Eutechnyx and Activision have teamed up for a third time to bring us a fully licensed NASCAR game with ‘NASCAR the Game: Inside Line’. Inside Line is a good step up from last year’s NASCAR the Game 2011 which fell short of expectations. Fans of the genre know a lot about the sport, its teams, politics and the drivers to be satisfied with a lackluster title. Eutechnyx needed to flesh out the game to make it a viable franchise for Activision and a good option for racing fans. NASCAR has struggled for decades with the mainstream market’s appreciation for this deep motorsport as ‘turning left’ isn’t all that exciting to casual viewers of racing. Eutechnyx has done quite a bit of work on Inside Line to show players and fans how hard it is to be successful in this colorful sport.
NASCAR the Game: Inside Line does a good job of including a lot more features to keep players engaged than in years past. Inside Line features over 40 of NASCAR’s drivers which include the sport’s most known entities Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Gordon and more. The game has a full career mode with authentic race weekends, 23 officially licensed tracks and even some of the actual TV announcers fans will immediately recognize, all of which make the experience of enjoying a NASCAR season even more immersive.
Players have a lot more options and features to play with this year, as Inside Line’s career mode is deeper than ever as it stretches over multiple seasons and will have you go from rookie to champion while earning your stripes, gaining sponsors and upgrading your car. There is a lot of stuff to do here if you are really into the NASCAR experience but equally won’t require too much time if you simply want to keep on racing. There are other modes as well such as an improved online experience, single racers or seasons if the career seems too much for you. Along with these standard options, Inside Line also offers the Highlight mode where players can relive or rewrite history for big moments from 2011 or 2012 seasons. Eutechnyx will continue to build these scenarios and offer them as DLC as the 2013 season plays out. Would have been neat to have some historical races in there as well but modeling out the various eras of NASCAR would require a lot more development time, so I am okay with the omission.
While it is nice to have fully licensed cars, tracks, drivers and commentators, all the bells and whistles only take you so far. The truth with any good racing game lies right within the gameplay. I have played racing games for many years and experienced all sorts of series on various console generations and PC stretching over a couple of decades now and one thing that is very hard to do is make a good NASCAR game for console players. We have seen many epic PC simulations featuring racing seat setups that are mind blowing and as expensive as a new compact car. Sure, I love sophisticated racing sims but that leaves behind the gamer who sits at home with an Xbox 360 or a PS3 with a controller in hand and not a fancy wheel setup. This is where Inside Line comes in.
Driving on oval tracks has always been a challenge with a joy pad and made games less fun because of that. Eutechnyx managed to bring a satisfying control scheme to Inside Line that feels like I was in control and able to pull of sophisticated maneuvers regardless of what kind of track I was on which really brings a smile to my face. It didn’t matter if I was bump drafting in Daytona or Talladega or grinding for positions in Bristol or Louden, the controls were never letting me down. I had a lot of fun and even some heart throbbing moments after racing for 50 laps or so and making my way to the front requiring fingertip accuracy and game time decision making. These are things NASCAR drivers do on a weekly basis and Inside Line can really give players an appreciation of how hard it can be to ‘only’ turn left for 500 miles while dealing with fuel management, opponents in front, behind and at either side at 200 Mph. Inside Line includes a lot of the detail NASCAR fans pay attention to such as the fully modeled cockpit and camera views we see on TV, the spotter constantly letting you know what is going on around the track and the overall presentation of a NASCAR race weekend, it doesn’t hurt that Eutechnyx has made a pretty good looking and sounding game.
I would have liked the AI to be a little more dynamic and reactive as it became apparent after playing the game for such a long period of time, that the computer controlled opponents just weren’t up to snuff with the likes of Codemasters titles but it certainly didn’t ruin my experience with Inside Line. Another gripe I had with Inside Line was the progression system which was limited to upgrading the car and getting more sponsors, it would have been nice to bring in driver specific upgrades and more interactivity between teammates and other drivers in the field as the NASCAR circuit has some of the most heated exchanges on and off the track.
Overall I really enjoyed my time with NASCAR the Game: Inside Line as Eutechnyx has come a long way with the game’s presentation, driving mechanics and overall feel. There are still some issues with the AI behavior and the progression system that keep Inside Line from being one top racing games out there but this years title is worth playing for racing fans and a must play if you are a NASCAR enthusiast with a console.
Score: 8 / 10
NASCAR the Game: Inside Line was developed by Eutechnyx and published by Activision for Xbox 360 and PS3 on November 6th. A retail copy of the Xbox 360 version was provided to us by Activision for reviewing purposes.