I think the most difficult part of reviewing NASCAR 15 for the PC is trying not to plagiarize myself. A few years ago I reviewed NASCAR The Game: Inside Line for RaceDepartment and went into great detail about the game’s numerous bugs and issues, something other mainstream sites lacked the knowledge of the sport to do. Unfortunately, with
Eutechnyx The Artist Formerly Known as Eutechnyx being a company that has produced such gems as Ride to Hell: Retribution and Street Racing Syndicate, the four NASCAR titles that they’ve created for us since 2011 have had the exact same bugs, glitches, and shortcomings that have never been rectified. Every issue I’m about to list has been seen in all four prior iterations of this game. This means I basically have to re-write the exact same review I wrote two years ago, as NASCAR 15 is yet another abomination in a series that deserved to die a long time ago.
It never used to be like this, either.
To explain why the Eutechnyx series has been so brutal, you need to go all the way back to the mid 1990’s. While NASCAR as a sport is typically only embraced by North American residents, traditionally NASCAR games have been quite good. In fact, they have usually been groundbreaking. The Papyrus NASCAR games of the late 90’s/early 2000’s set the bar impossibly high for PC racing simulations, and the EA Sports games on consoles were as detailed as their yearly Madden and FIFA offerings. Even games put out by independent studios who couldn’t afford to include every Winston Cup driver became cult classics for their inclusion of hardcore physics and realistic career mode progression.
But this wave of incredible NASCAR games didn’t last forever. EA Sports secured the exclusive license and then failed to innovate their product during the XBOX 360 generation of games, pushing out a barebones NASCAR simulator that was essentially ARCA Sim Racing for consoles – it looked pretty, and drove nice with a wheel if you were an early adopter of the Logitech G25 or G27, but there was little “game” aspect behind it to keep you immersed.
By 2011, the rights to develop NASCAR games were given to a small studio in Europe, a decision that sounded bad on paper at the time and was even worse in execution. Bugs, glitches, oddities, and inaccuracies frustrated your average NASCAR fan who hadn’t yet migrated to iRacing, or taken up an interest in downloading mods for NASCAR Racing 2003 Season or rFactor.
You begin to understand the $22 price tag upon loading the game up for the first time. The main menu hasn’t changed, the game’s splash screens and logo’s haven’t changed, save for the 15 replacing the 14, and even the preset custom car liveries for Career mode haven’t changed. Now, in some instances, this approach to a yearly product works – NHL 15 on the PS3 is a carbon copy of NHL 14 with a few gameplay slider tweaks, but that’s because the base game is very good and there wasn’t a whole lot to change to begin with.
With the Eutechnyx NASCAR games, however, there was…
It doesn’t drive very well. I understand this is a game for casual fans and not a hardcore simulator like iRacing or NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, so I hooked up my PS3 controller and went into the mindset that I was about to play NASCAR Thunder 2015. I went to Kansas at night for my first few laps, and it was apparent that no effort had been made since 2012’s Inside Line to adjust the car handling even the slightest amount. In 2015, Generation 6 NASCAR Sprint Cup cars are producing the most amount of downforce ever for an American Stock Car, and driving NASCAR 15, you wouldn’t know it. They still behave like the awkward Car of Tomorrow bricks from a few years ago when Eutechnyx first started rolling these games out. They float around like bathtub toys, they’re sluggish to react to inputs, and not particularly enjoyable to drive by yourself or around others.
I tried to dial this out in two ways. First, I spent some time in the car setup menu, because I sort of know what I’m doing in there. And I was shocked to see that there was an option to adjust the rear sway bar. 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Cars don’t have a rear sway bar. Regardless, I threw my regular tweaks at the car, tweaks I’ve used in ARCA Sim Racing and NASCAR Racing 2003 Season that usually turn my ride into a rocketship – and they did nothing. Crazy wedge adjustments didn’t do much to free up the car, when even in the NASCAR Thunder series of games, small tweaks in the game’s basic setup menu made noticeable handling changes out on the track.
