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NASCAR The Game: Inside Line

(Activision; US: 11 Jun 2012)

Long-time sports games fanatics will know the term “fast clock” despite it not being a widely used phrased. In early sports games—and even now through different means—the game clock would churn at double or triple speed, so that a “20 minute” period in hockey would last no more than 10 minutes. The concept behind the fast clock was simple: increase variance. Given enough time, any human player would eventually manipulate the physics and functions of the game and come away with a victory. The shorter the game ran, the less opportunities the player had to game the system and guarantee victory. In recent years, sports games have used similar strategies to the same effect (for example, five minute quarters in the NBA 2k series or automatic clock runoffs in the Madden and NCAA Football series).


Despite the fantasy of the clock, the games still felt authentic. Unfortunately, the implementation of a fast clock method in NASCAR The Game: Inside Line makes it inherently flawed. As a sport built around laps and not time, the only way to shorten races and increase variance is to reduce the amount of laps you run. Changing the length of the race changes the flow of the sport, however. Pit stops are largely eliminated and crashes are devastating.


Causing crashes early on takes zero effort for a beginner. With touchy controls, the likes of which you’d imagine encountering racing at nearly 200 miles per hour, cornering, especially in traffic, becomes a hairy affair. Once clear of the other cars, however, finishing the race is an act of dull repetition—the worst of perceived NASCAR pitfalls: endless, actionless circling.


The game’s greatest achievement lies in its visuals. The cars themselves look fine, approximately what you would expect from a late-generation Xbox 360 title. The real mastery lies in the blurring stands and backgrounds as you rip around the track. Inside Line confidently performs the most challenging feat confronting a game in which you simply drive in circles: build a realistic sense of speed. This comes about through both the touchy controls as well as the sharp visuals, but as you race around the courses, there’s a real sense of untenable speed. Entering turns, even without company, is a scary occurrence each and every time. Braking is a necessity, and too much speed as you corner will result in you spinning out on the infield.


While the speed and controls present a challenge, the game suffers much like other racing sims: you can far too easily build insurmountable leads, and without the auto-catchup that only exists in Mario Kart titles anymore, it becomes easy to take turns unnaturally slowly in order to ensure safety.


Though it may sound condescending, NASCAR The Game: Inside Line is a NASCAR game. It faithfully recreates the speed and crashes of NASCAR fame while allowing you to work your way through the extensive NASCAR cup series. But the developers have struggled to translate the length and depth of the sport to a video game platform.

Rating:

Chris Gaerig is a UX designer with a Master of Science in Information specializing in human computer interaction from the University of Michigan. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and American Culture from the University of Michigan.


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