NASCAR Inside Line: A Hidden Gem
Nearly 10 years ago, Eutechnyx released possibly the most underrated racing game of all time.
As many of us racing fans know, NASCAR games have gone from some of the best racing games on the market to some of the worst. Beginning in April of 1991 with Bill Elliott's NASCAR Challenge, NASCAR would begin its complicated rollercoaster history with the video game genre. Throughout the decade, they would have various hits and misses. From the forgotten Kyle Petty's No Fear Racing to the fondly remembered NASCAR Racing series from Papyrus that would run for nearly a decade, they were firmly secured within the gaming world by the end of the 1990s. However, the game that would begin NASCAR's dominance in the racing game world would be released in August of 1997. EA Sports would bring to the public NASCAR '98 on Sega Saturn and PlayStation consoles. EA would go on to create many NASCAR titles over the next decade or so, truly hitting their stride in the first half of the 2000s. This was not to say that other publishers were also cranking out some gems as well, like Papyrus's NASCAR Heat series and the legendary NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona by Monster Games in 2002. Following the release of the final NASCAR Racing series game in 2003, EA would become the exclusive video game publisher for the sport for the next seven games. Throughout their tenure, they would create some of the most beloved racing games in history, most notably, NASCAR Thunder 2004. With an in-depth career mode, realistic physics, incredible graphics for the time, and a headbanging soundtrack, it is regarded by some as the greatest NASCAR game of all time. Following NASCAR '09, a game that saw a dramatic step down in quality from the past EA titles, they would end their licensing with the sport. For nearly three years, there would be no official NASCAR game. Speculation would come and go on who would pick up the franchising rights for the series. It was later announced that Eutechnyx would take over the reins of the series, alongside well-known publisher Activision, known for their work on iconic series like Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, and Destiny.
Brad Keselowski celebrates his Sprint Cup Series Championship victory following his title win at Homestead in 2012. Photo from SB Nation.
The first game released under the Eutechnyx/Activision umbrella would be NASCAR 2011: The Game. It would receive mixed reviews from fans and critics alike, as many were expecting a return to the quality that was once found in games like the NASCAR Thunder Series. Eutechnyx knew they could improve and would listen to the criticisms and feedback during the development of the upcoming second game. The build-up for the release of the new title was fairly extensive, with a cover driver vote taking place. The voting bracket was narrowed down to two: Dale Jr and Kasey Kahne. With it being a fan vote, and it also being NASCAR circa 2011, you know who won by a landslide. On November 6th, 2012, NASCAR The Game: Inside Line was released to the public with Dale Earnhardt Jr. adorning the cover for the first time since NASCAR Thunder 2003. The question was, could it redeem the newly reborn franchise, and help lead the series moving forward?
The cover of NASCAR Inside Line, albeit cropped.
The Game Itself: Pros and Cons
Fans would be pleasantly surprised by the game, as it was a massive upgrade from the previous title. Graphically speaking, it was brilliant. For the Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles, it was hard to find a better-looking racing game on those platforms, aside from the Forza and Gran Turismo juggernauts. Even the trailer for the game was a cinematic masterpiece! Now, for a racing game to be good on consoles is challenging enough. However, Eutechnyx would also later release the game on PC, meaning that more simulation racing fans would most likely pick the game up. So, did it please that demographic? Not entirely, but you never truly can. For a multiple platform game, it excelled in the handling/physics department. It allowed for a perfect mix of arcade-like and semi-realistic physics to coexist in one handling model. It was fun for anyone who played it! The crash physics and damage modeling were also incredibly good for the time as well.
Now, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. The career mode and everything in between! The career mode is, arguably, the most important part of any licensed racing. Every one of us Jimmie Johnson, Scott Dixon, or Michael Schumacher wannabes want to duke it out with our childhood heroes, even if it is only in the virtual world. We want to win titles, fight up through the ranks, and maybe make a few rivals along the way. Whilst not the most in-depth career mode in a NASCAR game, the improvements made allowed for players to get involved and continue through the mode. To me, the best part about this career mode was the paint booth. This may sound silly to some, but in NASCAR games, one of the most important things is the paint booth. Unlike what is found in the modern NASCAR games, where it's mainly presets, in the Eutechnyx games, you could do nearly anything. Customization was the name of the game!
Another in-game screenshot from Inside Line.
The game, of course, was not perfect. The career mode, although an improvement on the previous game's mode, was lacking. As mentioned before, the career mode lacked depth. From the 2005-2009 EA titles, you could compete in all three (some also including the Whelen Modified Series) premier NASCAR series, whilst working your way up through the ranks. In the highly acclaimed NASCAR Thunder 2004 career mode, you started in the Cup Series. However, the career mode was one of the most fleshed out. Repairs, crew signings, sponsor management, and everything in between were in control of the player. For 2003, and even 2021, this is incredible. A lot of this would be lacking until 2017 when NASCAR Heat 2 brought back the multi-series career mode, even though the rest of the game was severely lackluster. Another con (or maybe a pro) was that Inside Line was released the season before the all-new Generation 6 stock cars that would enter the series in 2013. Eutechnyx chose to extend the lifespan of the original game by providing the new Gen 6 cars and driver roster as DLC. Over the course of the next season, it would be continually updated with new paint schemes and patches. Eutechnyx would hold onto the licensing for another two games, ending their tenure with NASCAR '15. The franchise would go on another hiatus until Monster and 704 Games would be given the rights to create an all-new game. Fans were unaware of just how bad the series would become.
So, what do you guys think? Did you play Inside Line? If you did, what did you like or not like about it? As always, thank you all for reading, bumping, and following, and I will see you down the road!