Is NASCAR on the PSP a thrill ride, or just the pits?
So you're a NASCAR enthusiast who's on the go, huh? I guess the console release of NASCAR 07 isn't quite cutting it for you and you need that something extra while you're watching the cars do laps at the bar or, if you're lucky enough, you're attending an event in person and going deaf from the engine noises. Well, you're in luck, as EA Sports has finally produced a NASCAR game for the Sony PSP, which is fittingly titled just plain NASCAR. In the game, you choose from a bevy of available, skilled drivers and engage in events, or you can take the option of building your own and trying your chops in the field of NASCAR racing through Fight To the Top.
Fight To the Top is basically the game's story mode, where you begin working out of smaller racing venues and start to climb your way into the big leagues. However, EA made a slight mistake with putting this mode into the PSP, as a few crucial events are missing. Because of this, you may actually have to go through more monotonous races than you counted on, forcing you to deal with very familiar action over and over again as you fight to the finish. I suppose some die-hard NASCAR fans don't mind, but moving ahead should have a more accelerated motion than this. The game does give you the option to form your own team, however, complete with drivers and that ever-knowing agent who tries to get you side deals and other items to help out the gang.
If you're not up for getting into a season mode, however, the game still has plenty to offer for general racing action. You can hop right into a series of events rather easily, and also take part in a number of Dodge challenges to help you earn extra moolah, as well as a Speedzone where you can get the hang of the different styles of drafting thrown in. However, the game's built on quite the difficulty scale, and some rookies may be overwhelmed as to how tough the game really gets right from the start. Do yourself a favor- if you're a rookie that is getting into NASCAR for the first time, grab a console edition instead. It's more forgiving.
The control scheme works pretty good for the game, giving you the feel of cars without really going off the tracks too much. However, you have to keep an eye on a number of performances on your car, so that specific parts don't fall apart while you seek out the pit area. There's also a rewind feature, similar to that of Full Auto, but it seems kind of unrealistic here. This ties in with the game's Momentum system, where you earn points by taking greater risks on the road that you can apply to future purchases. Screw up, however, and the points are yanked out right from under you. The racing action remains fierce and competitive in this handheld build, thanks to a number of racers who remain on the track, in the hunt for the checkered flag.
The sound didn't impress me that much. There's a number of licensed EA Trax tunes with that Southern twang that are a decent break from the indie band scene, but still feel slightly out of place. Fortunately, the audio chatter and rev of the mighty stock car engines mostly drowns it out, and you can adjust it. The graphics look fitting for the sport, complete with a high frame rate (even with several vehicles running at once) and some nice-looking tracks- although you won't be able to stare too long since you're blowing through them.
The game also supports multiplayer. Up to four friends can hook up via WiFi , as long as they each hold a copy of the game, and participate in a series of events. Unfortunately, NASCAR does not support Game Sharing, so those without a copy of the game are screwed. There's also no Infrastructure support, meaning that the online play is limited to those in your personal space. And finally, why no connectivity to the PS2 NASCAR 07? You'd think that you would have the chance to earn stats for your driver in both versions, as well as the option to move points around. Bummer.
NASCAR could've used a bit more cleaning up in its run for the PSP market. While the graphics and sound are mostly pleasing and the numerous modes and events will keep you busy, I think the difficulty should've been adjusted, and online play should have been made a factor. Those who appreciated a hardened racer or the sport in NASCAR in itself should happily indulge. Everyone else, just go hunt down a different driving game- one that doesn't require a mighty test on your stress levels.
What's Hot: Mostly great presentation; gameplay feels true to the sport.
What's Not: Challenge level is too scaled; Fight To the Top gets mundane.