Wednesday, December 22, 2010

nail’d Review

nail’d, developed by Techland and published by Deep Silver.
The Good: Multiple game modes, varied vehicle parts, multiplayer game browser, nice graphics
The Not So Good: Narrow window for forced respawn because of terribly inconsistent collision detection, annoyingly chaotic races involve no nuance and little skill, can't use non-XBOX gamepad, limited race mutators
What say you? This arcade off-road racing game features fast speeds but restricted racing and controls: 3/8

Racing takes many forms: stock, touring, boat, airplane, turtle. Another iteration is dirt racing, including the use of all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles to kick up some particles between 1/16 and 2 millimeters in diameter. This is the focus of the grammatically incorrect racing title nail’d, brought to you by Techland, developer of racing titles Xpand Rally (plus the the “Xtreme” version) and FIM Speedway Grand Prix. This game is placed squarely in the “arcade” side of the racing spectrum, offering over-the-top thrills and pick-up-and-play mechanics. But is it fun?

The best aspect (as you'll clearly see) of nail'd is the graphics: the game looks quite nice. Using the graphics pedigree of the similarly-excellent Xpand games, nail'd provides a complete package of visual enjoyment. The vehicles are finely detailed and respond nicely to changes in terrain. The drivers are also animated well, although the rag-doll physics during a crash could be more exaggerated. The tracks themselves look great, with lots of detail and dynamic components as you fly (more often than not) on by. nail'd also features a good sensation of speed, making you feel like you are hurtling at unsafe speeds around unsafe tracks. I was pleased with the graphics in nail'd. The sound design is pretty typical for an arcade racer: engine sounds dominate the scene, and loud alternative rock music blares in the background as you go for “sick” jumps “on” your “motorcycle”. The graphics are definitely the strongest part of nail'd.

nail’d is an off-road racing that features both dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles careening down the landscape at unsafe speeds. The game includes a campaign mode called the “tournament,” where progress is divided into eight leagues that features between one and five events (usually either extreme) using the same game mode in which you must finish on the podium (the top three places) in order to advance. You are able to choose (somewhat) the order in which you tackle the races, so this small amount of freedom is appreciated. nail’d does include our evil nemesis, unskippable cutscenes, to introduce each race, but luckily they are on the short side (ten seconds or so). Finishing well also unlocks (of course) additional vehicle parts and paint jobs in the garage: you can equip different body, exhaust, engine, handlebar, shock, and wheel components to adjust the performance of your vehicle, although the actual effects are very subtle. Most parts offer a trade off, like improved handling but lowered top speed, which is nice, instead of simply giving increased all-around performance.

After you’ve finished the campaign, you can go off-road and try out quick races on any of the game’s fourteen tracks (all unlocked from the beginning, thankfully), all of which are long layouts. While you cannot define any customized layouts (the tracks are very restrictive, as you’ll see), there is a decent amount of content here. nail’d features a number of game modes: traditional races, checkpoint challenges, points events where stunts are rewarded, and free races without collisions where drivers attempt to secure the fastest lap time. These events can be tried out online, and nail’d features a server browser that lists current games: always a required feature on the PC. The game also records lap times and compares them online against the world. Finally, nail’d has a tutorial that has interruptive text pop-ups explaining the nuances of the gameplay. Overall, the features list is decent for a racing title.

nail’d’s first sin comes with the controls: if you do not have an XBOX controller, you cannot play with a gamepad. Excuse me, mister developer, but the PC prides itself on freedom, and I’ll be darned if I can’t use a custom controller to play your game. So, off to “keyboard land” for me: definitely not a desirable control method for a racing game. Even if you have said controller, you can’t customize the controls: whatever the developer has determined as the “right” way is the only way, a totalitarian regime where only specific controllers and control schemes are allowed to function. Once you get past that restrictive game design decision, you’ll see that the controls in nail’d are quite typical (steer, brake) except for lots of control in the air. You are also given boost to increase acceleration, earned by attaining easy-to-get feats like jumping, landing, smashing other vehicles, staying in last, flawless driving, or high speeds. You can also add mutators to the race, although there are only two to choose from (unlimited boost and no collisions), so it’s a disappointingly limited feature that could have benefitted from more thought.

nail’d is a decidedly arcade racing title with insane turning and braking abilities. Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with that, but the gameplay fails for two main reasons. First, there is little skill involved with the racing. Unlike a game like Trackmania, where fast speeds still require skill to drive well, nail’d allows you to floor it and dramatically maneuver in the air, so keeping on the track isn’t terribly difficult. Well, at least in theory, as the other “fail” of nail’d is horrid collision detection. The game seems to arbitrarily determine if you smacking that mountain/train/cactus will result in a respawn or simply bouncing off. You might (might, being a key word) also respawn in you venture just a small amount away from the track, a very odd design decision for what is supposedly an off-road racing game. Rally games typically allow you to go off the side of a cliff before forcing a respawn, or take an inventive shortcut through the brush on the way to the finish. Not nail’d: if you stray from the carefully crafted paths the developers have handcuffed you to, you shall pay the price of repeated resets. The actual racing involves extreme speeds and almost continuous jumps, which (due to the ability to significantly steer in the air) is almost the same as being on the ground, except you have to land on very small targets due to the narrow respawn windows. That just doesn’t spell “fun” for me. The AI is never really an issue, as the racing in nail’d is never close enough to matter what the computer is doing.

While it may look good, actually racing in nail'd is terrible, which, unfortunately, is a major portion of a racing game. The game boils down to this: whoever respawns the least wins. There are plenty of opportunity to respawn, either because of the track design that features tons of precarious chasms to cross at unseen angles, or because of the maddeningly inconsistent collision detection: sometimes landing on a rock is OK, and sometimes you get automatically reset. You just never know! I've never played a more restrictive off-road game in my life. In addition, you're never really racing the AI (or human) drivers directly: the frantic pace of nail'd makes sure of that. The only skill involved is simply staying on the track, which can be a difficult and genuinely tiresome experience. Earning boost is easy through the trivial achievements in the game, and the two mutators leave a lot of potential on the table. nail'd features a couple of race types and online play (complete with an in-game browser, no less), but then doesn't let you play with a gamepad unless you've given $40 to Microsoft for an XBOX controller. That's simply the final “nail” in the coffin for a supremely underwhelming arcade racer.