There are a few cheap thrills to be had in this off-road racer, but loose physics make its excitement a lot less extreme.
- Catching big air can be thrilling
- Attractive environments.
- Strangely artificial sense of speed
- Loose physics make racing less exciting
- Uninvolving boost system
- Inconsistent crash behavior
- Uninformative upgrade system.
Nail'd is, in a word, extreme. In this off-road racing game, you share the sky with jumbo jets, leap over speeding trains, and ride along platforms suspended in the air by helicopters. These experiences do provide some adrenaline-drenched excitement, but Nail’d is not a white-knuckle racer where your every move is crucial. Loose physics and the inconsistent way your vehicle reacts to collisions with the environment make Nail'd more of a passive and often frustrating experience where you're just along for the ride. A weak boost system and speedy but strangely unconvincing visuals put an additional damper on the excitement. Falling hundreds of feet through the air is fun the first few times, but without a solid game to support them, the cheap thrills that Nail'd offers are quickly forgotten.
The visuals in Nail'd are built for speed. The forests, mountains, caverns, and rock formations you race around and through are beautiful, and when you hold down the accelerator, the scenery flies past you at an alarming rate. This sense of speed certainly grabs your attention, but there's something about it that feels off, as if you're watching recorded footage being played back on fast-forward rather than actually moving insanely fast. This artificial quality is unnerving and makes you feel oddly removed from the action. Your feelings about the soundtrack will depend on whether you appreciate the hard rock stylings of bands like Slipknot and Queens of the Stone Age, but they fit well with the premise. The engines of your vehicles have a satisfying rumble, but the high-pitched whine you hear whenever you boost quickly becomes irritating.
Nail'd doesn't so much play fast and loose with the laws of physics as it just tosses them out the window. Whether you enter any given event on a motorcycle or an ATV, the sensation is more one of floating along the track than of navigating rough terrain, and there are stretches where you can almost get away with just holding down the gas and letting the curves in the track carry your racer along. This looseness makes races too much like roller coasters where you're just along for the ride. The huge jumps and vertigo-inducing plummets on each course are enough to make experiencing them thrilling once or twice, but you rapidly come to wish for something that demanded a little more of you.
The loose physics also make the game's boost system largely uninvolving. You earn boost for driving through gates scattered about the track, which is easy. You can also perform so-called boost feats like landing smoothly from jumps, completing sections of the race without wrecking, and steering yourself through rings of fire as you fly through the air. These require a bit of effort on your part, and as a result, you can feel good when you pull them off. But some so-called feats are things that often just happen at random due to the physics, such as passing through curves or tunnels with your ride momentarily upside down. You're also encouraged to smash your opponents to earn boost, but at the speeds that you and the other racers are scurrying around, deliberately crashing into your opponents is very difficult, and when it does happen, there's no sense of impact to make these smashes satisfying. (A Burnout game, this is not.) It's hard to tell if you've merely bumped into an opponent or successfully smashed him until you see the word Terminator appear along with a contribution to your boost gauge.
As you'd expect, using the boost you earn makes your already absurd speeds downright ludicrous, but it also drains the world of color. It's an unfortunate choice that doesn't contribute noticeably to the sense of speed, and makes the otherwise vivid natural environments drab and dreary. As a component to races, the boost system feels almost superfluous. But Nail'd also has stunt challenge events where you're rated not on whether you cross the finish line first but on how many boost feats you perform as you make your way there. While these are generally easy to win because your opponents seem to have even more trouble deliberately pulling off these feats than you do, they're a chore that puts the game's weakest element at the forefront.
The thrills of Nail'd are also compromised by a tremendous amount of inconsistency in terms of how you interact with the terrain. Sometimes you can plow headlong into a barrier on the side of the track and bounce off like a rubber ball to continue on your way, while at other times, slightly grazing something instantly causes you to wreck, with a screen wipe appearing to inform you that you have, once again, been nail'd. You also trigger respawns by driving outside the boundaries of the track, which is irritating because so often it isn't made clear where these boundaries are, and at the ridiculous speeds at which the terrain flies by, you really need clear indicators telling you where you're supposed to go, and where you can't.
The main single-player mode is called Tournament, and here you're presented with a long series of races and stunt challenges to complete on your way toward a championship. The early races in Tournament mode are much too easy to be very exciting. Even if you wreck constantly, you can leave the competition in your dust early on and not see other racers for the majority of the race. Eventually, the AI racers begin to put up more of a fight, but it takes way too long for this to start happening. The process of opening up new locales also drags on. You need to complete a few events in the Arizona environment before you can start competing in Yosemite, a few in Yosemite before you can go to Greece, and some in Greece before you can travel to the Andes, the fourth and final region. You can access any of the 14 tracks immediately in the Go Offroad mode, which lets you jump into any event type with any number of AI racers, but more visual variety in the early stages of the Tournament mode could have made progressing from one event to the next more rewarding.
Advancing through the tournament occasionally earns you new parts for your motorcycle or ATV, but while you're notified whenever you unlock a new part, you're never told exactly which part you have unlocked. As a result, when you visit the garage to make modifications, unless you remember exactly which parts you had available previously, you have no way of knowing what's new. At least you can clearly see the effect of selecting any available part. Equipping a new part is a trade-off, reducing your vehicle's performance in certain areas (such as its ability to be steered in the air) while improving it in others, such as boost capacity. In the garage, you can also customize your driver's appearance, but there are certain troublesome limitations. While the male drivers are always clad in sensibly protective gear, if you choose a female driver, she invariably sports an absurdly revealing outfit that no sane person would wear while racing in such dangerous conditions.
Nail'd supports online races for up to 12 competitors, and this functions well. At this point, though, scant few people are taking advantage of this option, so don't expect to hop online and jockey for position along a crowded track. The loose physics make Nail'd too passive an experience to provide thrilling competition, anyway. Those looking for extreme off-road thrills are much better off playing 2008's similar and greatly superior Pure. Soaring through rings of fire is exciting the first few times you do it, but like a rush of adrenaline, these thrills fade pretty fast.