NASCAR 09 Xbox 360 Review

May 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

Jeff Gordon is present in NASCAR 09. If you’re a fan of the sport this won’t be a shock. Less predicable is that the four time champion shows up in the game in physical form simply to give you some friendly advice.

As soon as you load NASCAR 09 up Mr Gordon will show up in person (at least he doesn’t mind being presented in HD) and will then do his best to ease you right into the game, helping you out as you go. Initially you’ll be given the choice of normal or pro handling models (assists can also be turned on and off and vehicle set-ups are also an option) and then you’ll be given the opportunity to try each one out before making your decision. Testing each style involves driving Gordon’s car around a track, so it’s nice to know that he trusts us all with his virtual pride and joy. I bet he wouldn’t be so keen with us driving the real one.

Whichever handling model you opt for you are then tasked with creating a driver and splashing some paint on your vehicle through a very customisable paint booth feature. Much like Forza Motorsport 2, you can use online templates to make your very own decals, assuring that your car looks nothing at all like any of the others on the track.

Out on the tarmac the game is far from anything special with basic and infallible AI and races that are mostly uneventful unless you are to make a mistake yourself (crashes aren’t anything special, but in a nice touch, automatic replays are turned on by default for every yellow flag incident). This isn’t helped by the basic racing of the sport that has all the competitors going around in circles, but at least in the real thing each individual is prone to making mistakes. Perhaps I’ve just been spoilt by Race Driver: GRID‘s smart and often realistically imperfect opponents, although I think that’s me being soft as we should all really expect more.

This year there’s a new main mode which scores points for avoiding the simple title of “career mode”. The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has you starting out as a bottom of the ladder rookie and working your way up towards Jeff Gordon status through three series’ (Craftsman Cup Series, Nationwide Series, and the Sprint Cup Series). First you’ll be signing a sponsorship contract and then you’ll be joining a team, with early offerings appreciating the fact that you’re still a rookie and thus won’t be expecting amazing results from you. Eventually you’ll be attracting the attention of bigger teams and you’ll have the opportunity to sign more lucrative sponsorship deals, although being superior, they obviously command better results from you, so be prepared to put your foot down and respect those corners. Oddly the game dips into RPG territory in this mode and allows you to upgrade attributes of your car by winning performance points. Applying these points can do everything from increasing your speed, reducing tyre wear and fuel use, to the amount of damage your vehicle incurs during crashes. For a mostly authentic game it does feel a little out of place, although at least it reminds us all that it is indeed a game and it doesn’t always need to take itself so seriously.

Moving on, NASCAR 09 is all about carving a reputation for yourself and whatever mode you race in, as long as you are driving your own custom car, you’ll be earning Rep. Rep also carries over to the career mode and the better your results the more you’ll earn, thus you’ll eventually be transformed from less of an unknown and unproven racer to someone with a winning reputation.

The options elsewhere include a basic season mode and a fantastic challenge mode, which adds life to the title beyond that of the career mode. There’s no split screen mode available, although online play allows for up to 14 players to race against one another which certainly makes for more exciting and eventful racing.

NASCAR 09 is a decent attempt at translating the sport into a game, and whilst polished and playable enough it just can’t compete with the big hitting racing games in the genre, particularly in places other than America, where NASCAR by far has its biggest following. If you’re a fan then you’ve probably already got this, otherwise I would advise you to give it a rental first.