The second way I tried to get rid of the floaty, unresponsive handling was to actually mess with the controller settings in the options menu. By default the game has a lot of sliders set to appeal to the casual crowd – lots of dampening on inputs and stuff being run through filters to prevent sudden car movements – and I turned everything down or off.
With all assists off, a proper setup thrown at the car, and heavy adjustments made to eliminate the baby filters on inputs, driving still felt sluggish, unresponsive, and frustrating. It was more difficult than necessary to put the car where you wanted it to go.
I tried about half of the tracks in Single Race mode during my time spent with NASCAR 15. After taking my first few laps around Kansas, I went everywhere from Darlington, Daytona, Las Vegas and New Hampshire, to Sonoma, Kentucky, Atlanta, and Bristol. The lone common denominator that ruined my gameplay experience on every track was the atrocious artificial intelligence. It’s not possible to enjoy racing with computer opponents in NASCAR 15.
As pictured above, there is little to no AI skill difference between good drivers and shit drivers. For the non-Americans reading through this review out of boredom, the #4 of Kevin Harvick has been absolutely phenomenal this year and will probably win the championship again. In NASCAR 15, Harvick’s insane speed that’s been shown during the first half of the 2015 season is nowhere to be found; instead the #4 team is being blown out by Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Justin Allgaier. This is the equivalent to booting up FIFA 15 and seeing Messi failing to score a single goal all season, or Mercedes finishing mid-pack in F1 2014. When you’re battling perennial substitute driver Regan Smith and rookie Jeb Burton for the lead, it just doesn’t feel right.
The AI problems start to really unravel during Qualifying. While the new format is awesome to try for yourself, the AI turns into special needs children who are blissfully unaware of how to navigate a crowded race track. At Daytona, I teamed up with Kurt Busch to jump to the top of the charts. During a hotlap, in a battle with Brad Keselowski and AJ Allmendinger for the pole on the opposite side of the track, Busch promptly locked up the brakes and sent me flying because Bobby Labonte or some shit backmarker was merging on the backstretch and he wanted to draft with him instead. This lasted for five seconds before Busch yanked the car out from behind Labonte and tried to get in my draft wake again. I slowed up to reconnect, and Busch promptly did this again with three other cars. As we came across other cars in a tandem draft, they too would suddenly separate for absolutely no reason and kill their laps instead of simply avoiding slower cars in a different lane.
Oh, and tandem drafting hasn’t been removed yet, even though cup drivers haven’t been able to do it with Generation 6 cars for three years now.
While we’re on the subject of restrictor plate racing, NASCAR 15 in no way comes even close to what you see on Sundays. Plate racing in NASCAR 15 is absurd; the cars are crammed into insanely close packs like sardines, magnetized to the racing surface to prevent every lap from becoming a 25+ car wreck. This is not fun to race, as while the AI has near perfect grip, suctioned to the track by approximated physics to cut down on the CPU load, your car isn’t granted these luxuries. A small awkward nudge by the AI caused by the game gluing their car to the surface will occasionally send you flying, and more often than not, you’re the only one who ends up wrecked.
At Darlington, I experienced a really hilarious glitch where I exited the pits at the same time as Carl Edwards, which is sort of a normal thing on an active race track. His car shuttered, almost intimidated by my mere presence (its understandable, I was driving as Danica), and he promptly rolled to a stop in the middle of turn one, just below the racing surface.
Speedways in general are an exercise in frustration. The AI still retains the brake checking bug that has plagued Eutechnyx games for the past five years, making all speedways totally undriveable. At Atlanta, Kansas, Las Vegas, and even Darlington, the AI would hammer the brakes at inopportune times, totally dismantling the pack and making the entire field uncompetitive against the player car.
