NASCAR racing is kind of like car racing with Zoolander-complex…except Zoolander could only turn right. Regardless, the sport is extremely popular in the United States, and if you think there's something remotely easy about controlling a vehicle constantly moving at speeds between 160 to 200MPH, with 43 cars on a fairly narrow road, you may want to get your head examined. Additionally, NASCAR is solely based on skill, as all NASCAR vehicles on the track are virtually identical in performance, and the only thing that separates them would be fine-tuning aspects such as tire pressure, transmission gearing, suspension firmness, and downforce. All of those intricacies find their way into EA Sports' latest NASCAR outing for the 2009 season.
NASCAR 09 stars Jeff Gordon, who is the game's guide. Upon booting the game up, Gordon will appear with various informational guideline for you to keep in mind. At the beginning of it all, you'll select your drive style, and be allowed to go on a test drive piloting Gordon's very own #24. You can either play the game with a horde of assists (don't do this), or take full control of your vehicle by turning all assists off. Shortly after you've toyed around with game settings, the game will give you a vehicle of your own, by allowing you to customize the livery with sponsors, decals, and colors. As is commonplace with today's sports games, your personal vehicle is the one you'll be using in the career mode, called Chase For NASCAR Spint Cup. Here is where you'll run across three different series, including the Craftsman Truck Series, Nationwide Series, and the Sprint Cup Series.
Throughout the career, your goal is to not just win, but to also build reputation. You'll start out with a few generic sponsors and teams, and make your way up through the ranks. Reputation is earned with superb performance, such as leading the most laps, creating large a lead between you and your opponents, running a clean race, setting lap records, and so forth. You'll have goals and objectives handed to you by your team, so in order to advance properly, it's in your best interests to aim for them.
Car tuning can be done before races, with slight adjustments allowed during pit-stops. But because the tolerances in NASCAR racing are very strict, don't expect Gran Turismo-like details here, you only get what NASCAR allows. When you're not in the mood for career races, you can jump into the game's Season mode and take control of one of the game's 100-plus drivers across the three series events offered.
Other race modes included Sprint Driver Challenge, and the Test and Tune mode. In Driver Challenge, you'll be thrown into a number of specific, and often intense challenges that you'll have to compete in order to gain fame and reputation in the world of NASCAR. Test and Tune is essentially a practice mode that allows you hop onto any of the game's 22 tracks and tune your vehicle accordingly.
Online is good for up to 14 gamers, and you are free to have races run anywhere between 5% of a full event, to 100%. Enabling a Did Not Finish filter will prevent gamers who quit excessively from joining your race, in addition to a Laps Per Incident filter that can block pushy/bumper-car racers. The online has been good for the most part, with a few hitches here and there.
Visually, NASCAR 09 isn't terribly impressive. Although there are over 40 cars on screen, considering the simplicity of all but two tracks, the game could've looked better. There are some texture issues, as well, as you may notice ground textures ripping occasionally, and the framerate can get sluggish when there are a lot of effects present. For the most part, the game runs just fine, but problems do arise here and there. Car detail feels a bit bland, as well, as the lighting never really makes me feel like I'm looking at next-generation vehicles – there are little to no reflections to speak of. Car damage isn't bad, but perhaps the impacts are too forgiving. Ultimately, you'll find yourself sticking to the game for its gameplay, as opposed to the average visuals.
NASCAR 09's audio is made up of the typical EA Trax soundtrack – not a very good one, I might add – on top of Jeff Gordon taking you through the game, your team manager's voice, the burly scream of a 358 at redline, and the crowd cheering you on. I'd have liked for the crowd to be a bit louder, without having to turn down the volume of the engine, the cheers just sounds a bit too low. But the big plus is that voice chat is present for online gameplay, so get those headsets ready.
Overall, NASCAR 09 may not be an extremely pretty game to look at, but it's certainly not ugly. What it lacks in eye-candy, it makes up for a solid NASCAR experience that enthusiasts of the sport should really enjoy. There are a plethora of game modes to choose from, which really keeps the value of the game extremely high, in addition to a 14-player online experience. NASCAR 09 should keep fans happy until next year's iteration arrives.