NASCAR 08 PlayStation 2
Published by: EA Sports
Developed by: EA Sports
Release Date: Out Now
It seems amazing that in the seven and a half years that Deaf Gamers has been running, we have only reviewed one NASCAR game. That of course was NASCAR Racing 2003 Season for the PC which was developed by the superb, but now sadly defunct, Papyrus. I daresay that part of the reason we haven't seen many NASCAR games over the years is that not every NASCAR game is released here in Europe. After all it's an American motorsport that, for the most part, doesn't have a large following here in Europe. Still, there's no denying that NASCAR games can be very enjoyable and after four years it's great to finally get our hands on another NASCAR title with NASCAR 08.
In NASCAR 08 you can either jump straight into a race by selecting the Race Now option or choose to race through a career in the Earn Your Stripes mode. Alternatively you can play through an entire NASCAR season in Season mode, jump ahead to the final ten races of the NASCAR season in Chase for the Cup mode or simply pick a car and a track and attempt to find the ideal setup in Test and Tune mode. Unlike the US version of NASCAR 08, the European version of the game doesn't feature an online mode which is disappointing. Of course you'll also get to drive NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow against a field of 43 opponents on each of the tracks, which are a mix of real and fictional.
The mode you're going to be spending most of your time with is Earn Your Stripes. Here you'll start as a rookie driver and you'll begin your rise to the top racing in the Whelen Modified Series, NEXTEL Cup Series, NASCAR National Series and NASCAR Craftsmen Truck Series. You don't have to begin as a complete novice however as you can attempt a variety of qualifying events and if you rank high enough you can begin your career with a more lucrative contract. You'll have to improve your skills to move up the ranks and gain your licenses via license challenges. There are six major skill areas, Front Running, On the Charge, Race Strategy, Experience, Flair/Charisma and Precision. You'll receive points after each race according to how you performed and which skills you showed during the race. You'll also earn cash for your efforts in the races and with this cash you'll have to pay for your license challenges and car upgrades.
In the Earn Your Stripes mode you have to consider yourself part of a team. You'll receive communications from the pit crew and your fellow team members. You can also communicate with them by pushing the right analogue stick in specific directions. Pushing the stick to the right for instance gives an order for a teammate to block whilst pushing the stick up is the order to follow. Whilst all of this is intended to make the experience more immersive and to a certain degree more realistic, it's all pretty much a waste time for deaf gamers as most of the communications are not subtitled. You will see a basic text response to any orders you're given and there is some basic communications shown on a ticker that runs on the top screen but there's a whole lot of information that the deaf gamer will miss out on. Fortunately not all of it is very important.
Whilst NASCAR Racing Season 2003 was a hardcore simulation, NASCAR 08 is definitely a more forgiving experience. This means that the game is much more accessible to those who just want to jump into a race and not worry so much about the technical aspects of the motorsport. The cars handle nicely even when using the DualShock 2 controller. You can tweak you car's setup but it's a fairly simplified process. The AI drivers are competent but quite beatable as long as you drive fairly carefully. Even if you do manage to crash it's still possible to make up ground. The game does have what some would call a 'rubber-band' AI meaning that even the slower cars are always capable of catching you up. This might annoy some but there's no denying that it keeps races as tight as possible and prevents the races from becoming boring. Rather pleasingly, the game does allow you to save mid-race and this means that you can choose to race full length races and spread them over several days if you wish.
The aforementioned problems for deaf gamers are slightly disappointing given that in other areas the game is actually good in giving information visually. In the Earn Your Stripes mode all communications between you and your racing team, outside of the races, are in the form of text emails. During the races you'll notice colour-coded icons above some of the cars and these denote teammates, allies and rivals. Any damage your car takes is shown via an onscreen indicator and you're notified in text when you're drafting and you are aware when a specific flag is being shown. There are a few cutscenes in the game which aren't subtitled but whilst this is disappointing, it's hardly much of a loss.
Graphically, NASCAR 08 simply looks OK. The car models probably could have looked better and the damage modelling is fairly minimal and in no way looks realistic. A fair few of the game's textures look bland too. Thankfully the game does offer an in-car view which not only looks quite good but is also probably the best camera angle to experience the game from. There's a conservative use of motion blur which is good to see as some racing games tend to overuse it. The frame rate holds up pretty nicely too and the game gives quite a good sensation of speed.
NASCAR 08 is actually an enjoyable game that won't disappoint as long as you're not hoping for a hard as nails simulation. Not having played a NASCAR game for some time I can't honestly say if NASCAR 08 is an improvement on the previous games in the series but taken on its own merits, NASCAR 08 is a solid racer. It's a shame that there is no online mode however, as I feel an enjoyable online mode or two is really what the game could have done with. Graphically the game is a little disappointing and the game could have been better in its provision for deaf gamers but if you're looking for a good NASCAR game to play on your PlayStation 2 then NASCAR 08 is certainly worth considering.
NASCAR 08 is a solid racing title and the Earn Your Stripes mode will certainly keep you coming back for more. Graphically the game could have been better and the absence of an online multiplayer mode is unfortunate.