It’s the Daytona 500, and I’m in my rookie year. I’m in eighth place with two laps to go, I get loose coming out of turn three and smash the wall. The number 88 car gets into my passenger side and goes airborne. It’s at this time that I activate photo mode and snap a once-in-a-lifetime picture. The grin on my face was almost worth blowing the biggest race in NASCAR. Well, I guess there’s always next year…
Experiences like that one are why I play NASCAR games.
NASCAR ’14 signals a change of pace within the franchise. Deep Silver has taken over the publishing reigns, a position formally held by Activision. In December, Eutechnyx formed ETX Racing, a smaller division of the UK-based developer to handle the development of the company’s NASCAR titles. The game also launched at a budget price of $49.99.
It brings me no joy to tell you that NASCAR ’14 is something of a disappointment. The game doesn’t offer many changes when compared to the last entry in the series, aside from an updated driver list and sponsors. Game-breaking glitches are frequent, and multiplayer servers are barren. Gen Six cars are available right out of the box, something missing from the previous console release.
If you’ve played NASCAR the Game: Inside Line, or NASCAR the Game: 2013, the latest NASCAR releases on both consoles and PC, you’ve played the bulk of NASCAR ’14. The menus are nearly identical to the ones in the past two NASCAR titles. It’s not that the menus were ugly or convoluted in the first place, it just would have been refreshing to see something new. The color scheme has been tweaked significantly, but it still feels like the same-old Inside Line or 2013.
The career mode, however, has gotten an update. The credits you earn from placing in races are put towards research and development. Researching better engines and other components will translate to your pre-race loadout. Picking the right engine for a specific track will determine your car’s performance. For example, you wouldn’t pick a short-track engine for a race at a superspeedway. The new R&D features in NASCAR ’14 are a welcome addition, but a shallow one. I wish the game offered deeper customization options.
The updated career mode makes it easier for you to pick from your selection of paint schemes before each race. After all, who wants to wear the same clothes every day?
NASCAR ’14 plays relatively similar to Inside Line and 2013, with some exceptions. NASCAR ’14 is difficult. Beginning your rookie season with no upgrades is unforgiving, even with a good qualifying position, and easy AI. But, the longer you race, and the more you research, the better your car drives.
This brings me to the glitches, those darn glitches. There’s nothing more frustrating than driving hard during a 50-lap race, pitting for fuel and tires, and your pit crew doesn’t show up. Your car will sit in the pit box indefinitely, until you’re given no option other than quit the race, or wait for your inescapable loss. On occasion, you will restart after a caution 100 meters or so behind the rest of the pack. Inside Line launched with its fair share of technical glitches, but they were eventually patched. I hope ETX Racing follows this trend.
Although the online server population leave something to be desired, ETX Racing has included split-screen multiplayer in NASCAR ’14. It’s always more exciting when your see your friend’s facial expression when you tap their left rear, sending them spinning into the wall on the last lap at Chicagoland.
NASCAR ’14 plays it safe, catering specifically to the Sprint Cup. I’d love to see the addition of the Camping World Truck Series, and the Nationwide Series. Fantasy tracks would also be a nice inclusion to the package.
The game looks great, especially considering the dated hardware it calls home. It’s not much of a visual upgrade compared to Inside Line, but Inside Line looked great to begin with. On top of that, the sound design is right where it should be. The roar of 43 V8’s barreling down a quarter-mile stretch never sounded so good, especially when accompanied by thousands of screaming fans. I can’t wait to see what ETX Racing does with the NASCAR franchise on next-gen.
It’s difficult to recommend NASCAR ’14. It’s just not a big enough upgrade from Inside Line or 2013, aside from the updated cars and small season improvements. If you’re willing to look past the technical glitches, or hope that ETX Racing patches them, NASCAR ’14 is still a solid NASCAR simulator.