For years, it feels like NASCAR fans have been patiently waiting for their turn to load up a title (on a console) that helps them live out their dreams on the track (spoiler: you’re going to have to keep waiting). That said, for years it also feels like they have been ignored. After EA Sports severed ties with the NASCAR series and license in 2008, other companies have tried to fill those shoes to varying degrees of success but have never snatched that checkered flag.
Enter Motorsport Games, a development company that knows a thing or two about producing quality racing games and includes former developers from Codemasters, Forza Horizon, and rFactor 2. Not only is the company littered with some of the best developers in the business, but they also recently welcomed Peter Moore into the fold (yes, that Peter Moore of EA Sports/Xbox fame) as a member of the board of directors.
Looking at the lineage, history, portfolio, and talent, fans had reasons to be excited for NASCAR 21: Ignition. This is a game that, according to the developers, boasts some of the best physics available in the form of rFactor 2’s driving model, a revamped career mod, a new presentation package, and an all-new paint booth.
All that being said, after spending over a week with the game, it’s time for my NASCAR 21: Ignition review.
What I Like – NASCAR 21: Ignition Review
If you’re familiar at all with the driving model and physics that were absorbed with Motorsport Games’ acquisition of rFactor 2, then you will understand my excitement to see that same driving model implemented into NASCAR 21: Ignition.
From the minute I hit the ignition switch and drove out of the pits for the first time, the improvements over previous efforts were noticeable. I could feel the surfaces of different tracks reacting with my wheels and my setup, and the marriage of the two had me searching for the best line of each track.
The impact of tire wear was also a subtle but appreciated improvement. The thinner my tires became, the more my chosen line would change to varying degrees and my driving style was forced to change to be less aggressive.
Now, some of the impact(s) that I’m talking about can be mitigated to a certain degree depending on the difficulty and level of assists. If you choose to race on easy with full assists, the car can feel like it’s almost on rails, and that’s fine if that’s the way you enjoy racing.
For me, I removed almost every assist and bounced between normal and pro for the purpose of this review. I really enjoyed the nuances and varying degrees of stability that were felt throughout the course of the race.
In short, when racing on pro with zero assists and in a pack at a super or standard speedway, the clutch of the controller is real and required my focus and attention for every single lap.
The developers have delivered an experience that can be enjoyed on the track by most people of all skill levels, and the game also allowed me to change the difficulty of the driving model and the AI separately, which is always a good touch.
Attention To Detail
Rarely has there been a game where what was right felt so right, and what was wrong felt so wrong, but here we are with NASCAR 21: Ignition.
There are many issues with this game, but those issues didn’t stop me from noticing and enjoying so many of the little details that the developers got right with this initial release.
The game is littered with little details, such as racing at Daytona with the exceptional day-to-night transition. Watching the sunlight slowly transition from organic to man-made is simply beautiful. Seeing those exterior and track-side lights starting to flicker really pulled me into the world of NASCAR at Daytona, and it didn’t stop there.
Throughout my time with this title, the little details kept popping. Details like watching my pit crew bang out damage on the car with a sledgehammer to seeing them pull out the heavy metal saw to remove a part of the fender well or a section of the body panel are cool touches.
The details even transfer over to the damage model that is implemented into this year’s game, like the crumpling of the hood or a tire slowly deflating because I grazed the wall.
Small little details like this are noticeable everywhere if you take the time to see them. Seeing rays of sun change course inside the car, realistic debris gathering on the windows, and the sound of the pit crew chief’s “good luck” voice line and smack on the hood reverberating throughout the car are fantastic details.
I could sit here and continue to enumerate the details, but the simple fact is that the developers delivered an experience full of familiarity to fans of the sport, and they also created a living, breathing NASCAR experience on and off the track.
While presentation and details often go hand in hand, the presentation in NASCAR 21: Ignition delivers enough to warrant its very own section.
For me, the apex of racing presentation continues to sit with Codemasters and its wonderful efforts with the F1 simulation series. Codemasters understands that presentation is more than just showing a track and cars on the grid.
While the developers here don’t quite reach that level, it far exceeds what we have seen for over a decade in terms of representing the NASCAR experience. From seeing the crew in the garage squeezing out every ounce of speed they can to watching them roll the car out of the garage to pit row, NASCAR 21: Ignition is full of small presentation quick cuts.
From one track to the next, the game delivers quick glances at the venue and surrounding area. It also shows drivers being interviewed on pit row pre-race, and flyovers and the national anthem being performed.
The presentation can be seen and felt all over the place, regardless of what mode you are playing. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some issues, and that’s common for a year-one effort.
In career mode, besides the presentation aspects I have already mentioned, there isn’t much more to boast about, which I’ll get into a bit more later in this review. The game also struggles with the repetition of delivering a race-day experience. What is there is immersive and authentic, but it feels the same for every race.
Delivering a solid and immersive race-day experience has been and always will be a huge deal to me when I play a licensed race title like NASCAR 21. I want developers to provide me and everyone else with an organic experience that pulls me in and makes me feel like I am sitting in the garage or part of the broadcasting team.
