- Buy the Game
Reviewed by Jason Thompson
owdy, y’all! It’s time once again to rev up your engines and prepare to steer left for lap after lap of pulse-pounding NASCAR action. You may recall that last year’s "NASCAR 08" was a giant turd on almost all levels. Thankfully, a few of these problems have been addressed this year, but don’t expect "NASCAR 09" to be anything close to a mind-blowing racing experience. It’s still the same old engine under that hood. Yeah, okay, enough with the bad puns. Let’s get cracking on all that turning left!
After you pop this year’s game into your console of choice, you will be greeted by none other than Jeff Gordon who will lead you through the various aspects of the main career mode. Jeff’s a personable guy, and his digitized presence adds quite a bit to the lackluster presentation of last year’s offering. The first thing he offers up is the choice to drive in normal or pro mode, another new addition. These two settings are pretty self-explanatory, but just having the choice this year will make those who want a bit more of a challenge right off the bat much happier. After all, why hold the hands of would-be armchair racing vets?The actual control of the cars this year has also been greatly improved. In “NASCAR 08” driving was extremely painful, making players feel like they were steering a giant shoebox around the track. Obviously, this isn’t the kind of thing you want when you’re developing a racing game, so it’s nice to report that this time around the cars are much smoother and aren’t victims to the constant need for over-correction while being driven. It was hard to tell last year if “NASCAR 08” was secretly wanting to be more of a rally racing game due to its ridiculously manic steering control. After all, you’re just going straight, turning left, and not wanting to bump into the wall or the jackass two feet away from you.
Car customization inside and out is a bit more enjoyable this year as well. Players can decide what types of sponsor decals (from real companies such as Kroger to fictitious brands) they want, as well as how they’re displayed, the font for their car number, stripes vs. flames, and so on. Upgrades and tweaks can also be applied under the hood as well, purchased with points gained by winning races and building rep – another new addition this year. Your rep score is, of course, built upon how well you perform on the track -- don’t be a total ass out there and you’ll do just fine. Act like the moronic local yokel who deserves that greasy spoon sponsor decal on his hood, and your rep score will respond accordingly.
In the graphics and sound department, “NASCAR 09” is again a big jump over last year’s game. The cars and tracks look much smoother, and shitty country pop music is not the only thing offered up on the audio front. And if you decide to take your game online, racers will have a good time racing in some pretty smoothly connected events (at least on the 360 version). So far so good it would seem, no? Well, not really.
While “NASCAR 09” may have made some very necessary improvements over its predecessor, the fact remains that it still just isn’t a very engaging racing game. This may come down to the player needing to be a fan of the sport to begin with, but even that shouldn’t be the main excuse for the game not being very exciting overall. True, there have been mini-challenges thrown in this year to break up the monotony of the main career mode, but even those aren’t enough to make the game a racer that makes you feel like you just have to play it. Add to that a slightly wonky AI (it features computer-controlled cars that feel like robots are actually driving the cars), and you have a facet of the game that still needs improvement. The bottom line is that better presentation – as good as it is this year – does not make a better game overall. At least we know Jeff Gordon got paid well.