NASCAR 2006: Total Team Control
Developer: EA Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
System: PS2 (Also on Xbox)
NASCAR has always been a bit strange to me. While racing has never really been my sport of choice, I found that when I did sit down to watch various events that NASCAR was always more about wondering who would crash instead of who would win. As I got older I actually found NASCAR to be more interesting due to the close finishes that were more prevalent in that series than in say something like F1. So as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate NASCAR more, but it’s still not my sport of choice. Racing games have followed a very similar track for me. My idea of a good racing game is more arcade than sim, so I’ve never really sat down to play a NASCAR game. It seems I made a poor choice.
This being a sports game there is no real story, so we must fall back on other things. The career mode allows you to start as a rookie driver deep in the minor leagues of NASCAR racing. From there you have to fight your way through each of the 3 different racing series just to earn a spot in the big show, and trust me even on easy it’s not easy. In order to gain entry you have to prove your worthiness by earning not only the wins, but also the fans. You also have to test drive cars of racing teams that have open spots. I managed to get into the 3 minor leagues in one season, but NASCAR was a tough nut to crack. Making it to the top of your profession is not easy.
Not only do you get to drive in the four different racing series, you can also earn enough money to purchase a racing team. This allows you to choose a color scheme, number and even sponsors for your car. It also allows you to make a lot more money per win. You also get to set various other things, like merchandise costs and upgrading your teams cars and drivers. And if it all gets too much for you then sell the team to make a tidy profit. Of course buying a team in the minor leagues is fairly easy when compared to raising the money to buy a NASCAR team, and it’s more likely that if you can afford a NASCAR team it’s not a very good one, but it’s still a very cool feature of the game.
Well, to put it bluntly the PS2 has really seen better days when it comes to graphics. A game like Gran Turismo 4 or even some of NASCAR’s EA stable mates in Burnout 3 and Need For Speed: Underground are superior when you talk about the graphics found in Total Team Control. Of course part of the problem is the tracks are usually oval and the only thing you can see is pavement or other cars. Even so I’ve seen better pavement and I’ve certainly seen better cars. Smoke effects are quite good, and the game does succeed in making you feel like you’re in the car. And if you’re a fan of the series you wont have any problems knowing who’s who while on the track.
There is one feature in Total Team Control that is really interesting, and I’ll get to that in just a moment. For now lets cover the basics. The music consists of one song from the Black Crows. It’s a good song, I’ll grant you that, but when it’s the only song you actually hear and can recognize theres something not quite right. There are some guitar riffs scattered about here and there, but they don’t inspire much beyond boredom.
The sound effects on the other hand help to immerse you in the racing. Start up a race, turn on the stereo and hit the surround sound and listen as you roar around the track. Very enjoyable, very well done.
And the sound effects compliment the big addition to the game, and one of the reasons it’s called Total Team Control. EA went and put Voice Recognition into NASCAR. If you own a USB headset for the PS2 or just a regular Xbox Live headset you can plug it in and start racing with your pit crew in your ear. This vastly improves the suspension of disbelief, as the pit crew is very active in talking to you, telling you when cars are over taking you, when you’re driving 3 wide etc. The actual voice recognition comes into play when you want are too busy to let go of the accelerator. You can, among other things, tell the game to turn on/off the onscreen heads up display, turn on/off the music in game, tell your pit crew what you want them to do the next time you drive into the pits, and even apologize to other drivers for bumping into them, hopefully avoiding a grudge.
There are some downsides to the voice recognition though. It’s not quite advanced enough to instantly understand what you are saying every time, meaning you may have to say things 3 or 4 times before the game understands just what you’re saying. So if you are sharing a room with somebody this may not be the game to play if you embarrass easily. Also, not every voice command was as well thought out as it could have been. Talking to your teammates can be a chore when using only voice commands, so its a good thing EA allowed you to also use the right analog stick. One other thing that should probably get brought up: I’ve heard of swearing under your breath, but when the game recognizes your breathing as you actually swearing and has to admonish you for it there needs to be a rethink. Also, I probably need to move the mic farther away from my mouth.
I’m ecstatic that a company like EA has decided that Voice Recognition has advanced far enough that they are willing to start using it in games. Hopefully with more experience it will start appearing in more games. Imagine calling an audible in Madden, or changing lines on the fly in NHL.