NASCAR 21: Ignition is not on par with what we see in the F1 or NBA 2K series, so it still has some work to do. Regardless, this is a very nice start for a company that will be partnered with NASCAR and its gaming community for the foreseeable future.
What I Don’t Like – NASCAR 21: Ignition Review
Bugs And Glitches
The amount of issues that plague this game right now are numerous. I spoke about the little details that the developers got right, but the list of what is wrong far outweighs it.
Where to begin? Let’s start with the game’s inability to create an authentic NASCAR racing experience on the track. To be clear, this has nothing to do with the driving model, but it has everything to do with everything else.
For starters, the HUD that shows lap times, remaining gas, and opponent proximity disappears more often than it is seen. Yes, the HUD that delivers vital information is nowhere to be found more than 90% of the time, and because of that, I have to try to gather information from my spotter.
Beyond that, I often started each session with damage already on my car, and that damage would transfer over from practice to qualifying and then to the actual race. To make things even worse, my car’s engine sound was often non-existent. A NASCAR game that doesn’t deliver vital information and also does not allow you to hear your car are rather big misses.
The pain doesn’t stop inside your car either as I often witnessed my AI opponents crash and then sit there lap after lap with no caution flag thrown or tow truck to pull them off the track. To make things even worse, the other AI opponents would mindlessly plow into that car until there was inevitably a mass collection of steel sheet metal in the middle of the track.
Continuing on, the AI cars simply do not pit and apparently are running the long-rumored hybrid cup car with no need for gas or tires. In all honesty, I have run over 50 different races with varying degrees of laps, and in all those races I watched them pit once at Daytona, and it was because of a yellow flag that was thrown upon exiting the pits.
So, in over 50 races I have seen the AI pit one time and there has been one caution flag thrown, and they both happened within the same sequence.
As my time with this game kept progressing and the issues kept amassing, I started to understand what a heavyweight boxer feels like who continuously gets pounded on for 12 rounds. The hits kept coming, and they came from places I never expected.
The correct mechanics and workings of NASCAR and the standard protocol we see on TV are here in the game, but for whatever reason, they are not being activated at the right times — or at all. A few issues were to be expected and could easily be patched, but this number of legitimate concerns and glitches makes it seem like this game needed at least another six months of development.
Lack Of Depth
While not an uncommon issue that is found in first-year titles, the lack of depth in NASCAR 21 is a bit worrisome. As it stands, the game offers up Race Now, an extremely shallow career mode (which I’ll get to later), and an online mode that is as bare as it possibly could be.
Missing from the single-player portion is the ability to run a simple NASCAR season as your favorite driver, which feels like a simple inclusion.
Again, first-year titles tend to be thin on what’s included as developers look to create a solid foundation from the start and add on once that foundation is solidified. Even with that mindset, what is included with NASCAR 21 feels lacking at best, especially with all of the other issues that are plaguing the game in so many areas.
At this point, I think I would have rather had a season option instead of the career mode that is offered up here in NASCAR 21. The career mode makes very little sense to me, especially when compared to other career modes in other games.
You start by creating your driver and signing with a cup team of your choice. Yes, you have the option as an unproven driver with zero experience to go ahead and sign as a driver for the likes of Joe Gibbs, Rick Hendrick, or Roger Penske.
The developers were transparent about this title not including the Xfinity or truck series, so I can forgive there being no option to work your way up. Even with that said, to have the ability to sign with the top teams in NASCAR right out of the gate smacks of laziness or incompetence.
So your inexperienced butt now sits in some of the best cars that are available, which means it’s now time to prove your worth. The only problem with that is there isn’t really anything to prove because career mode is nothing more than a glorified season mode with accumulating career and track stats.
The game often reminded me that the better I do the better the options will be when my contractual obligations end with my current team. Again, that’s the problem because I have nowhere to spend the money I earn, no agent communications, and if I already signed with one of the best teams then why would I leave?
Another issue with career mode is the fact that the cutscenes often ran at a very low frames per second and were extremely choppy. Lastly, I attempted two careers, and both ended relatively quickly because the game would either freeze when I tried to continue my career or start with my driver’s view showing as if my head was on the floor of the car. You can read that last sentence all you want, but it is 100% the truth with zero exaggeration (as you can see below).
Again, it’s awesome that a career mode is offered in a year-one title, but the problem is I’m not sure I (or anyone) can genuinely classify this as a career mode, and even what is here has some real problems.
I rarely get excited for an unreleased game before feeling extremely disappointed with the actual release. I tend to be able to see what’s happening in preview builds and can mostly gauge my expectations accordingly. Well, my expectations were way off here. I would say it conjures up not-so-distant memories of Cyberpunk 2077.
The list of issues is well documented throughout this review, and while there are some exceptional aspects of this title to cling to, the list of issues could also fill many more pages.
I adore Motorsport Games, and the talent that has come on board is very strong. Their passion and ability will never be questioned in my mind. That said, unless you are fine with racing a series of short “race now” races and have zero expectations of anything more, I couldn’t recommend this title unless some serious patches are dropped in the very near future.