We test-drive work-in-progress PS2 and Xbox versions of EA's upcoming racer.
Currently scheduled for release later this year, NASCAR 06 is Electronic Arts' sequel to NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup. Where the focus of last year's game was to let you experience the life of a racecar driver, this year's game will introduce a number of new features that let you employ the team strategies that are such a prominent feature of the sport. We recently had an opportunity to get hands-on with both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of NASCAR 06, so we can report that the new features make for some very interesting racing.
In the finished versions of NASCAR 06, you'll have the option to communicate with your pit crew and teammates using a headset. However, in the work-in-progress builds we played, all the communication was handled using the right analog stick. Essentially, you'll be able to issue any of eight different commands to a specific teammate with just two taps of the right stick. First, you'll tap it in the direction that the relevant teammate's car number has automatically been assigned to, and then you'll see four different commands mapped to the four directions, plus another four that can be accessed while holding down the right shoulder button. The eight different commands at your disposal will include move over, drop back, hold, pit now, block, work with me, follow, and swap. Most of these commands should be self-explanatory, in addition to giving you a good idea of the ways in which you can manage your team on the fly. The most unusual command of the bunch is undoubtedly swap, which lets you instantly leave the car you're driving to assume control of one belonging to a teammate.
Since NASCAR 06 lets you wreck your cars to the point that they can no longer be driven, the most obvious use for the swap command is to get behind the wheel of a car that actually works...if you manage to total your original ride. Swapping between cars will also have its uses during less eventful races, though, since it'll let you grab the wheel of team cars that aren't doing so well once your own car is safely leading the field, for example. If you're playing NASCAR 06 using a headset, you'll also be able to use voice commands to pause the game, turn on and off certain heads-up display elements, and communicate with your pit crew. We're not sure what form your communications with the pit crew will take, but we're told they're responses to you will come through your headphones rather than through your TV. Additionally, one of the pit crew's functions will be to let you know if your teammates have any objections to your commands.
For the most part, you'll be able to rely on your teammates to back you up, but since this year's NASCAR game will be adding driver relationships to the mix, you'll be able to get on the wrong side of your teammates as well as your opponents. An opposing driver you crash into during the early stages of a race, for example, is unlikely to spend the remaining laps trying to make life easy for you. Similarly, a driver whose car you force into an early retirement might just try to return the compliment in the next race. Teammates aren't likely to try to run you off the track deliberately, of course, but they also won't be eager to spend all their time helping you out if the only thanks they get is a shunt into a wall.
Although the versions of NASCAR 06 we played were clearly unfinished, one of the things that impressed us most when we took to the tarmac was the behavior of the other drivers on the circuit. All our opponents were obviously competing with one another as well as with us, and on more than one occasion, we witnessed multiple car pileups and wrecks that we had no part in whatsoever. Our teammates and rivals were easy to pick out from the crowd, because their car numbers were floating above them inside green and red icons, respectively. The handling of the cars felt quite realistic, and while the officially licensed oval circuits we were racing on won't be the most challenging in the game--especially once you unlock the fantasy and street tracks--we did manage to lose control on more than one occasion with very little help from the opposition.
We look forward to bringing you more information on NASCAR 06, formerly titled NASCAR Chase for the Cup 2006, as soon as we get our hands on a more complete version of the game.
- Release Date: Aug 30, 2005 (US)
- ESRB: ETitles rated E (Everyone) have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older.