NASCAR 2011: The Game is the first (proper) NASCAR title on the Wii and unfortunately it's a mess. Developer Eutechnyx delivered a simplified port of the game on the HD consoles, which was already a middle-of-the-road experience to begin with. This version lacks many of the features from that version and adds on the extra baggage of bad controls and poor visuals. The game treads a blurred line between casual racer and full-on simulation but won’t satisfy fans of either genre or NASCAR in general.
One problem is that it is ruthlessly easy. Once you get the basic drafting mechanic down the game is a cakewalk on all but the hardest settings. There is no sense of purpose, accomplishment, or evolution in the game’s career mode. It is just a string of 36 races on the NASCAR circuit where you try to finish close to first in order to grab the most points in the standing. If you are wondering what happens when you finish I’ll save you the suspense: nothing. The circuit simply restarts. Victory celebrations are tepid; your driver dances around before popping a bottle of champagne while surrounded by fans.
The graphics are not pleasing to the eye. The sky is matte of fuzzy and flat textures. The spectators in the stands are bland colored circles that make noise. The cars look alright but if you get really close up you start to notice just how poorly the textures are done. It is sad when a NASCAR game cannot even get the M&M logo on the side of a car to look right. At least the framerate is smooth most of the time.
You have the option to choose a professional driver or create your own but the outcome is inconsequential in regards to the gameplay. During races you and 42 competitors battle it out for first place. Out of that 42 you are assigned a rival who is close to you in the standings. You receive bonus points for finishing ahead of your rival. You also gain EXP for clean passes, setting the fastest lap times, and of course finishing in first place. The Drafting and Slingshotting mechanic works well but reduces the game to a very arcadey experience.
Pressure sensitive controls are very beneficial to racing games and the Wii remote's lack of this feature is detrimental to this experience. There is no nuance to breaking as you enter turns, meaning you will slam on the brakes before entering a curve rather than gently slowing down and entering cleanly. You have the option to use the Wii Wheel or the Wii Remote plus nunchuk combo for steering. Using the motion controls to steer seemed as if it would be the simpler alternative but I found it the most difficult to get used to. I constantly over-steered, which led to my car spinning out of control. While some of the struggle is from my own incompetence, the Nunchuk is undeniably the more precise and comfortable option.
The Wii version is missing a bunch of features, including online multiplayer, which even though it had its fair share of problems in the other versions of the game, is still a regrettable omission. Split screen racing can be fun with a friend but that still doesn't address the fact that you will be racing against computer opponents most of the time.
The game’s presentation does have a few nice touches. You are asked trivia questions about the sport during the loading screens. The two commentators also point out interesting facts about each course on the circuit. Your spotter comes through loud and clear as he advises you through races. However, he does have a tendency to repeat himself unnecessarily.
Yellow flags are a common occurrence. The game does a fair job of knowing when the race needs to reset but there were times when mine and other cars were involved in sizable wrecks and the race continues as if nothing happened. Conversely there were times when the yellow flag was waved unexpectedly for smaller scale collisions. The crashes themselves are a big letdown. They certainly do not compare to the epic and sprawling destruction of the game’s opening cinematic.
Other drawbacks include the game’s lack of tuning options. You cannot tune your vehicle before a race then save those customizations to the individual track it is best suited for. During pit stops you can adjust tire pressure as you fuel up or change your tires during the longer races. You don't have the ability to paint your car outside of paint schemes you can unlock. The game has a limited licensed soundtrack that fits the game well even though it only plays while navigating the menus. The rest of the game’s sound design is fine; engines growl and the slash of the wind comes through effectively while passing your competitors.
Considering all of these omissions, the fact that the game retails for full price is inexcusable. Other than the career mode you have your basic time trial, eliminator and standard race events. Through your career you unlock bonus invitational events that offer a welcome distraction from the uniformity of the rest of the game. The difficulty level is adjustable with a range of driving assists, damage effects, and race lengths to choose from. For the best experience I recommend the hardest difficulty and a reasonable amount of laps per race, otherwise the game is too easy and uninteresting. The biggest challenges are the road races, a concept which clashes undesirably with the game’s racing mechanics that are tailored for tactically navigating the oval courses. Both control schemes feel clunky and laborious during these races, which is why I'm glad only two of them show up in the career mode.
NASCAR 2011: The Game for Wii is an unfortunate misfire for a series that has seen better days. If you absolutely must play a NASCAR game this year, avoid this version at all costs (especially fully priced). There are much better racing experiences out there but unfortunately none of those alternatives bear the valuable NASCAR license. Being only the first entry from developers Euthechnyx, who delivered a more comprehensive HD version of the game earlier this year, NASCAR 2011: The Game doesn't completely erase the hope that we may someday have a worthy NASCAR game on Wii, but it sure doesn't help.