by AJ Appeal
The Racing Refresh brand is primarily focused on two themes, diversity and entertainment. When the opportunity to cover video gaming is provided to our team, we are quick to jump on the experience. Through the summer of 2022, NHRA Drag Racing has grown into the second most-read form of motorsports at Racing Refresh. Their new game from GameMill Entertainment debuted today on August 26th.
I had the opportunity to test drive an early release and wasn't as satisfied as I had hoped. That being said, I'd still encourage you to give it a whirl. My review below includes what I felt were the highs and lows of various elements I look for in a national motorsports video game.
First things, first. The new title and license is one that we've been waiting for well over a decade. You may have seen some reviews from frustrated fans or social influencers who were immediately discouraged that leading automotive manufacturers are missing from this premiere. I can indeed confirm that the racing horsepower brands we are used to seeing in traffic at a red light, or going 330 mph on the green Sundays on Fox are not included.
While it isn't my preferred aesthetic for race cars to have fictional body lines on their cars, previous top-shelf racing titles have absolutely experienced similar challenges getting proper outfits on the cars. I'm not sure if this was a licensing issue, or a deadline scenario that wasn't met, but this along with other pros and cons in the game will be discussed with the game's producers in an exclusive interview next week from the US Nationals in Indianapolis.
The vehicles still resemble the real ones in the sportsman classes as you can see in the below image taken from career mode. It is inherently obvious that they're shooting for a Dodge Challenger on the front end of this Lucas Oil semi-pro racer.
Additionally, they went right for the fame and fortune when it came to feeling like you're racing against the best of the best. The biggest names such as Force and Capps, and the best venues including Auto Club, Bristol, and Summit Motorsports Park are all included in the release. The trophy stands tall, a proud standing 'Wally' is in the game for weekend winners, and countless proper sponsors such as competing oil vendors, Goodyear Tires, and multiple automotive part suppliers all make their way into the feature.
I've learned through the years that licensing is one of the most challenging pieces of the puzzle for a video game, and even more complex if it is an independent or smaller budget studio making the project. They did a nice job on this, if future releases should come...they know by now that car makes need added, but they went the right way including so many other fun elements.
The thing I am most impressed about on Speed for All is the concept that we aren't expected to just make three-second passes all day long until we are bored ten minutes into play. The developers recognized that the gamer needed more and they DELIVERED.
To be honest, I found myself clicking around the different menus and I was impressed at the customization the player is given access to on the career menus. We can paint our car, sign sponsors, change helmets and firesuits, heck we can even change our raing hauler. Additionally, every piece of the car can be upgraded or even changed from one brand to another. Even within the same part brand you can upgrade to different lines and purchase a more premium option with in-game cash.
Unlike in similar experiences, which use a coin or a credit symbol, NHRA Speed for All uses the US Dollar to symbolize currency. This isn't major, but a nice look and feel. This money can be used for the prior mentioned car parts, or an advanced research and development module. Each part of your car that you have your engineers develop takes time and money, sometimes weeks to improve. Every piece that is installed on the car wears through a race weekend.
You can see in the screenshot above that you only have 30 minutes to make proper adjustments to the car between rounds, so it is important to use your brain and your wallet efficiently or you may walk away from a race weekend in the negative.
Championships are awarded and a nearly accurate version of Fox's material-design studio graphics conclude every pass with commentating audio and a full replay to review what you did correct or where you made errors on your pass. This helps you decide your race strategy through any given race weekend. As you succeed through a season you have the opportunity to move through the ranks and earn a spot in the big-leagues racing in the Pro-Stock, Funny Car, or Top-Fuel categories.
ON TRACK RACING: C-
Typically, we would address racing first on a motorsports review, but drag racing is a game that involves so much more that I felt it appropriate to review other elements first. Now that we're here...I'm at a loss. I feel that the game is laggy and too much in the 'simulator' realm..not enough 'arcade' feel. I found it exceptionally challenging to perform my first several burnouts and in my first 10 attempts to race in a 'Quick Race' event, only one time did I complete a pass without being disqualified.
For the sake of the argument, let's assume I'm a poor racing gamer. I'll give the studio credit where it is due. The player is responsible for a lot, which I enjoy. Everything from turning the motor on, to performing their burnout, and going through the gears. With more practice I think I'll enjoy this a bit more, but I don't think the detail accommodates a bulk audience, especially when video gamers can often be children. If the game developers intend on it being this intense, I'd recommend a variety of difficulties and options to be included as well.
I was surprised that there was a fully mobile fanbase at each track, not the funny cardboard cutouts that some sports games put into the stands to eliminate motion or lag. It was humourous that they did not include the team's pit crew at the staging lanes to support their driver, though. Some of the fun of a successful drag racing pass is the interaction and emotion of the pit crew. They work as hard as their drivers and it would have been nice for them to be recognized.
On track damage models were impressive and lackluster at different times depending on what incident occurred. I was absolutely thrilled to see blown tires. The fire effects and parachute deployment are all great. Body panel crunching was not as impressive overall.
GRAPHICS and MEDIA PRESENTATION: B
While I personally was not playing on a modern gen console, my Playstation 4 graphics came and went. I was happy to see some really cool details and visuals through my experience such as very detailed race tracks, but let me down to see a cockpit that had minimal polygons and a pair of racing gloves that looked like it came out of a computer from 1998. Fortunately for me, I play using 'chase cam'.
The sound on my test was not great, but I've seen other players using the Playstation 5 that sounded much better. They need to make some kind of change to have linear and stereo sound that matches across all devices. The audio from the commentator is crystal clear and I'm thankful they included Brian Lohnes of Fox Sports. His recordings were expertly provided and the analyst obviously had fun poking fun at the gamer when they mess up. Taking away from what may have been my own television's settings, I'm content with where the media portion of the game is.
Their use of Lohnes as well as the graphics package they have installed on day one felt like it was more of a championship racing experience than simply, a drag race. It makes it a more fun experience when making each round's pass.
While the feedback from fans has been hit or miss, I think this is something you're going to want to get your hands on. It is lacking in some areas, yes...but it's day one on the first build of a new game engine in the public's eyes. Add the product they've already established on a micro budget, and the development's focus and pressure to improve....
*plus a few patches here and there, and this can be enjoyed for many months. I say if you're in the market for a fun racing game this fall, or you are unable to go enjoy the thrill of being baptized by nitro in person, pull the trigger on this game and give it a shot.
For a full trailer, enjoy below. Stay tuned for more next week when I interview developers from GameMill Entertainment!
(The previous review was completed by Racing Refresh site editor AJ Appeal after testing the NHRA Championship Drag Racing: SPEED FOR ALL video game on a second generation Playstation 4 console. The game was provided for testing and review purposes from the developer GameMill Entertainment with no paid promotion, and without additional updates installed, or 'as-is'.)