I was so excited when Game Chronicles assigned NASCAR Arcade Rush to me for review. Not that I’m a big NASCAR fan or anything – I am just a sucker for arcade racers in general, and this being my first official PS5 racing review I figured it would be a real blast to start with a review that did not require deep deliberation on tire pressures and downdraft angles. Plus, watching the release trailers – this game looked about as kick-ass as an arcade racer could be, with crazy futuristic tracks, dozens of cars, and absolutely screaming speed. Sadly, after only a few minutes of play I realized that NASCAR Arcade Rush is about as shallow and boring as any racing game could ever be.
The game boots up with a high-energy 30 second intro filled with flash and flames – cars screaming down the straightaways, drifting around corners, and flying over jumps. It sets an image that NASCAR Arcade Rush is about to blow the doors off your console. Drop into the main menu and there are options for solo, splitscreen, and online racing – each offering full Cup Series, and Quick Race modes – I was buckled-in for a great time. I have decades of experience playing racing titles, so there was no way I was selecting Rookie difficulty – no, baby, its Elite all the way. Select a cool racer, select a cool car, and licked-split I was headed out to the track for the first race in the Cup Series.
First track – Next Gen California. I see a Hollywood-esque sign on the mountainside proclaiming NASCAR – but this certainly isn’t the streets of Los Angeles, this is Fontana, California. But this doesn’t look anything like the actual Next Gen speedway, this baby has big sweeping berms and long claustrophobia-inducing tunnels – I’m liking it. The race begins with an authentic NASCAR rolling start – I’m liking it. I get a little explanation of the boost system – seems legit. Countdown commences, and we’re off in a blaze of fire.
And that’s precisely where my excitement level suffered a fatal blow, because the on-track racing in NASCAR Arcade Rush absolutely stinks. If I am doing my math correctly, the year is 2023 – I think most game developers at least have a smidgeon of knowledge about how to make a good racing game – the balanced combination of physics, speed, challenge, and progression that really sucks gamers in. NASCAR Arcade Rush has the speed part down in spades, as this is the absolute fastest racer I’ve ever played. But as for the other factors, it pretty much drops the ball.
The racing physics are terrible. The car sits smack dab in the middle of the screen, always pointed dead ahead and completely flat, with nary an indication of weight. There’s no body roll around turns, there’s no drifting around corners, and any high-flying jump culminates in a very harsh and unsatisfying clunk on the subsequent racetrack. I was reminded of the old handheld toys of my childhood where you used your thumb to steer a miniature car on a stick over an ever-scrolling track with two continuous vertical lines that moves slightly left or right. I used to write about PS2 kids’ racing games that had better physics than NASCAR Arcade Rush presents.
And when it comes to challenge – NASCAR Arcade Rush is absolutely brutal in its rubber banding system. I’m not talking about keeping the other racers close to keep the race exciting – this is full-on slingshot mode where six trailing racers suddenly shoot hundreds of feet ahead anytime you get in the lead. True, I stupidly started in Elite Difficulty – but Rookie wasn’t much better, although it would let you magically win races at the end (which Elite did not). This made inexplicably winning at the last second on Rookie, or mysteriously losing at the last second on Elite seem cheap and contrived – as all the racing in between was pretty much the same. And seriously – why select only one opponent as a “rival” when all the other cars are bashing you pretty much the same? Not that it mattered, as I saw no reason for a rival other than to have the floating indicator get in the way of the limited field of view presented by the awkward camera angle. At least in Wreckfest you get some extra kudos for taking out a rival in a race.
As for progression, NASCAR Arcade Rush gives a thinly-veiled sense of progression via the car customizations it doles out after winning races – but given that these accoutrements do nothing to sauce up the car other than in looks – so well why the hell spend the time gathering them once you’ve played through all 12 tracks. Maybe you do it to unlock all the 9 additional cars that “span 75 years of racing” – naah, they all feel and play exactly the same as the original 4 offered up at the beginning of the game. Sure, there’s even a Back to the Future II flavored hovercraft that gave me flashbacks of the classic Wipeout series – but even that drives exactly like all the other vehicles. This lack of progression gives the gamer no drive to continue…uh…driving.
And as for the speed, yeah, it’s fast as hell, but with no ability to drift around corners, no sense of weight, and horrendous slingshot racing – the pedal-to-the-metal pace results in little more than a game of ping-ponging between the walls. On the bright side, at least getting stuck on a wall lets you see the side of the car a bit.
If you couldn’t tell already – I was not impressed with NASCAR Arcade Rush. And that really makes me feel bad, because I know that the folks at Team6 Game Studios from Assen, Netherlands probably put a lot of heart and soul into this game. But it seems rushed (pun intended) and generally undercooked – like someone said, “we simply must get this game on shelves before the NASCAR season wraps in November.” But in Dutch, of course.
I’m sure getting the NASCAR license for this wasn’t easy but having that logo on the box doesn’t automatically give a checkered flag to this racer in my books. Especially with a $50 price tag. If you want a fun, over-the-top arcade style racing game that gets things right, there are plenty of others to choose from. You might need to dig into the PS4 library at this point, but believe me, they are there.