First owned by Activision and then sold to Deep Silver, NASCAR ’14 is the much-anticipated follow up to ‘Inside Line’ and NASCAR the Game: 2013. Fans of the series will find many similarities between this year’s release and the games that graced our consoles last year. But at the same time, some game breaking issues have been addressed that should make fans happy.
For starters, the driver AI has been vastly improved. Instead of driving at inconsistent speeds or having an unfair tire wear advantage, the CPU actually drives intelligently around the track and even makes frequent pit stops. This is a major departure from the issues that once plagued the series. Also among the improvements is the ability to change the difficulty levels in increments of five percent. In previous NASCAR installments, the difficulty between Pro and Champion was astronomical. In this year’s edition, the player can fine tune the AI to a specific difficulty to accommodate their skill level. Moreover, these ‘tweaks’ to the difficulty can be done at each track to better suit your expectations.
Career Mode has also received some minor upgrades. The credits you earn from placing in races are used to develop your car via Research and Development. This results in better engines and components that will lead to your pre-race loadout. Knowing what engines work best on specific tracks is important to being a successful racer. The process of building your career is still engaging: you start by driving a few laps at Indianapolis to determine if the difficultly settings accommodate your skills, and to also see if the owner wants to hire you.
Once you’re hired, you are given a basic stock car with no sponsorship, limited funds, and a skeleton crew. As you place in races and earn money, you are prompted to upgrade your Research and Development (R&D). It’s important to devise a good pit strategy to stay ahead of your competition. Your vehicle is a lot slower during the earlier stages of the game, so don’t expect to be pulling first place any time soon. The only drawback to the R&D system is its lack of depth — the player isn’t given many options to customize their vehicle. Hopefully, the developer will expand on the R&D system in NASCAR 15.
As a fan of NASCAR, I have seen my fair share of car pile ups and accidents; there’s nothing more exhilarating. NASACAR ’14 has plenty of crazy, out of control accidents as 48 V8’s soar down a quarter-mile stretch into a hairpin turn. While intense, some of the car collisions seem to lack the physics needed to be convincing. Cars tend to ‘bump’ off each other instead of tearing through side paneling or crushing the vehicles when appropriate; the damage model should be far more realistic than it is.
NASCAR 14 finally includes true online leagues, something fans have been wanting for the past couple of years. The league is customizable, as you can include the number of members, the amount of races, and night or day racing (if the track in question has a night race option). Online performance was surprisingly good, as server lag and input delay was nonexistent. While the online community for NASCAR 14 seemed relatively small at the time of this review, the gamers that were available played like seasoned pros. However, it took a considerable amount of time to find rooms, especially during the afternoon on weekdays. This is to be expected, of course. It was much easier to find online competition during weekends.
The developer has included a split-screen multiplayer mode in NASCAR ’14 for gamers that like to play offline. Everything looks incredible on a large 50′ HD television, as you and a friend race together at high speeds. The accidents you happen to cause while driving with a friend can be quite memorable, to say the least.
Graphically, NASCAR ’14 looks beautiful on the Xbox 360 hardware. Day races look exceptionally good as sunlight highlights the curves of each vehicle. What really improves the experience is the sound. Anyone that has been to a NASCAR race can is familiar with the deafening sound those V8 motors can make when they approach your side of the track. NASCAR 14’s sound effects replicate those sounds perfectly, causing the speakers to reverberate from the noise. It’s an experience that everyone should have, if you haven’t already.
While not perfect, NASCAR ’14 is still an incredible racing game. The car collisions could use some work, and the Research and Development feature needs to include more customization, but the overall presentation is solid enough to satisfy NASCAR fans until NASCAR 15 is released. Now if you will excuse me – I have some asphalt to burn up in Chicagoland.
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: ETX Racing
Publisher: Deep Silver
ESRB: E (Everyone)