Diving into turn one at Kansas, I had to restart the race at least ten times because I kept plowing into the back of Kyle Larson, who was checking up for no reason. In fact, the whole field was checking up for no reason, as if they were doing the wave at a sporting event. Once the field spread out, things got marginally better, although there seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to why drivers would run certain lines. I had a pretty satisfying battle with Brad Keselowski for a few laps, only for him to take the low line in turn one and almost lose the rear end – causing me to nearly run him over. I figured hey, maybe he just got loose and they built that into the game this year – until Tony Stewart did the exact same thing at the exact same spot a few laps later. And then Kyle Busch. And then Matt Kenseth. I eventually passed the entire field this way.
Like Kansas, Kentucky, Vegas and Atlanta also had their share of problems. At Atlanta, as you can see in the picture above, there’s literally a spot on the track that every AI car refuses to venture to, and you can just shoot up through the middle if you get the line right. At Kentucky, all of the AI cars brake check on the exit of Turn 2. At Vegas, they all hit the wall on the exit of Turn 4. These are all glitches that have existed since 2012’s Inside Line and carried on throughout multiple titles.
Bristol and New Hampshire were pretty bad; the AI flat-out wrecked you at Bristol, but if you did so much as sneeze on them, they’d turn a hard right into the wall. New Hampshire was interesting, as the AI seemed to have much more grip and power than the player could possibly muster, and that’s unfortunate as New Hampshire is one of my favorite tracks. Sonoma was the last stop, and the cars were so incomprehensibly bad to drive on a road course with a controller that you shouldn’t even bother trying. It seems like anywhere I went, the AI not only needed to have its parents called in after class, but exhibited the exact same specific issues they did in the previous iterations of the series – as if nobody had even cared enough to fix them. I know so many people give EA Sports shit for releasing a slightly improved FIFA each year, but at least you can play the damn game and have fun with it.
The issues continue to pile up, even after moving away from the AI. The default setup, something most gamers will never touch when playing NASCAR 15, causes the car to overheat less than a handful of laps into the race. The custom car designer, something many people will flock to in attempt to prolong the short life of the game, only allows for MS Paint-tier monstrosities, and the in-game editor runs so laughably slow that you’ll omit designing your own car altogether. And the family oriented liveries that sub in for Brad Keselowski’s Miller Lite Fusion and Clint Bowyer’s 5-Hour Energy Camry are laughably out of place. Career mode has been unchanged, race intros have been unchanged, and some paint schemes, such as Regan Smith’s #7 Tax Slayer SS, are direct carry-overs from last year’s game. To nitpick even more, when have you seen New Hampshire this packed?
As I said in the RaceDepartment review of NASCAR The Game: Inside Line, a game that was released in late 2012, everywhere you turn, there is some sort of game-breaking glitch, bug, or issue that prevents anyone but the most dedicated, hardcore of NASCAR console fanboys from enjoying this title. Just like NASCAR 14 and NASCAR 13 before it.
It’s a shame, really, because every racing series from Stock Car Brazil to D1GP, and even some of the crazy shit like the SCORE Off-Road Series and ARCA have these really great racing games that the fanbase can pick up and spend countless hours getting consumed by, and yet the premiere auto racing series in North America, with millions of weekly viewers and a hugely dedicated fanbase, is choosing to represent itself with arguably the worst series of racing games ever made. I’m entirely unsure what’s worse: The fact that five of these games have been made with such a shocking disregard for quality and nothing has changed throughout the different installments, or that ten years ago, on inferior hardware and when AOL was still a thing, you could get a vastly superior American Stock Car game.
I made my own efforts to tell Eutechnyx what was wrong with the 2013 game during the early access phase of the title, and was promptly banned from the Steam forums for “trolling.” During 2011’s lifespan, which was artificially supported by several patches, I made an effort to regularly post on the official forums, and was banned there too by moderators who wanted to power trip and get early copies of next years game as a gift for their efforts. This is the future they chose, as NASCAR 15 is another shameful entry in a pathetic franchise, broken beyond repair and unable to be loved by all but the most dedicated of fanboys who weren’t old enough to experience the glory days of Dirt to Daytona.
NASCAR needs to get their act together and not let this continue; what was once a fantastic line of games is now an embarrassment to the brand’s public image.