- Publisher: Activision
- Developer: Eutechnyx
- ESRB Rating: “E" for Everyone
- Genre: Racing
- Pros: Solid presentation; lots of content; good car handling; lots of difficulty options
- Cons: Shaky A.I.; no Nationwide series; glitches
From the start NASCAR The Game: Inside Line has an advantage over last year's game simply because it is up to date right out of the box. The proper schedule, points system, car design, teams, sponsors - all of the important stuff is right where it should be for the 2012 season. The game only covers the Sprint Cup, not Nationwide or anything else, which is kind of a letdown, but it does the Sprint Cup justice this time around, so we can't complain too much.
The features list is greatly improved as well. Along with the career mode (more on that below) you can play single races, Xbox Live or local splitscreen multiplayer, or create custom paint jobs in the paint booth. There is also a new challenge mode that lets you try to beat a specific driver's best time at one of the tracks as well as a neat mode called Highlights that lets you re-live some of the biggest moments that happened in real life NASCAR.
Highlights features events from the 2011 season, such as Jeff Gordon trying to race through the field on fresh tires with 5 laps left at the Brickyard, David Regan's first victory at Darlington, or the epic battle at Homestead between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards for the championship, as well as a handful of things from the first half of the 2012 season like Kyle Busch trying to draft past Brad Keselowski at Talladega. More challenges from 2012 will be added later, and there is also a section of the mode set up for 2013 challenges to be added next year. Highlights is a fun and challenging feature that we really quite liked.
The career mode has also seen a major overhaul. You can play a single season as an established driver, or skip ahead to the Chase for the Sprint Cup if you want, or you can start a new career as a new driver and make your own team. The career mode is fascinating because you start out with a somewhat underpowered, underperforming car and then use the money you earn to upgrade it to make it better. Cars in NASCAR are all supposed to be equal, but we all know that teams with less money tend to perform poorly compared to the big teams, so it makes a lot of sense. By earning cash, even if you're just finishing 20th, you can slowly upgrade your car until you can compete with the big boys. As your performance improves, you get better sponsors who pay you more money, so your earnings and upgrades kind of snowball as the season progresses. It is surprisingly satisfying and a lot of fun to play this way, and even though your first season might not end in a championship, you'll be set up for the second year of career in pretty good shape. The career is lengthy and worthwhile.
The game has a lot of difficulty and assist settings, but finding a sweet spot between "Way too easy" and "Way too twitchy and difficult" can be a challenge. With assists on, the game is kind of a cake walk since you can actually go faster than you're supposed to through corners while the A.I. goes the proper, more realistic, speed. With assists off, any little wiggle will spin you out and the slightest bump from an opponent car will also send you spinning, which is pretty frustrating. You'll have to play with the settings to find out what works best for you. One suggestion I'll make is to under no circumstances use the automatic braking assist - it is crazy conservative and slows you down far too much for you to be competitive.
Finding the proper settings for how you want to play makes a huge difference, but there are some strange quirks with the game as well. The A.I. can be really aggressive and will bump you and spin you out even when you're just cruising at the back of the pack. For whatever reason, any crash causes the A.I. cars in front of the wreck to go into evasion mode or slam on the brakes, which causes even bigger wrecks even though they shouldn't really be reacting to the wreck behind them at all. The caution flags actually function correctly this year, but oftentimes not before half the field has wrecked itself trying to avoid a wreck that was 1/4 mile behind it. Other quirks are things like the A.I. having awful pit strategy that almost always helps you get to the front late in races, and more severe stuff (but not super common) such as contact with other cars that occasionally results in them flying high into the air no matter the speed or angle you hit them, are also present among others.
All in all, the gameplay is almost there. There still needs to be more work on balancing realism and fun, and some glitches and quirks still need to be worked out, but when you get into the groove and learn to race properly, at settings you're comfortable with, it can be pretty enjoyable. Maybe we'll get a huge patch and DLC like the last game had to fix it in a few months (pure speculation on my part). One last thing I'll say is that drafting actually works right this year, and the A.I. will follow you in the draft, which makes Daytona and Talladega surprisingly realistic and enjoyable.
Graphics & Sound
The sound is solid as well. The engine sounds are fairly accurate, though the droning of 43 engines during a race can get somewhat monotonous. The Fox Sports commentators do a little intro before each race, and Darryl Waltrip even does his "Boogity, boogity boogity" thing that is actually unique at each track (and you can turn it off in the menus if you want), but there isn't any commentary during races. You just hear your spotter telling you what is going on around you. No goofy repetitive comments about dropping their hot dog or the team ordering pizza this time, which is a definite improvement over last year.