Great Nascar games are a thing of the past. Of course, if you subscribe to iRacing, and have a PC, you’re in for an excellent experience. As for the console owners, the days of Nascar HEAT and Dirt to Daytona are long past, and there’s been a lot of drub in between. Eutechnyx was given the opportunity last year as Activision had acquired the Nascar license and put this development team to the test. The first iteration was already an improvement over what EA had provided for years, however the game had a lot of bugs and issues with online racing. With Nascar The Game: Inside Line, Eutechnyx had to fix those issues and provide a better experience.
One thing I want to mention is the intro movie to this game is one of the best montages I’ve ever witnessed, especially if you understand what Carl Edwards went through last season. One problem I have with licensed racing games is their release date. F1 2012 was released at the tail end of the season, and we get Inside Line with basically two weeks left in the Nascar season. All other sports games are released early, sometimes even two months before the season starts. Eutechnyx has implemented a game changer, as it seems this title’s lifespan will be at least two years. They plan on providing the 2013 season as DLC, which in turn will allow them to focus more on the next title. I believe a lot of sports fans wish other games would do the same thing (you listening EA?). I also want to add that if you want a better, more official Nascar experience, play this title on atleast the Hard difficulty level with limited assists, otherwise some of the races don’t flow right (you shouldn’t be able to blow away the field at Daytona, it just doesn’t work that way).
A new lighting engine was implemented for Inside Line, as the races look more like they take place during the day, as compared to the late afternoon with last year’s game. One thing I would like to see in the future is a day to night transition for the races that do that, such as the Daytona 500 and the final race at Homestead. Another thing I would like to see is dynamic weather and rain delays. The new lighting has really helped the car models look beautiful and colorful, but the rest of the track can get pretty ugly. The shadows and the amount of jaggies are not great, but the game does run a bit smoother. The detail on the cars being torn up during the race is a lot more realistic, as compared to last year it looked like someone took a cheese grader to the car as the cars do not get that type of damage in real life. Also, if you hit the wall, the mark stays on the wall, and that’s a little detail I appreciate.
The biggest issue with last year was the A.I. and the amount of bugs in the game, which almost made some a game killer. Some of these have been addressed, however a lot of the same issues remain. One good thing, as I mentioned earlier, is the car damage. This would completely ruin your chances at competing in a race as the A.I. seemed oblivious to the damage they would receive. Yes, you do have the option to turn off damage, or make it visual, but what fun is that? This year, however, the damage is not as detrimental as you will suffer somewhat, but you will still have a chance to compete and have a respectable finish. The A.I. also does not seem as oblivious to this either, as you will see them pit if they take damage, and they won’t run as well.
Sticking with A.I. issues, it seems like the awareness for the opponent drivers is hit or miss. I’ve seen it recognize there’s a car there and move back over, as well as I’ve had Kevin Harvick purposely spin me out to get back at me for something that happened earlier. Most cautions come from the A.I. leaving pit road because they just pull up into traffic. There also seems to be an issue at some tracks where, when leaving pit road, the game just puts you into the wall. Also, when they pit, they slow down on the track and don’t dip under the yellow line. At least this year the spotter will tell you if someone in front of you is pitting. One issue that seems improved, but still randomly happens, is when the A.I. comes out of corners. They will just slow down for no reason. Not to mention, if you truly wanted to, you could wreck everybody on the way to the front. The game needs to incorporate some sort of penalty for spinning too many people out. Also, to cause a caution, you have to drive your wrecked car back onto the track, and then come to a complete stop. Granted, with Nascar, there shouldn’t be a caution thrown if the car is off the track. But you know after some of these collisions, that liquid could spill on the track or debris. Add to that, the race grid after the caution can seem just wrong.
The feel of the cars in this game is roughly unchanged from last year, which isn’t a bad thing. There are more dynamics added as in your engine overheating and you losing power. There is a lot of telemetry data that was added into the game this year and a lot of little details that help make up events in a race. There is also the option of setting your car up to every minute detail to help make it more loose or tight depending on the track. All of the details that go into wedge adjustments and tire pressure are available during the pits. The car also seems a bit easier to maintain a line on restrictor plate tracks at Daytona and Talladega. The pit road animations are excellent, but you will see clipping between cars. I would like to see this addressed, and also for the player to have some control of what goes on in the pits. Malfunctions and mess-ups happen, like missing a lug nut, or not lining up in the box properly, that all could have effects on the outcome of a race. I think this should be a big focus for the next game, or an expansion pack or patch since they won’t be releasing a new game next year.
The wrecks and collisions in the game seem a little off on the replays. It seems more or less that two objects run into each other, but doesn’t get the correct response. Not to mention, there’s still an overly abundant amount of wrecks that ruins the flow. The engine and tire sounds incorporated sound like they were recorded in a closet as it attempts to give an outside perspective of what went on. Otherwise, the car sounds are sufficient, could be a little crisper and louder. A game like F1 2012 worked on that and those cars just wail, however that’s a different type of car. I still think the engine sounds in Inside Line could use a boost. As for the spotter, you have Dale Earnhardt’s old spotter Ty Norris along with Ray Evernham as your crew chief. Unlike last year, these guys are actually important and useful, and it’s nice to hear two different people coming over your headset.
