bitparade: NASCAR ’14 (PlayStation 3)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start your engines! Or so says SEGA’s Arcade classic “Daytona USA”. However, whilst this isn’t the high adrenaline cabinet racer featuring the “Sonic Turn” our story does start at the infamous circuit in California. For this I decided to dig out my old “Beer Hat”, bought from the Gadget Shop over a decade ago, pick up some cans of a popular American beer and sit down for a few extended, arse numbing days of that past-time that was created by the countries Probation era bootleggers.

NASCAR 14 takes you through the career of being a NASCAR driver. No surprises there, upon starting the game your asked to input a few details, your name, country of birth (Great Britain, not England…) plus some other things like which manufacturer you favour (from Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota) to what number you’d like to be associated with during your career (my normal picks of 34, 27, 22 or 18 weren’t available as already established real-life drivers already had those), I went with 30. From there you head to Daytona for the first of two races, thats, of course, after a few practice and qualifying sessions. This obviously allows you to get to grips with the games handling. Thankfully, the Daytona International Speedway is a traditional Tri-Oval and isn’t too challenging as there are area’s of the games handling model that leave alot to be desired. This doesn’t become apparent until you head to Phoenix for the third race of the season and you’re suddenly in need of actually using the brakes. Now I’m no NASCAR expert, hell I’ve only ever actually watched a few laps of any given race at any time but the cars must have better brakes than are available here. I found it near impossible to slow the car down enough to get through the corners at the Phoenix circuit let alone bring the car to enough of a crawl to prevent me receiving penalties when trying to enter the pits during the Daytona races. The cars also wobble a fair bit under braking, which feels incredibly odd as there really isn’t any sensation of speed or inertia apparent in the game, which gives the overall experience a really odd feeling.

But back to the career. At this point its important to note that you dont get to pick to be in one of the top teams, you’re essentially creating a brand new team, so your car is pretty basic. For the first few races of said career you’re left with the choice of either using refurbished parts for each race or buying a stock part at a time to try and push you up the field. This does make it sound like you’ll be among the back-markers, but this is NASCAR and as much as horse power is important here, so is being able to use the circuit and your opponents to your advantage. In the first race, which I set to a full race distance of 60 laps, I managed to get as high as 8th and was catching 7th when the two cars I was battling with tangled, bringing out the safety car. Now anyone who’s watched Cars or Days of Thunder knows this usually results in a rush of pitlane activity, and this time things were no different. Once out of the pits it was time to follow the safety car for the final half of the lap and this is when things went wrong for me. I accidentally overtook when you’re not supposed to do so and was trying to yield the place I’d taken, but did so too cautiously, ultimately finding the rest of the field flying past me and leaving me dead last. A few unwise choices in positioning my car within the pack led to me and a few others dropping back and it took the remainder of the race (some 20 laps) to claw my way back up to my final position of 12th.

This was actually rather enjoyable, every position felt fought for and like it was a combination of my own skill and the work of my “team”. The latter is largely thanks to all the indicators you’re given, namely the HUD icon that tells you where cars are around you and who’s drafting you, plus the vocal communication of your race engineer telling you where you’re clear, how aggressive you should or shouldn’t be or where to take your car (high, low etc) in order to work your way through the pack. There’s also added strategy involved in fuel management, tyre wear and engine temperature, all with their own HUD indicators, and despite there being so many different things on the screen to watch, it never becomes confusing or cluttered.

As you progress you’ll gain sponsorship, which grants you more cash, which can ultimately be spent on R+D for your car, plus gives you a bunch of stickers to plaster all over your machine. The appearance of your machine isn’t limited to just putting corporate brands all over it though. Theres also a fairly weighty livery mode where you can create layers and decals to make your car your own. If you’ve played any of the Forza Motorsport titles then its pretty much the same as that but isn’t half as user friendly as Turn10’s package, but it does its job.

I’ve actually been taken aback by NASCAR 14, I was expecting it to feel a little lazy, look damned ugly and be mind numbingly dull, however Eutechnyx have managed to do a comendable job with the license, and whilst there’s no escaping the pins and needles I began to feel in my right hand after going for full race distance on a few of the races (although there was no way I was doing a full distance Daytona 500 event!) thats hardly the developers fault as they’ve given a fairly accurate (from my understanding of the sport) portrayal of NASCAR racing with a few neat ideas that could be built upon for future instalments.

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