NASCAR's latest outing on the PC arrived last week via Steam. Developed by Eutechnyx, NASCAR: The Game 2013 (NTG2013) offers players plenty of content, but it probably isn't the most robust and satisfying racer you'll ever play.
When it comes to racing games, I tend to go the arcade route: Need For Speed, Burnout to name more recent franchises. Sims are tend to require too much attention to detail and are rife with theory and terminology that's over my head and level of interest. I knew I was in for a challenge with NASCAR: The Game 2013, as beyond some of the famous names in NASCAR, including Jeff Gordon and the Indianapolis Speedway, I knew next to nothing about the sport.
Being officially licensed, NTG2013 is loaded with real, licensed content that even non-fans like myself can appreciate. This content includes forty-three drivers, twenty-two real tracks (almost twice that amount if you count the night race version of those), and twenty-two race teams. Several modes of play, all available from first launch, are built around this licensed material. These include Career mode, in which you provide a name for your driver and team, as well as a car number. Car preferences include Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota only. Sponsors can be unlocked as you progress, and you can view the Driver Standings from this main menu as well.
Working your way around the virtual Shop (by pressing left and right on the d-pad) reveals other modes. Paint Booth is where you can edit an existing paint job or import one directly from Windows. In the Rewards area, you can go to the Race Shop to acquire more Pin Packs and Decals, as well as Pro Driver Setups, to further customize your experience. On that note, the My NASCAR area is where you can review online race results, photos, and tweak a variety of options. These options include controls, sound, video, and gameplay settings. The video settings include a variety of toggles and tweaks such as playing in Windowed mode or Full screen (windowed is actually the default), resolution, FXAA, draw distance, motion blur, texture quality, high-res mirror reflections, and so on. After changing from 720p windowed to 1080p full screen, the game crashed back to Windows on me within twenty seconds, but after re-launching it, I haven't experienced any more crashing. As for gameplay settings that you can adjust, these include about a half dozen driving assists (transmission type, steering & braking assist, TC and SC assist, etc).
Career mode is for the more invested folks, but if you're looking to just hit some tracks and burn rubber, the Single Player section features a Race Now mode. Within this you select your team, driver within that team, track, and off you go. Track Testing and Single Season options are also found here. Multiplayer, which supports up to sixteen racers, includes Quick Race, Choose Race, and Private Race. Some miscellaneous settings like number of laps and time of day can be set. I have had little luck finding anyone to play online despite what appears to be a fairly active Steam Community Hub for the game.
Ultimately, my favorite mode would be the Challenges, which is split into Highlights and Head To Head. Highlights allows you to replay events from the last few years -- namely from 2011 into 2013. A description of the scenario is provided, and then it's up to you to decide to relive or rewrite history. For example, Danny Hamlin had a Challenge in which he was down by 1.5 seconds with five laps to go. These one-off, criteria based events were more compelling to me than quick races or even career races against the AI.
Challenging the AI is a mixed offering in my relatively limited experience. Besides starting off in 43/43rd position, your chances of a comeback, especially on the default number of laps, is slim to none if you make any mistake. Plus, the number of Cautions that pop-up, forcing the race to come to a near halt, become grating quickly. For fans of the sport or those that enjoy racing sims, this may be just part of the experience, but I found these delays to be hard to sit through. Recent posts by Eutechnyx in the Community Hub on Steam suggests they're re-working the AI and are looking for feedback to help curtail this.
As for presentation, NTG2013 didn't blow me away, but it got the job done for the most part. The drone of the engines and regular chatter in your ear from your AI team members gets repetitive, but the smooth frame rates and impressive looking car models bring a good balance to the equation. I liked how the game menu was designed around an active shop, too.
Overall, I believe NTG2013 to be a good sim racer for NASCAR, but it didn't garner a whole lot of genuine enjoyment for me. Part of this is due to my lack of knowledge and interest in NASCAR, another part due to my racing game preference (arcade over sim), and most of the rest I would attribute to the a combination of the repetitive nature of the sport, the plentiful Cautions, the hit-and-miss experiences with the AI, and sparse online activity. With that, let's get to the summary...