I have to say that this is the first time I’ve played a game where I felt the need to use a steering wheel. At no point in my time playing the game did i feel completely comfortable using just the stick. There’s too much consistency required of the driving in NASCAR that analog sticks just can’t provide. Because the cars are bunched so closely together you have to be on your toes from the second the light turns green. One mistake and you’re probably finishing in the lower part of the field. Two and you may as well forfeit. Assuming you haven’t planted yourself into a concrete wall.
The racing itself can be as long and arduous as the actual racing or it can be almost arcade like, depending on your own tastes. Race quick little sprints or upgrade the amount of time you spend on the track to marathon like epics taking hours, EA put it all there for you to experiment with.
One of the more interesting aspects of the game is the ability to switch between cars while you are racing. This allows you to get in the lead with your car and then not be bored out of your mind while you race away with the victory. Simply switch to a team mate’s vehicle and then try your best to help him move up the pack as well. You can also tell your team mate if he’s ahead of you to slow the pack down and allow you to make up some ground, or if you and he are running closely you can work together to move through the pack.
The teammate portion of the racing works well with the prestige portion, which is basically a case of you do well its good for the team. If the team does well its good for everyone. So do well. You make more money, you get richer quickly and you get to buy your own teams more quickly.
This is not what I’d call a pick up and play arcade racing game. The more you know about how NASCAR works the more you will likely enjoy the game. In addition to that, I think if you have a wheel the game will probably be infinitely better to you than with just a controller. The need for pinpoint control is just too great. As you move up the various racing series the competition gets stronger and the racing more fierce, so thats good.
There are minigames included to help you gain more fans. Essentially it’s another rhythm game, where you have to press the different face keys as they come on screen. At the lower end of the series its an easy way to gain fans, but I found that I was falling behind very quickly the closer I got to NASCAR, so the difficulty might be a bit high.
If there’s one thing this game has going for it, aside from the voice features, its the depth of the game. You can play the game for years thanks to it’s version of a franchise mode. The game also has net capability, so if you feel the need to fight it out online that’s available to you as well. In my experience online worked, but there was lag present, so use at your own risk. The people online I spoke with sounded fairly knowledgeable, so if all NASCAR fans are like them you could do worse.
NASCAR has a taint to it, in many peoples eyes. They see the series as a bunch of left turns. And they do have a point. But I’ll tell you from the moment I started driving in this game it held my attention for hours at a time. This is a game that has that ability to instantly grab a hold of you and not let go until the race is over. The grip was so fierce that I got cramps in my hands at times from holding the controller too hard. So I’d suggest to you that if you enjoy racing games at all, this game will appeal to you. Experiment, find the settings that work best for you and go.
Of course there are those who would tell me that Pokemon is a fantastic game and I wouldn’t care because it’s not my cup of tea, and I do realize that many people feel the same way about NASCAR. Because of this the game is getting a 7. But if you have no such feelings about NASCAR by all means consider the score a 9 here.
The originality in this game clearly comes from the voice recognition in the game. Only a select few games have ever really had it, so for that alone the game is innovative and as a result original. Add to that this being the biggest company to ever use it as a feature means this will probably be the biggest selling game to ever have it as an option.
Of course, this isn’t the first game EA has ever made with a NASCAR label. Many of the features found in the game have been carried over from previous years, just like EA does with many of its other sports titles. So I’m conflicted. They’ve gone and added the one new feature like they do every year. This year it just happens to be a really excellent addition that really deserves to be praised.
As I mentioned in Appeal the game is very gripping. And if you sit down to really play it the hours can fly by. But the game is only as addicting as the controls let it be for you. The game has included driver assists, like braking when you should probably be breaking, and a certain amount of what I’d call power steering, but in the end the more you can make your experience like a car the more you are likely to find yourself addicted to the rush of roaring around the turns at Daytona.
You can, if you so choose, just jump straight into a NASCAR season without actually doing the whole reach for the top thing. You won’t get to see your name in lights, however if you’ve got a favorite driver you can choose to drive his car.
Also, this game has got to be the biggest product placement ever shipped to customers. Seriously, everything has a label. That’s just like the real thing of course, but I wonder just how much money EA is pulling in for making it that realistic.
Replay Ability: 9/10
Short Attention Span Summary
NASCAR 2006: Total Team Control is like a breath of fresh air from a dragon’s mouth. It makes no sense. EA has produced an excellent game with very few real flaws. They have polished what they built in the past and added a spit shine in the form of the voice recognition. I hope this is the start of a trend towards innovation from EA, but I’m afraid it won’t be the case.