Jeff Gordon and the rest of the racing crew get "extreme" in Activision's disappointing 3DS racer.
NASCAR Unleashed is Activision's way of making the sport appealing to both longtime supporters and, most importantly, non fans that would normally turn up their noses at the mere thought of watching it. To that end, the developers at Firebrand Games peppered traces of the Burnout franchise throughout the game in the hopes of ratcheting up the intensity (or lack thereof) that comes with looping around the same old tracks. For that, they deserve praise. As for the rest of the game, we had trouble getting into it.
The first warning sign came on the back of the case, which features highly detailed cars (the one on top kicks up leaves as it barrels down the road) that are near PlayStation Vita quality.
Seeing the game in action, sadly, is a whole other story. Make no mistake. NASCAR Unleashed looks woefully average. You'll be able to differentiate between Jimmie Johnson's Lowe's car and Tony Stewart's Office Depot ride, but it's a far cry from what Activision put on the package.
The same can be said of the tracks. The decision to take gamers outside the rigid confines of the Daytona International Speedway and Talladega (to a forest and city location) was a good one. If NASCAR titles need anything, it's a dramatic change of scenery, but there's little about these environments that stands out. Just a bunch of simplistic and borderline ugly trees and buildings.
As for the actual racing, the game manages to offer a few thrills. The sheer number of cars it pushes on screen, combined with the smooth frame rate, is definitely impressive. Firebrand achieved a great sense of speed that's especially cool in first person with boost power activated. You basically plow through the other drivers.
Thing is, it's too easy to flip your car, which more often than not results in races lost and bothersome restarts; this also causes the camera to go haywire. This happens quite a bit while trying to complete in-game challenges (takedowns, drifting) that more often than not fail to pan out.
On top of that, you're encouraged to perform takedowns, but doing this may or may not result in damage to your own vehicle. Ultimately, you need to drive through the pit lane to recharge, but more often than not, the lane is so narrow that you bounce from wall to wall.
At least the Championship Mode has plenty of different races to master, while the inclusion of race points lets you unlock all manner of things, including new cars.
Too bad Firebrand restricted multiplayer to just two drivers (local only). They didn't even bother to implement StreetPass support to exchange ghost times and driver data.
Taking all of this into account, we'll stop short of calling NASCAR Unleashed a bad game. There's some fun to be had, but the disappointing visuals and wonky controls make spending the $39.99 tough to swallow.
Review copy provided by Activision.
What's Hot: Fast paced arcade racing, impressive amount of cars, real world drivers, famous (and enhanced) tracks.
What's Not: Flipping your car, no online play, two-person local racing, no StreetPass support, lackluster graphics, console version looks more enjoyable.