NASCAR 08 Updated Hands-On
Left turn ahead: We check out an updated build of EA Sports' next-generation stock car racing debut.
When we first saw NASCAR 08 back in May, we got an early look at what the series' next-generation debut would offer. At EA's recent press event in Los Angeles, we saw a near-final version of the game and are pleased to report that much of the initial promise we saw in our first look at the game is still intact.
The first thing you'll notice about NASCAR 08 is the improved visual fidelity of the game when compared with older versions on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. NASCAR 08 features big, solid-looking car models and places a bigger emphasis on environmental effects, such as lighting, which can have tangible effects on your race. Lighting in NASCAR 08 is dynamic, and as the sun travels its arc during a race, you'll notice a difference in how the track is presented. This can have consequences, such as when the sunlight is bearing directly into your field of view, that essentially blind you around certain turns.
That effect is magnified when you pick up dust and dirt on your windshield after taking a turn into the infield grass or coming out of an exit scrubbing a wall. As grime builds up on your windshield, even slight variations in lighting can make it significantly more difficult to see; your best bet, then, is to keep your car in running order and your windshield clean.
Back in May, EA showed us the game on the Xbox 360, but the version we saw yesterday was for the PlayStation 3. While the two games are visually similar, the PS3 version will let you use the Sixaxis controller as a steering wheel, much as you would in Sony's F1 Championship Edition. As in the F1 game, it takes a bit of getting used to because you turn by tilting the controller left or right, but once you've acclimated yourself to it, the feature works surprisingly well. It's relatively easy to hold either a high or low line on the track, simply by maintaining steady modulation of the throttle and keeping the Sixaxis tilted. The game will also support the Xbox 360 wireless wheel (Xbox 360 only, naturally) and the latest Logitech wheels (for Xbox 360 and PS3).
When we played the game, the controller was set to require the driver to compensate for the typical angle added to tires during most Nextel Cup events (to help the cars more easily turn left). As a result, we had to keep the Sixaxis slightly titled to the right to compensate for that angle and keep the car moving in a straight line on the straights. Of course, you'll be able to turn that off in the game settings if you prefer so that all you'll need to keep your car straight is to simply point the car ahead and hit the gas.
The so-called VTV feature will offer you real-time updates on practically every aspect of your car's performance while racing, which includes everything from tire temperature and performance to oil pressure. This feature has also been retooled a bit since our last look. For one thing, the banking meter that is used to help the driver understand the degree of angle of the turns has been turned off by default, which is good because we found it merely got in the way the last time we played the game. There's also a dynamic line indicator, which will show you the quickest line around the track, complete with color-coding to show you where to lift, brake, and hit the gas. Finally, there's a draft meter of sorts that looks like a special effect from a psychedelic music video from the 1960s. For fans who are looking to squeeze that last tenth of a second out of their car's lap time, the VTV feature should be a helpful informational tool.
The highlight of NASCAR 08's single-player game should be the career mode. This mode has you taking control of a racing team, earning and unlocking cars by completing a host of challenges, making your way into the points race at the end of the year, then ultimately, hosting the Nextel Series cup. The mode features a mixture of challenges and race events from every location on the 2007 NASCAR schedule, but it won't necessarily always follow in a linear fashion. To "qualify" for different event types, you'll first have to earn the type of car that is run in that event. For super speedway events, such as Daytona and Talladega, you'll first need to unlock the super speedway car by competing in such tests as drafting or speed challenges. There are six car/challenge types to earn: super speedway, speedway, short track, car of tomorrow (COT) speedway, COT super speedway, and COT road courses. Earning gold medals in the various challenge events will earn you boosts to your car's overall performance, which you can take to race day.
In true next-generation fashion, NASCAR 08 will be keeping extensive records of your progress throughout the game, including stats on practically every race you run in the game either online or offline. Such stats as wins, did-not-finish stats, and top-10 finishes are just a few examples of the stats tracked by the game. And of course, there's also the 12-player online play that should bring a whole new dimension of fun to trading paint with friends. While the team at Tiburon initially aimed to bring 16-player online play to the game, the decision to stick with 12 cars simply came down to keeping the game running at an optimum rate. Perhaps in future iterations, that number will rise. We'll be bringing you more on NASCAR 08 in the near future, including a hands-on look at the game's 12-player online multiplayer feature, so stay tuned.
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