Activision follows up last March’s NASCAR 2011 with NASCAR Unleashed, a racing game that hopes to cater to both fans of the sport and arcade racing enthusiasts alike.
The NASCAR video game franchise has always been a mixed bag of good releases, mediocre ones, and others that are best left at the bottom of the bargain bin. When Activision picked up the title and delivered NASCAR 2011 early this year, it was met with mostly lukewarm response. NASCAR Unleashed hopes to correct the mistakes of its predecessor while building on its strengths in order to deliver an all around racing experience.
NASCAR Unleashed plays like a racing simulator with a healthy dose of arcade gameplay added in. Players can choose from a stable of 15, real-life, Sprint Cup Series NASCAR drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, and Kyle Busch, as well as a few other custom players. In addition to the drivers, players can also choose from a plethora of familiar NASCAR vehicles bearing the logos of their corporate sponsors. This crossover of real-life racers and car models, while nothing new, is certain to be appreciated by hardcore fans right from the beginning.
In NASCAR Unleashed, the more serious racing simulation is glossed over by its arcade elements. Sure, the game still tries to deliver as realistic a racing experience as possible, and there are no weird power-ups littered throughout the tracks like in EA’s NASCAR Kart Racing, but NASCAR Unleashed nonetheless has its fair share of quirks tailored more towards an audience of casual gamers than serious race fans. For instance, the game tries its best to encourage you to crash and smash into opposing cars as much as possible, and whether or not this is reflective of the intentions of real-life NASCAR drivers during a race, it works well within the game if you want to emerge victorious.
The physics system finds a good balanced between being relaxed enough so as not to cause frustration and being realistic enough that the game still feels like a racing simulation. There are also damage features that reflect the destruction of the car as you pummel your way to the front on the pack, making your vehicle look more crippled and crumpled if you overdo the bumping and smashing. However, a quick pit stop will restore your automobile, preventing you from accumulating too much damage and wiping out.
As usual, the game objective is to go fast enough so that you grab first place, go around the chosen tracks a couple of laps while maintaining your position, and hopefully cross the finish line as the leader of the pack. To help you with this endeavor, NASCAR Unleashed has a Boost meter that slowly accumulates points as you do things like bumping other cars, drafting behind lead cars, drifting through sharp turns, going to the pit stop, and catching air on those inclines. Once the Boost meter is filled, simply tap the appropriate button and watch your car turn into a speed demon.
The NASCAR Unleashed Wii game offers real-life racing tracks Martinsville Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Daytona International Speedway, and Talladega Superspeedway, but most of the racing takes place in forests, beaches, or cities and not on the actual tracks themselves. Still, racing in these new and outrageous locations are a welcome relief. Add to that some challenge activities, a few unlockables, a rival system, and two-player action and NASCAR Unleashed has a lot of good things going for itself.
However, despite having all the right ingredients, NASCAR Unleashed seems to fall short of making a memorable game. The cars don’t really differ much from each other in terms of speed or power, and you can practically choose any driver and it won’t make much of a difference. Also, customization is limited, and the unlockable accessories and skin for the cars are mediocre.
Graphics wise, the game doesn’t stand out either; although the different locations are aptly designed, it’s ultimately forgettable. In terms of sound quality, the soundtrack is decent but fails to really capture the NASCAR racing spirit.
In multiplayer, the Wii NASCAR Unleashed game is limited to two-person split-screen. That means no online play or multiplayer for four which would have really given the game a good boost. Playing with the AI is no better. Difficulty wise, single-player mode flitters in between average and challenging. You’ll often find yourself really engaged in the starting seconds of the race when you’re packed in tight with the other drivers, but once you skyrocket your way to first place, the other cars seem to disappear in a blur behind you pretty fast.
NASCAR Unleashed is available on the Wii console and can be played with the standard Wii controller. Multiplayer for up to two people split-screen is available.
Ultimately, NASCAR Unleashed can be described as a fun racing game, but one that is lacking. You’ll enjoy some good times as you bump into other cars, draft, drift, slingshot, catch air, and speed past opponents, but the game could have benefited from more features and customization options. NASCAR Unleashed is a good game, but it could have been better.