realistic car sounds you can hear without going to the track. Crank this game up and watch the neighbors start to show up with coolers and suntan lotion. And as powerful as these cars sound individually, just wait until you hear them in a pack behind the pace car. Itís almost loud enough to drown out the inane chattering coming over the radio.
EA Trax is a staple for every EA game these days and NASCAR 07 offers a surprisingly large and eclectic music library. As expected, the game seems to focus on country rock and tracks that seem to fit the NASCAR lifestyle and the fans who watch it. Being a Texas boy, I had nothing to complain about here, but if you donít like what EA has to offer the game does support custom soundtracks.
There is plenty to keep you busy with NASCAR 07 starting with the season mode, which will ultimately take you into the other modes like the Dodge Challenge. The driver attributes are a compelling reason to keep racing to improve your stats, and even the wagering feature can get a bit addictive.
Sadly, the online component is all but broke, and unless there is some sort of patch or upgrade made available to fix the framerate and reduce the lag, NASCAR 07 is going to be a solo experience for most racers.
Itís been more than five years since I took more than a passing glance at a NASCAR title, so I have to admit I was expecting something so much more than what I got. NASCAR 07 isnít a terrible game, but it could be so much better. It just seems so sterile and totally focused on racing and nothing more. Granted, there are a lot of options and race modes, but they all still boil down to driving in circles.
There are a few minor enhancements to the gameplay, but nothing that should warrant another $40 leaving your wallet, especially if you already own last yearís game. I think it is going to take a next-gen system to boost this game out of the pits, and if we canít get it on the 360, maybe we can look to the PS3 for a true NASCAR experience.