Within 10 minutes of opening the new NASCAR The Game 2011 for Wii, I had already won the Daytona 500 on "veteran" difficulty. By 35 seconds. In career mode.
And therein lies the problem: I'm not particularly good at racing games. I don't drive on iRacing or spend a huge amount of time perfecting my technique. I'm the basic casual gamer.
Yet there I was, doing a burnout and jumping up and down on top of my car, then spraying champagne in Victory Lane at Daytona. This after no practice before the start and following a 12-lap race in which I hit the wall at least once per circuit.
It didn't seem right.
I started the next race – Fontana, because NASCAR The Game 2011 uses the 2010 schedule, points system and drivers (Kasey Kahne is in the No. 9 car, for example) – and immediately hit the wall several times, dropping back to 43rd.
Actually, that was reassuring. I didn't want to just open the game and start dominating. That's no fun – particularly in career mode.
But once I figured out the Fontana track, I passed 40 cars on a late restart – yes, 40 – to win again.
The anonymous driver in the firesuit again jumped up and down on top of his car (which is illegal in real life, by the way) and sprayed champagne.
I played the game for a couple more hours until my disappointment turned into frustration. As much as I wanted to like NASCAR The Game – I'd even met a couple of the developers this season and was really enthusiastic about the title's release – the game was a letdown.
Maybe it's better on Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3, but I don't own those consoles. For Wii, the game lacked even some of the basics. The absence of these was a head-scratcher, to be quite honest.
You can't customize your paint scheme or even pick your car number (although you can earn non-customizable paint schemes to slap on the car). You can't change your setups before the race (only on pit stops) or save your preferences for future races. And the graphics seemed reminiscent of the last NASCAR game I owned – the EA Sports title for the original Xbox in 2004.
The wrecks, for all the times I'd seen the commercial where Greg Biffle's car flips wildly at Dover, weren't very impressive. When I would crash, other cars would simply pile in. A caution would wave, and we'd go on – the damage only slightly hampering the performance.
I found it difficult to use the Wii wheel with the game, so I changed the controls back to the standard thumbpad style. This made it even easier to win races – since I now had a better feel for the car – and even on the most difficult modes, I'd often be able to whoop the field.
For some reason, the user's car simply has more horsepower than any other in the game. And so on a straightaway, it's easy to pass a great number of cars at once (thanks in part to the field usually running in a two-by-two pack, as if every race were a restrictor-plate event).
At one Pocono race, I intentionally started 43rd to get more of a challenge. By Turn 3 of the first lap, I was leading.
Perhaps that would be more acceptable if the career mode had been more strenuous. In the EA Sports versions of the game, users would start their career in modifieds, then field offers for the Truck Series if they had success.
Depending how they did in the Trucks, the user would then move up the NASCAR ladder. But you couldn't just start your career in the best car at the Daytona 500.
In NASCAR The Game 2011, there are no other series but the Sprint Cup Series. And the unlockables just aren't rewarding enough to keep players coming back.
On the plus side, the opening of each race is neat. The pre-race captures some of the fireworks and flyovers that NASCAR races are known for, and PRN announcers Doug Rice and Mark Garrow give a race preview on the pace laps.
Unfortunately, the Wii version turns into a start-and-park shortly thereafter.