Racing fans, and more importantly, NASCAR fans took another blow to the chin in what seems like a perpetual bout with Mike Tyson in his prime with the release of NASCAR 21: Ignition. It was another release that has us wondering what we did so wrong that the universe continues to punish us in ways that seem reserved for the worst type of people.
Many would argue that we have not had a deep NASCAR racing experience since the release of NASCAR 06: Total Team Control by EA Sports, and I would be inclined to agree with them. Yes, NASCAR ’08 and ’09 had facets that were solid but were shallow in many other respects.
Since then, fans have had to endure watching EA abandon the license, Eutechnyx produce a series of titles that felt like they had only a basic understanding of the sport, and a developer in 704 Games that had amazing knowledge of the sport itself, but felt providing a true simulation of NASCAR was already being handled by iRacing and relied too heavily on arcade elements for the series.
With a development team that is littered with former rFactor, Codemasters, and Forza employees, I had no reason to believe that NASCAR 21: Ignition would be anything less than a solid racing title where it might need a couple years to add depth, but the basics would be on lock.
Sadly, and as many of you know by now after reading my review, this is not the case. Basic elements such as rearview mirrors, AI pit strategy, cautions, wheel support, and more are not implemented correctly, simply missing, or an unmitigated disaster.
Now, some of this is currently being worked on and has been improved with some expedited patches since release. Motorsport Games has also promised to continue to flesh out this title as much as possible before moving on to the assumed NASCAR 22: Ignition. To go even further, there were rumors that the developers wanted no part in releasing the title in this condition and did so only because of contractual obligations.
Honestly though, at this point why and how it was released doesn’t really matter to me or many fans because we have been emotionally kicked over and over by so many different development teams that this feels no different. This feels like a lot of emotional therapy with each word I type, but the truth is that NASCAR fans deserve better and have deserved better for quite some time.
It is obvious that this is not the game that was tested and showcased early on — or at least many aspects of it have been reduced for whatever reason. The game is currently in a playable state now after the aforementioned patches, but there is still a long way to travel and much trust to earn back from the community. Earning that trust back may not be as simple for Motorsport Games as a 2K Sports or Sony San Diego because both the NBA 2K and MLB The Show franchises have a catalog of success to fall back on.
I made mention in my review of the very thin career mode that is offered up in NASCAR 21: Ignition, and while understandable to a point with the first iteration of a title, it’s not a mode that the masses can fall back on to ease the pain of the glitches, bugs, and missing elements. The biggest complaint was and is the simple fact that you can pick any team to drive for from the start, and the money that is accumulated has nowhere to be used to better the situation — like developing your own team or funneling money into the current situation to improve production.
If we take it even a step further, NASCAR 21 offers up the most basic of online options but fails to provide a combination of human and AI together. This means your online fun is relegated to finding 39 of your best friends to race with or making the treacherous journey into the world of racing with random people that have zero vested interest in your enjoyment of the title.
Although the AI has been tweaked in the latest update, and for the better, there are still some basic decision-making issues that sometimes rear their head. What makes it even tougher is the lack of a rearview mirror to see how the action choices are unfolding behind you. I also touched on the AI pit strategies, and while that has improved, I still see an occasional problem when it comes to pitting in a timely manner or the results on the track in terms of placement post pit.
On the bright side, the latest patch helped adjust the AI to actually attempt to miss wrecks and avoid pileups on the track, and caution flags are more abundant now and less like a rare animal that needs to be captured to show proof you saw one.
When navigating your way around the track, a combination of three components is relied on for your ultimate chance at success: the driver’s view forward, the rearview mirror accessibility, and the spotter.
The biggest issue(s) currently is the lack of mirror at all to see behind, whether that’s the side view mirror or in-car mirror, and your side view is rather limited and creates a struggle to see cars on the left or right of you.
While the spotter has been improved, he can still be a bit generic in his delivery, or the information comes so fast that it is hard to absorb.
Now all of this is assuming you are driving from the in-car camera, which a large percentage of people do. The good news is that the issues listed regarding the mirrors can all be corrected by implementation through a patch. However, I do find it odd that it hasn’t been fixed yet through the previous patches, but there is still time to correct this.
The driving model that was brought over to NASCAR 21 from rFactor 2 is solid. Sadly, while the engine itself has earned high praise from many, some of the AI quirks and peripheral issues are holding it back at this juncture. Regardless, navigating your way around an oval or road course in NASCAR 21: Ignition using game controllers or certain wheels is a reasonably enjoyable experience when the game is working correctly.
There is a need for some tweaks and corrections when it comes to tire models and damage, but the physics are solid, and the drafting is implemented very well without being an intrusive entity.
Although there were initially some decal issues causing corruptions that have since been corrected via patch, the paint booth option is as solid as we have seen in a NASCAR console game since NASCAR ’09.
While NASCAR ’09 from EA allowed designers to create schemes and decals on PC and port them (which we will never see again), the in-house booth for N21 offers the ability to create just about any scheme you can imagine — fictitious or real — by the utilization of shape manipulation.
I have created multiple schemes myself, and as my experience and understanding grew, the process has become quite simple to master. If you are a designer at heart and love to create older retro schemes in NASCAR, diving in and learning the mechanics of the booth is a must and might consume more of your time than you would spend on the track.
I would still love to see the ability to import, but based on conversations with the developers, that will never happen again because of certain NSFW creations being allowed online for the masses to see.
Do fans and investors look at the unmitigated disaster that was NASCAR 21: Ignition as the standard practice for Motorsport Games, or is it seen as an anomaly as they focus on improvements through patches and additions for the current game and the next release?
The biggest threat against the series is that recent history has shown NASCAR racing fans that, regardless of the developer, improvements tend to come in small doses — or sometimes not at all — thus creating a void of trust on almost a cataclysmic level. NASCAR fans have been forced to believe that their love and passion for the sport doesn’t often matter and that they are relegated or forced to accept a second-hand product.
Fair or unfair, that’s the harsh reality at this juncture, and the only way to correct that mindset is for a developer, in this case Motorsport Games, to start delivering on the promises and hype with actions. As I previously mentioned though, not all is lost with the NASCAR: Ignition series. There is some strong and experienced talent sitting behind the development team, and the financial backing to make it happen.
I think it’s also important to point out and remind folks that this is the same developer that recently acquired the IndyCar license. In other words, there is even more on the line for the developers moving forward. As easy as it is to assume that the mindset of “different developer, same result” seems justifiable (and it is at this moment), there are reasons to be hopeful for the foreseeable future of this series and the IndyCar Series that drops in 2023.
I say that because if this series fails and the IndyCar series travels down the same path, there will be a level of failure and disappointment on multiple levels, and in my opinion, there is too much talent and experience at the proper levels to allow that to happen.