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NASCAR 2011: The Game - Review

Saturday, 19 November 2011    Written by



I’ve driven on two NASCAR tracks in my life. And by driven, I mean  I’ve sat in a car, pressed my foot to the ground, and went around those ovals as fast as my nerves would let me. The first time was at Richmond Raceway, a high banked oval designed for the fastest race cars in the world,  and I was driving a high powered AMG Mercedes coupe capable of 155 mph, courtesy of the local dealership. The second NASCAR track I drove on was Langley Speedway. A small quarter-mile oval that looks like it was paved in someones backyard. And I was driving my own car, a bone stock Crown Victoria LX Sport. Guess which time was more fun.

To call Langley Speedway a ‘Speedway’ is kind of like calling Snookie an ‘actress’. That’s being a little unfair to Langley, but not by much. Unlike it’s heyday in the 70’s and 80’s, where the track was a haven for short track racers on their way to the ‘big leagues’, now it’s mostly used for Late Model and ‘Legends’ races. The term ‘stepping stone’ would be a fitting caption for most of the divisions that run at Langley now. A few times during the summer though, they open the track to anyone with a license and a helmet for what’s called ‘Wacky Wednsday’. That’s where me and the Crown Vic come in. 

NASCAR 2011 for the Xbox 360 and PS3 doesn’t have the lower tier racing divisions that Langley specializes in. Instead, it focuses on the biggest baddest level of racing the sport has to offer, the Sprint Cup. And unlike other racers, it doesn’t force you to work your way up to the fastest cars. As soon as you press start, you’re at Daytona in a vehicle capable of doing 200+ MPH beside 42 other cars just a quick as yours. That’s called ‘diving into the deep end’.

Langley Speedway is a long way from Daytona. But when I put on the helmet, pulled onto the track, and saw the green flag wave, any differences escaped me. Even though it was just a timed qualifying lap, the adrenaline made my hands shake. I dove into the corner and accelerated out onto the back straight. For a split second I wondered if I could make the next turn without braking, and the idea is chased from my mind by the bright white wall that was described earlier by a track worker as ‘the widow maker’For a split second I wondered if I could make the next turn without braking, and the idea is chased from my mind by the bright white wall that was described earlier by a track worker as ‘the widow maker’. I qualify with a time that places me in the middle of the scoreboard and the announcer proclaims over the PA system, ‘Well looky here, that cop car ain’t that slow...It ain’t quick, but it ain’t slow!’. That was -my- car he was talking about. And that made me smile. 

NASCAR 2011 does it’s best to make you feel like you own your ride. With a fairly deep sponsor system in the career mode and the ability to paint and add decals to your car, it almost works. But it’s a far cry from the ease and elegance of Forza’s paint system. After an hour of work, the best I could do was a black and white car with a lightning bolt and my name on the side. But to be honest, the cars I see on SPEED every weekend don’t go too far beyond that.  Hell, Tony Stewart’s actual racecar just has the words ‘Office Depot’ written on the hood. 

After the qualifying is done, the officials at Langley pair up the would be racers for a two lap ‘shootout’. Somehow, they figure that my rival for the night would a white 2002 Chevy Camaro Z28. Now, if you know something about cars, you’re giggling right now. And if you don’t know much about cars, do a google image search for 2001 Crown Victoria then do another for 2002 Camaro Z28. I’ll wait. Done? See what I mean?  The Camaro goes to the line and I pull up slowly beside him. Very slowly. Because to be honest, I was waiting for the official to realize he made a mistake and wave me off so that I could be paired against the Volkswagen Rabbit that I saw sputtering around earlier. But instead, I make it to the white line and wait for the red light to turn green. 

ntg2011-lvms-08NASCAR 2011 The Game isn’t a sim, but it’s far from an arcade racer. You can go through practice and qualifying before you race, and you’ll need as much practice as you can get. Although most of the time you’re ‘just turning left’. You quickly realize that turning left is a lot more involved than you would imagine. Especially when you’re sharing the road with over 3 dozen other cars. NASCAR 2011 is the first game I’ve played that does a good job of letting you know how difficult and exciting it can be to race on a high banked oval. And with a decent damage system, it puts the NASCAR section of GT5 to shame.  

The light switches to green and race is on. I hear the Camaro’s tires light up. It’s very impressive. But not as impressive as the miracle of modern technology called ‘Traction Control’ that allows my car to jump out to an early lead. The lead lasts almost a full 100 feet before the 5.7liter, 16 valve V8 of the Chevy takes over and pulls ahead. As we enter the first turn, I have a full view of the musclecar’s taillights and take notice as they go wide around the corner. The Camaro’s driver had went in too fast and was forced to slam on the brakes to make the turn. I tucked the nose of the Crown Victoria underneath and by the time we came around the corner, the two cars were side by side. It’s not long before the Camaro remembers it has 100 more horses under the hood than I do and pulls out in front. But this time, we’re halfway down the straightaway before it walks past me. But again, the Camaro takes too much speed into the next turn and slams on the brakes, it’s nose dipping and tail shaking as it scrubs off speed. And again, I dip into the inside of the corner underneath the tire squeal of the Chevy. 

When we come out of the turn, we’re not side by side. Now, I’m in the lead being steadily chased down in front of a crowd of dozens. Once we hit the next corner of the oval, I’m back in second place, but not by a lot. I realize now that the driver of the Camaro isn’t the type of guy that learns from his mistakes. He was going to fly into every turn too fast and rely on 4 wheel disc brakes to claw the beast down to a manageable speed. As the two cars make it to the final turn, we are side by side for the last time. He slams on the brakes, I turn down to the inside, and we both floor it.There are only two turns to go and like clockwork, I’m back in the lead, thanks to a steady left foot and knowing what the term ‘apex’ means. I forget that finesse and technique only beats brute force in the movies and think that maybe, just maybe, I can win. As the two cars make it to the final turn, we are side by side for the last time. He slams on the brakes, I turn down to the inside, and we both floor it.

I can see the finish line ahead. I can see the guy in the Langley Speedway T-shirt waving a tattered checkered flag. I can see that I’m in the lead.  
But I can hear the Camaro. It’s engine roaring so loud that my Crown Vic seems silent. It’s gaining ground by the fistful. Each fraction of a second bringing it closer to stealing my victory. 

This is the part in movies where the underdog wins. Where we are told that if you do everything right, even if you’re outmatched, you can still win. Hey, I ended up liking NASCAR 2011 more than GT5 and Forza 3 even though it’s a niche game aimed at a niche market. But this wasn’t a movie or a game. This was real life. And in real life, a 325 horsepower muscle car will chase down a 230 horsepower four door sedan every day of the week. You can’t beat the laws of physics. And this was no different. 

Coming down the final straight, the 2002 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 flew by my  2001 Ford Crown Victoria LX.

But it didn’t pass me until we were 6 feet past the finish line.     

Score 8 out of 10.

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