Building on the foundation laid by last year’s NASCAR The Game 2011, Eutechnyx is back to take another spin around the track with NASCAR the Game: Inside Line. With a brand new, revamped career mode and a host of other improvements, Inside Line is a step up from its admittedly unimpressive predecessor in just about every way. I said last year that 2011’s version reminded me of that one car that just seems to hover in the middle of the pack. Inside Line moves the car up a bit, and even though it’s still not scoring enough points to be a contender, you can certainly see the improvement.
The biggest draw to this year’s game is the drastically improved career mode. Perhaps the biggest knock on 2011 was how generic the career mode was, but Eutechnyx has gone back to the drawing board to draft (no pun intended) a really smart and authentic representation. Every race of the 2013 season is available here, from Daytona to Homestead. In addition, each race contains a full and accurate representation of its race weekend. This particularly shines for Daytona, with its multiple practice sessions and unique qualifying setup. You earn sponsorship dollars for running well and completing various tasks, which can then be spent on upgrades for your car. Perform well enough consistently, and you’ll be offered new, more lucrative sponsor contracts. The career mode also spans multiple seasons, so no more one and done like in 2011. A career mode like this is one of the biggest things that last year’s game was missing, and its inclusion does more than anything else to prove that Eutechnyx is really starting to get this thing figured out.
You’ll need to purchase as many of those aforementioned upgrades as possible if you want to continue to make a good showing as you wind through your career. Even on Medium difficulty, these races are challenging. Sure, it might be easier to win on a Superspeedway like Daytona where you don’t need to worry about pesky things like brakes or letting off the gas, but once you get into the medium and smaller sized tracks, things really start to get tricky. This is not a game for the casual race fan. You’ll need a solid understanding of the right lines for each track and where you can get the edge on your competition. You’ll even need to consider things like overheating your engine if you stay in the draft for too long. If you think that NASCAR is just about hitting the gas and turning left, you’ll be in for a rude awakening quickly here. The dynamics of pack racing are the most important thing for any NASCAR game to get right, and Inside Line does the job pretty well.
AI racers are aggressive and will defend their line and the space surrounding their car fervently. Unfortunately, that aggression is often very misplaced, which results in a substantial number of crashes caused by the AI. The other unfortunate side effect of this is that computer controlled drivers aren’t very good at avoiding accidents either, which usually means any car spinning out will likely take down at least 3 others. While the AI can sometimes be very quick at capitalizing on mistakes by the player, they also have a tendency to stick firmly to a line in almost follow-the-leader fashion.
Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the AI is when it comes to pit strategy. You have the option when setting up for the race weekend (before each race, a breath of fresh air that prevents you from being locked in to your decision for the entire career) of increasing or decreasing the percentage of laps that you will run and also the speed at which tire wear and fuel consumption occur. Thus, you can still have the thrill of making up time on that perfect pit stop without being glued to the TV for a 500-lap race. Unfortunately though, it seems like when you make the race shorter and the wear faster so that you will still need to pit on a 15-20 lap race, it throws the AI’s strategy out of whack a bit. During almost every race with this type of setup, I was able to pick up between 10 and 15 positions during the last several laps of the race because of poorly timed or seemingly unnecessary AI pit stops. This is a particularly egregious problem during caution flags, where the racers seemed to pit with no rhyme or reason. The AI is clearly a work in progress, and while better than last year’s, it still has a ways to go.
If you aren’t the career mode type, there are several other modes to whet your appetite. Standard Race Now and Season mode offerings are available, as well as a mode that allows you to skip straight to the Chase. Several challenge modes are also available, including one that lets you relive classic NASCAR moment with the intent of either matching what happened or changing it completely. While the diversity is appreciated, I imagine most people will be spending the bulk of their single player time with the career mode.
The multiplayer, like just about everything else in Inside Line, is a step up from its predecessor, but still lacking in many ways. It allows 16 players to compete in a full race weekend, which is a big upgrade from last year. You’ll still run into the same issues with lack of online traffic and griefers, which tends to put a damper on the experience. I’d like to see next year’s title expand on the online portion by possibly integrating the career mode and by expanding the anti-griefing controls.
If you are a fan of NASCAR, you’ll find that your options on console are pretty limited. In that respect, Inside Line is certainly a competent enough racer to scratch that itch. As it stands, I can definitely recommend Inside Line to NASCAR fans looking for their fix, but casual racing fans may find it overly technical and lacking in polish compared to other racing games on the market. You can tell that this is a series with a lot of potential though, and I’m eager to see what next year’s title may bring. With some additional polish, Eutechnyx has a shot at putting together something special.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.