|Platforms||PC, Xbox One(reviewed), PS4|
|Release Date||October 27th, 2021|
Over the years, I’ve slowly got into the sport of NASCAR. 2021 marks the fourth year that I’ve had the opportunity to review the officially licensed video game. Covering these games on the site helped me understand the sport better as I watch it with my family, giving me a greater appreciation for it every year. Now, after five NASCAR Heat games, Motorsport Games aims to breathe new life into the series. Now titled NASCAR 21: Ignition, many features from the previous games are gone, but the sacrifice was necessary for improved graphics and presentation. Though Ignition has plenty of issues, this was a much-needed pit stop for the developers while they also have to release a NASCAR game every year.
Violence: In the sport of NASCAR and the game, drivers can bump one another off the road, but it is not encouraged. Vehicles take damage throughout the race but not in a violent fashion.
Other: Some lyrics in the soundtrack may contain themes that do not apply to the gameplay.
When I first got my hands on NASCAR 21: Ignition in its pre-release state, there were various issues. One of the most glaring is that I could never place in the qualifying phase due to the superhuman lap times attached to the other racers. Another was that a driver would be going so fast that myself and other CPU drivers could never hope even to catch up. Those problems made it a frustrating experience, but at least I knew that there would be a day one patch to fix many of the bugs that developers were aware of. Thankfully, many issues such as the ones I mentioned have now been resolved, giving me the experience I was looking for out of the latest entry in the annual NASCAR franchise of video games.
Ignition is a much more stripped-down version of the Heat series from previous years, but for a very good reason. The developers aim to take advantage of the unreal engine this time around and put more focus on the NASCAR’s cup series presentation. Gone are the Xfinity, truck, and dirt series divisions included in the previous games. NASCAR Heat achieved a respectable amount of depth that is no longer present. That sacrifice was worth it in the audio/visual department. The racing experience is more immersive than ever with lighting and graphical improvements. Hearing the sounds of the engine and the wind blow as I reached high speeds was yet again quite a treat and almost therapeutic in an ASMR sense as I spent time running many laps on various tracks.
However, some areas of the presentation seem like an oversight. First, career mode starts with letting players choose a name and pick a race team, but that’s all. Picking a team gives you a random driver’s car with their own name already on it. Even if the driver customization tools were bare-bones in previous games, that is a glaring missing feature this time around. It also doesn’t help that I can still create my own car, but I can’t use it in Career mode. Some more dedicated fans will be very disappointed that the option to tune your vehicle extensively is not available pre-race and only accessible in pit row. The only option in the datapad between each phase or race day is loosening or tightening how your car will handle turns. The lack of depth, especially in essential places, will sting for veteran players, but that won’t matter to a casual player like myself.
The actual presentation of a race is one of the highlights of Ignition. A broadcaster sets the tone and excitement that resembles watching the sport on a Sunday when going into a race. I eventually paid close attention to what they were saying because they explained the characteristics of each track, which helped me learn each one during the practice phase. After the broadcast cutscene, you see from a first-person perspective in each phase that leads to walking into the garage and eventually to the starting line. You sit in your car before each phase as your Crew Chief hands you a tablet/datapad. You can view lap data on that datapad, change accessibility settings, and make those minor adjustments I previously mentioned. The one thing that breaks immersion is that your chief is the same character model regardless of the driver you pick or the race team you are on.
Maybe it’s because I’ve played enough NASCAR video games, but this is the first time I’ve felt entirely comfortable on the track. Although, It still took a minute for me to remind myself that various factors and physics make a NASCAR game unique to other racing titles. The accessibility options in racing games have become essential for me to enjoy them in recent years, not only to reduce the sim-aspect but also because of my visual disability. An important option is an on-track guideline, which helps me handle turns like a pro—the star of the show in an actual race. Even though the game comes up short in tuning your vehicle, the assist features are plenty and can be adjusted to the players liking.
Another area in which the developers have dialed things back is the offering of gameplay modes. Career is the most prominent and closely resembles the Championship mode that I enjoyed last year. The other options are Race Now and Online, mostly the same experience with or without human players behind the wheel. Again, that may seem lacking for veteran players. I wonder what will become of the NASCAR Heat Pro League in the sports realm now that NASCAR 21 exists. I don’t believe that Ignition is in a current position to play host to a new league while there are much more definitive experiences out there.
Even without the pre-launch bugs, this new era of NASCAR video games has room to grow. NASCAR 21: Ignition gets off to a great start in providing a look at the potential that future entries have in store. For veteran players, the experience is lacking. For people that are getting into the sport, this release is the right time to jump in. The presentation attempts to take the series to new heights, but missing bells and whistles keep the game from being a complete package. NASCAR 21 is a new beginning for Motorsport Games, and we should have expected some bumps in the road. Meanwhile, I hope the experience will improve with more updates and the next-gen upgrades coming to consoles.
The Bottom Line
In kicking off a new era of the franchise, NASCAR 21: Ignition has plenty of room to grow.