Inside Line offers a plethora of modes to keep you busy through next season. In addition to the season mode, there is now a career mode. You start with a generic Sprint sponsored car and earn sponsors throughout the year. The sponsors pay you credits and along with the credits you earn, you can “upgrade” your car with better engineering to get the most horsepower out of the engine that’s possible, or work on the cooling of it. Early on, you will struggle much like anyone else has when starting a new team. This is a nice step up from the generic season mode where you choose a driver and go through it. Besides the quick race (which features practice and qualifying), split screen, and online races, the most notable addition is the Highlights mode. Eutechnyx is giving you the opportunity to relive and rewrite history with this mode. Much like Madden Moments and the NHL Moments, Eutechnyx has preloaded situations from last year up until July 2012 to recreate and change history. What’s great about this is they will continue to update this throughout the 2013 season. This adds a lot of replay value to the game.
On top of having Ray Evernham and Ty Norris in the game, Fox broadcasters Mike Joy and Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip contribute pre-race commentary that is just excellent. Mike Joy even mentions sometimes that the race is on Fox, and I wonder was this pre-recorded going into that race last year? Or can they legally name drop Fox like that without a license? This game would benefit from having the Fox license for its presentation because it is stale, but the HUD is improved. One thing that does really keep you in the race is the caution summary. This actually lets you know where everyone on the track stands after pitting and who’s winning. It would be nice to have a full standing of the race so you know who’s leading besides the caution summary. I don’t think a map is really necessary for oval tracks, so Maybe adding a bottom line ticker for lap times and time differential would be helpful. As for the pre-race montage, these do seem dynamic, as Waltrip predicted Dale, Jr to win at Daytona, and he actually did. Those are the only time you hear them, and I also swear I could hear the PA announcer on the front stretch at some point.
Lastly, if you’re looking for an online Nascar experience, look elsewhere. This is literally one of the worst running online games I’ve ever experienced. Yes, full race weekend does exist, but good luck finding a room that does this, let alone a room altogether. Most of the time, you’ll get kicked out of the room you are fortunate to get in. Then the game breaking of all things I’ve experienced when joining in a race is that the members tend to get split up in the middle of a race. By this I mean they leave the track and end up on an empty track alone, or with half of the people who entered the room. Out of five races I ran online, only one was tolerable as cars were laggy, and then other people just wouldn’t race. They would rather wreck everyone. You can create a room and set up what you like for options and tracks. The split-screen multiplayer got the much needed full race weekend too, however when qualifying, you’re on the track at the same time. That’s not how things are done in Nascar, this isn’t F1.
Is Inside Line a vast improvement over the previous iteration? No. Having said that, this is a case where I feel this version should have been the original released version. The A.I. shows signs of life with its improvement and hopefully what issues remain can be addressed with patches since a new game won’t be released for a while. In addition, a license from Fox, TNT, or ESPN (probably not possible because of EA) would really help the broadcast feel of the game. The online portion might as well be left out, or downloaded later on as much work is needed on it. This game brings the promise that there will be sufficient Nascar titles to look forward to in the future.
GRAPHICS: 8 – Excellent car models and a revamped lighting engine help make this a great looking game, until you notice the shadows and jaggies around the track. I also like that hitting the wall leaves marks on it.
PRESENTATION: 7 – The HUD within the game is improved. The race includes a caution summary to give you a better idea of what’s going on in your race. During the season, the pre-race with Darrell Waltrip and Mike Joy is very enjoyable to help prepare for a race. The menu interface is still easy to navigate. A little more in-race presentation would help.
SOUND: 7 – The engine sounds are sufficient, but sound off in the replays. The soundtrack is generic radio rock, but ultimately fits Nascar. Ray Evernham and Ty Norris are great and are actually useful.
ONLINE: 2 – If you’re fortunate to have a group of people that can cooperate and work together, and you’re able to stay in a game, and on the same track, and all agree on racing the same track, and decide if you want to qualify, it’s possible to be enjoyable. There is way too much wrong with the online in this game, and to me has actually regressed.
REPLAY: 8 – I still give credit to the process that Eutechnyx is taking with this game. They are making the 2013 season available via DLC. The new career mode can keep you busy for a while. The Nascar Highlights mode will bring more content available through next season. The online does not help in this department until it gets fixed.
OVERALL: 6.5 – The racing is solid with some great polish, however there are still A.I. issues that hamper the game. The online really hurts the game to the point where it shouldn’t really even be an option. You can only mask so much with improving graphics. Hopefully improvements via patches will help to make use of the excellent replay value this game has.