NASCAR 08's box touts the fact that EA's NASCAR series is the top-selling NASCAR franchise, but nowhere on the packaging does it tell you that it's the top-selling franchise because it's the only NASCAR franchise. However, the fact that there's no competition is made apparent as soon as you play. There have been a few improvements to how the game plays and you can now drive the Car of Tomorrow, but inexplicably, there's less to do in NASCAR 08 than there was in NASCAR 07. It's still a competent racing game, but you can't shake the feeling that NASCAR 08 would have been a whole lot better if there had been a competing NASCAR game out there.
NASCAR 08 features a solid number of real and fantasy tracks, as well as almost every driver you'd want. The only major driver who's missing is Carl Edwards, but there are also some notable track omissions, including Mexico City and Montreal. You can race a full, half, short, or custom season in the Whelen Modified, Nextel, National (Busch), or Craftsman truck series. You can even race a season in the Car of Tomorrow. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 received a new mode called "the chase" that served as a nice way of introducing people to NASCAR, but that mode is nowhere to be found here. Also missing in action are the Dodge challenges that were so enjoyable last year. Reliving the greatest moments from the previous NASCAR season was one of 07's better features, and its omission here is disappointing.
One thing the PlayStation 2 version has that the others don't is "earn your stripes" mode. It's basically "fight to the top" mode from last year with a few minor changes. These changes are for the better, but it's so similar to last year that you'll probably grow tired of it rather quickly if you went through the whole process in NASCAR 07. You start out driving in the Whelen Modified series to slowly work your way up through the different series by winning races and earning licenses. Unlike the licenses in the PS3 and 360 versions, all you've got to do here is run a lap in a certain amount of time; there's no test of specific driving skills. As you progress through the ranks, you'll make rivals, test car setups for different race teams, improve your driver's stats, and even purchase upgrades with your prize money.
On the track, 08 feels almost exactly like 07. The controls are a little less touchy than last year (and much less finicky than the PS3 and 360), so it's easier, but still difficult, to race in a pack. You can still intimidate other drivers in an effort to get them out of your way with the press of a button and work with teammates by issuing commands with the D pad. However, you can't teleport from car to car in an effort to help your team do better anymore. This isn't a huge loss, but it's another example of EA removing features rather than adding them. The game's artificial intelligence is still solid, though drivers are still too prone to going berserk when you accidentally bump them and often retaliate by blatantly smashing into you.
There are other areas in which the game is lacking. Only four human players can race together online and there are no leagues. As has been the case in previous years, there are limited visual customization options in the game. You can choose from a handful of different paint schemes and colors, but once again, you can't pick a number under 100 or create custom designs.
Even with all of the missing features and the "been there, done that" feel of everything else, there's a solid racing game to be found. Races are generally close and though some may dismiss NASCAR as "just turning left," you can really feel the difference from one track to the next, so it pays to practice. If you do make it into victory lane, you can choose to celebrate by tearing up the infield and doing doughnuts on the track. That never gets old. You can also save mid-race, so if you're one of those people who enjoys running the entire Daytona 500 and happens to be gainfully employed, you can save, go to work, then come back to finish your race later.
It shouldn't come as any surprise that the game looks nearly identical to last year. 07 looked dated, and even though it supports progressive scan, 08 also looks ancient. Car damage has been improved slightly, but you'll probably only notice it on your car because everything else, including the tracks, is so aliased. It's neat to see rubber and dirt build up on the camera, but the effect is used on all camera angles--even replays from cameras above the track. There's still motion blur on the sides of the screen to help add to the sense of speed, but it feels like it has been toned down a bit. The audio isn't much different from before. The cars sound great, while your crew chief does an adequate job, even if he doesn't say much, if anything, that is different this time around.
NASCAR 08 isn't a bad game; in fact, it's fun once you get the hang of it. Its biggest problem is that it's not noticeably better than last year's game and there aren't any compelling new features. If you own any NASCAR game from the past few years, you might as well stick with that one.