NASCAR ’14 sets out its stock racing stall right from the starting line. Rather than bombard you with heavily edited footage of a Go Daddy branded bar of soap on wheels, it instead tempts you in with a Buzz-esque quiz on Jeff Gordon’s past performances in the Sprint Cup series. It’s these nuggets of trivia that link the racer’s on-track action, guaranteeing a satisfying coffee break for Daytona addicts – and a raised eyebrow from those merely interested in tailspins, outlandish liveries, and dreadful Danica Patrick commercials.
Those taking Eutechnyx’s third crack at the NASCAR nut for a spin probably shouldn’t expect instant gratification here, as its campaign is a gruelling affair that demands patience on par with Dale Earnhardt doing the school run in a busy city centre. You’ll stall the moment that you reach your first race, as the rags to riches career here plops you in the cockpit of a Sinclair C5 disguised as a Ford Fusion. It’s almost impossible to compete in these early stages, but as you progress, you’ll earn sponsors, credits, and the ability to upgrade your environmentally unfriendly chariot.
Making progress requires a cool head and an earnest adoration for the leftie loving sport, as you’ll need to practice loops, qualify, and compete copious times if you want to earn a single podium prize. Yes, you can turn down the difficulty and even skip a lot of the fluff, but this is a release designed around the full race day experience, so you’ll want to slap on your overalls and douse yourself in oil before settling down for an afternoon in Atlanta. After you’ve put in an almost tiring amount of work, even a lowly 25th finish can make you feel like you’re on top of the world.
This also works the opposite way, of course, as a tiny nudge on the final straight in Fontana can leave you in last place, and all of your hard work in tatters. It’s an occasionally cruel game, with the aggressive artificial intelligence accentuating as much. Your fellow racers will bump you with reckless abandon if you dare to occupy their personal space, and while the addition of radio chatter and a helpful proximity guide tend to minimise mistakes, there’ll still be occasions where you slip out of line, and find yourself in the centre of a 40 car pile-up.
To be fair, it’s impressive that the release squeezes such a dizzying number of vehicles on the screen – especially when many come complete with authentic M&M’s decals that will leave you yearning for a taste of the popular confectionary’s sweet, sweet candy. This isn’t a jaw dropping game by any stretch of the imagination – particularly as it finds itself in the rear-view mirror of next-gen exclusives such as DriveClub – but it performs well under pressure, and captures the often frightening sense of speed of the sport that it’s trying to replicate.
There’s a fair amount to it, too. As you progress through the career, you’ll accrue sponsors, who’ll ask you to apply their garish logos to your vehicle’s otherwise pristine bodywork. Rather than slap these stickers on willy-nilly, though, you’ll be able to position, resize, and rotate them as you please – particularly pleasant news if you want to repurpose the famous arches of McDonald’s fame as a makeshift crown for the Burger King logo. All the while, your cause will be championed by a thick accented Texas man, who wouldn’t sound out of place at a Dixie Chicks concert.
Sadly, there’ll be no renditions of Wide Open Spaces while you play, as the release plumps up for a much more miserable roster of budget rock music that’s littered with depressingly predictable guitar riffs. At least the menus – which mimic the insides of a particularly pristine workshop – channel Codemasters’ back catalogue, with the transition animations giving the game a bit of pizzazz as a result. Multiplayer is similarly considered, with the ability to create online leagues and custom race types, though don’t expect to encounter an enormous community when you do connect.
An intriguing International Superstar Soccer-esque Highlights option rounds out the package outside of the usual selection of Quick Races and Time Trials, allowing you to relive some of the best moments from the 2013 season, and attempt to replicate them for yourself. These tend to be slightly more bitesized affairs, and make for a welcome change of pace from the much more longform campaign, but will require an established understanding of how the game plays if you stand any chance of coming away from these challenges with a Gold medal to your name.
NASCAR ’14 will bump away at more casual players’ patience, but fans will have the fortitude to see each full race day through. A steep learning curve means that you’ll need to commit to get anything out of this stock racing experience, but your efforts will definitely be rewarded in time – especially if you’re a fan of real life motorsport.