When you look at the back catalog of games from developer Eutechnyx, NASCAR 2011 starts to make a whole lot more sense. This is a game with the ambitious goal of reaching any number of disparate racing enthusiasts, from gearheads with perpetually grease-stained hands to the casual fans that might only pick it up because, hey, it's got Danica Patrick in it! It's a game aiming for wildly different levels of accessibility, where you'll find a rewind button alongside the ability to tweak the amount of grill tape on your car to achieve optimal down-force levels. So what sort of developer tries to pull off a feat like this? Well, one that's worked on everything from Le Mans 24 Hours and F1 World Grand Prix to Big Mutha Truckers and Pimp My Ride.
Fitting with that theme, the driving model in NASCAR 2011 is what you make of it. There are a number of optional assists that you can enable, including ones that not even NASCAR drivers can benefit from, like ABS and traction control. Driver AI can also be tweaked, including the standard easy through hard options, as well as an adaptive level of AI that reacts on the fly to how well you're doing in a given race (which you can think of as a fancier version of rubber-banding). But no matter how simple or challenging you choose to make the driving model, there's one constant obstacle, and that's dealing with the pack.
The combined rigors and rewards of pack racing is what Eutechnyx is really banking on to separate NASCAR 2011 from other racing games on the market. There's the obvious strategy of knowing when to draft and when to slingshot past an opponent, but there's also knowing at what point you go from "rubbing is racing" to sheer reckless maniac. Having played through a few races, we can definitely say that being caught in the middle of a huge cluster of cars is a scary sensation, but when you can successfully navigate through them with minimal damage, it's a uniquely rewarding sensation. When you add a rival mechanic that encourages you to spite specific drivers and a damage model where anything can break off your car and remains on the track for the race, you can see how having 43 cars on a track can get pretty nutty.
Outside of the speedway, there are a number of additional features. You can tune your car in either basic or advanced modes. Basic offers a handful of sliders to adjust simple traits like handling on a less or more scale, but when you switch over to advanced tuning, it suddenly becomes a different beast entirely. You can adjust dozens of different aspects of your car, such as the brake bias, the camber and caster of your tires, and the aforementioned grill tape levels. It's a truly esoteric level of minutiae, but developer Eutechnyx wants to make sure that the gearheads out there aren't left out in the cold.
A leveling system grants you new features and rewards like alternate paint schemes for your car, but there's also a paint job editor that allows you to create logos and liveries from scratch. This allows you to make your car as flashy and commercialized or simple and subdued as you like. We didn't get a chance to see this particular feature in motion, but judging by the level of nitty-gritty details in the car tuning mode, we can only assume you're given a large number of options to paint your car.
Then, of course, there's the career mode, which takes the form of the Sprint Cup Series. But the most interesting part of the career mode is what's not in there--at least not yet. In the box, you'll find the cars and tracks from the 2010 season, but shortly after the game's release, you'll be able to download a free patch to update the game for the changes to the 2011 game. This includes racing on the new speedway in Kentucky and using the newly modified nose designs for the upcoming season. You'll be able to pick up NASCAR 2011on February 15.