Publisher: Deep Silver
Available On: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
If Michael Bay made games about ATV racing, Nail’d is the game he would make. Bay is the sort of director who, when given two great ideas and a thousand reasonable ones, will try his best to cram them all into his film until the great ideas, those that would make his movie stand out from the crowd, are suffocated by mediocrity. In other words, when Michael Bay goes to a salad bar, he has something from every bowl. Taste and good sense be damned.
At its core, Nail’d is a game about driving off-road vehicles very quickly. However, it does suffer from “Michael Bay Syndrome”. Lots and lots of ideas all jostling for position, none ever excluded. The big question is, can any of those ideas rise to the surface and define a good, unique game or do they all just drown each other out like so much engine noise? Read on to find out.
STORY: Nail’d sees you and your ATV travel all over the world competing in racing tournaments. Arizona, Greece and the Andes all host tournaments as you progress towards the finale. Very little context for the racing is given, the player simply starts up the career, gets dropped into a race and left to progress. Stories and scenarios are far from required in racing games, but the lack of a reason behind the racing leaves Nail’d feeling empty and devoid of atmosphere.
The career is well structured and has a good balance between linearity and player choice, but uncharismatic drivers, non-existent story and lack of pre-race atmosphere means players will probably have to be a fan of the sport of ATV to get invested in the game’s world.
GRAPHICS: Like plastic surgery on an elderly porn star, motion blur can hide a multitude of sins. Races in Nail’d (which runs on Chrome Engine 4, fact fans) have so much motion blur that it is easy to think you have spilt Vaseline on your TV. It is clear why. Rider and ATV models are basic, plain and uninteresting. This is even true during race build up and when customising your vehicle, where one could justifiably expect better.
This is doubly frustrating because the game isn’t without some neat graphical touches. When leaping your ATV off cliffs your camera gets splattered with dirt and grime, a brilliant effect that also hampers your visibility as you line up your landing. This little heart-in-mouth moment of peril is one of the first hints that this is a game with potential and not lacking in ideas.
The courses all look good without any being inspiring. All the environments are visually different and interesting but for every moment where you leap from a cliff, mud soaked lens slowly clearing to reveal a terrifying fall, there is the cold splash of a water effect that looks like it was lifted straight from a PlayStation 2 game.
SOUND: Pairing up Slipknot and other Nu Metal luminaries with the throaty engine note and bellowing noisiness of open wheel racing should be an excellent combination. The gutteral roar of the ATV’s, hinted at in the pre-race introductions, certainly suggests so. The race audio can’t live up to this though as the soundtrack fails to inspire and the engines suddenly present themselves very quietly, without the punch they require. The audio is certainly a weaker part of the package, overall, than the up and down graphics.
GAMEPLAY: With the lack of atmosphere created by the audio, visuals and story telling, Nail’d has a lot riding on how it plays. Unfortunately, the first impression is one that won’t go away; the handling is just not fun. These hulking, studded-tyre off-roaders, that should shake and slide over the dirt, drive like F1 cars with superglue on their tyres. In a game loaded with stunt modes and thousand foot leaps over chasms, the utter plainness of the handling model (mirroring that of the ATV and rider design) is incredibly stark and disappointing.
The action is fast, very fast, and the track design is often excellent. Cutting up mountains and speeding through valleys is impressively vertical, throwing the player up and down slopes which can be thrilling and disorientating all at once. It is in these moments where Nail’d is at its best, taking advantage of some brave course design to keep the player on their toes at top speed. These sections are the exceptions, not the rule.
There isn’t a single track that can’t be navigated with the players finger crushing the throttle button at all times. The brake gets relegated to being the “button that you press when you want to reverse”. Then you have the collision detection, which is painfully inconsistent on some tracks. For example, it is possible to keep driving after a head on collision with a train, only to round the next bend and be smashed to pieces by a medium sized rock at the edge of the track. Tracks are covered in a variety of surfaces from metal to snow, but none cause the ATV’s handling to shift at all, completely smashing any suspension of disbelief and reminding you constantly that this is just a game.
Many ideas feel half explored and some feel as if they were included because they are considered standard features. The ‘Mutator’ races change the rules of existing races, but don’t feel like they have much bearing on the player’s tactics. They feel like a desperate attempt to introduce some variety but fall very short. Some events are played in ‘Stunt Mode’, where the winning driver will have scored the most points from driving feats. However, unlike a racer such as Pure, Nail’d doesn’t include any tricks for mid-air amazingness so players end up performing stunts that amount to ‘landing straight’ or ‘driving between two poles’.
The game, for all its features and ideas, lacks an identity that would mark it out as anything other than sub par.
LONGEVITY: Nail’d provides the modes you would expect from an arcade racer and nothing more. A career, single races and multiplayer are all present and correct. Progress through the career unlocks custom parts for your vehicle and new costume elements for the rider. There is enough here to keep a player interested, just not for very long.
VERDICT: Nail’d is a poor game hiding the seed of a really decent, fun arcade racer. Excellent and challenging track design is hampered by a poor handling model and graphics that are as often archaic as they are pretty.
It is also a game that tries to do too much, without really succeeding at anything. The game never clearly tells you whether it wants to be a stunt racer, a flat out speedster or a twisting and turning off-road racer. Stunt Mode is included but not committed to, with no tricks included. The game is fast but the handling is plain. The package just does not glue together. It is not a massive reach to imagine the production meeting where, on the blackboard, these ideas looked like a cool game just waiting to happen. It is a shame then that, despite occasional good execution, Nail’d doesn’t come together in any meaningful way.