EA has had two years since the launch of the Xbox 360 to develop the first NASCAR game for the system. Normally one would think that this would give EA tons of time to perfect the game and pack it with features and goodies. Unfortunately, what we have is a racer that is only decent, and does not have many features or worthwhile modes at all. It feels like a game that was rushed out, even though it is the first entry after a two-year period after launch of the system.
The biggest complaint most racers will have is the fact that there is no real career mode in the game. What we do have is a mode called The Chase. In this mode, you'll basically have to choose a car, and then pass a bunch of licensing tests before you can hop into an actual race. In these tests, you'll learn the basics or NASCAR racing, such as drifting, passing, and not killing yourself. You'll have to earn different kinds of licensing for different kinds of races, and this at least keeps the experience somewhat fresh throughout this mode. It's a nice intro to NASCAR, but regulars won't be happy with the lack of features and depth. Also unfortunate is the fact that there really are no other modes or details to make up for the lack of career mode. You can play through a single season, but that's not much more than choosing a driver and racing straight through a season trying to win as much as you can. There are no sponsorship options, no rivalries, and no detailed management or your career.
As far as the visuals are concerned, they are satisfactory, and do enough to warrant the switch to the next generation. The cars look very nice, especially once they start getting the crap beat out of them. Damage modeling is done very well, with all kinds of parts of the car falling off, denting, and getting scraped up. The advertisements on the cars look really cool as well, with realistic details accenting all parts of the car. The tracks, weather, and time of day are all done very well, with great lighting and feel. The crowd, however, is a different story. The crowd seems to move as one, and looks somewhat like cardboard figures stuck into the picture. Overall, the aspects of the game that need to look nice do so.
NASCAR 08's controls are, well, hard. On the default setting, it feels as though if you tap the stick at all your car will make a dramatic turn. After tweaking the settings (for hours maybe before you figure it out), you should be able to find a manageable setup. Beginners will also have to get used to the fact that the car automatically turns slightly left when not turning. The controls are so touchy that sometimes it feels like you're simply trying not to crash than actually taking part in a race. The fact that the other cars seem to be obsessed with running into you doesn't help matters either. I can't tell you how many times I've worked my way to the front of the pack only to be rammed from behind, spun out, and propelled right back to where I started. Again, it is possible to find a setup you'll like, and get used to the controls, but it's a pretty steep learning curve if you want to perfect it.
One would think that racing against others online would be the best part of this game. Unfortunately, the online mode is subpar and barely playable. You can race eleven other people online, which is great, but there are a few issues that hold the experience back, the most notable one being lag. If there has ever been a game in which is it crucial NOT to have lag, NASCAR is it. In my online experience, I could not get through a race without an occasional hiccup-often a very costly one at that. On top of this problem, there are really no features online to keep you busy, such as leagues and tournaments-just single races, which only go so far.
Despite its flaws, NASCAR 08 has a lot of good in it. NASCAR games should be hard, and this one definitely is. It will test your patience, but if you stick it out and master it, it can be very rewarding. However, it does not have much depth, and unless you are a true, hardcore NASCAR fanatic, you may get tired of this game rather quickly, as there simply is not that much there with which to occupy your time. So, if you're a NASCAR regular, you'll find the usual rush of official NASCAR racing that you crave. If you're not, I'd recommend you pick up one of the other enticing 360 racers.