Motorsport Games unveiled “NASCAR 21: Ignition” on August 11, kicking off a new era of stock car racing video games. The developer promised a “more authentic driving experience” thanks to Unreal Engine and Studio 397’s rFactor physics engine, as well as immersive gameplay, dynamic AI, and “stunning visuals.” However, the release-day version falls shy of this mark.
(Note: Motorsport Games issued a patch to address reported issues, but it was not available on the Xbox at the time of review.)
There are three main gameplay modes in “NASCAR 21: Ignition.” Multiplayer pits up to 40 drivers against each other in quick races across a wide variety of tracks while the Race Now mode provides the opportunity to pick a driver, paint scheme, and track for quick sessions.
Career mode, the base of “NASCAR 21: Ignition,” puts the player in control of one of a select few NASCAR drivers as they embark on the 2021 season. You name a faceless character and then take over stock cars driven by Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Alex Bowman, Bubba Wallace, and Austin Cindric among others while partnering with the same generic crew chief regardless of team.
There is no character customization available other than naming the campaign. The current NASCAR driver’s name remains on the window stickers while the custom name sits on the leaderboard. The actual character model is the same as the real-world driver.
Technical Issues Take Away From a Solid Driving Experience
While the driving experience is solid overall, there are multiple problems that surface in both the Career and Race Now modes, including random braking, ever-changing damage models, and inconsistent artificial intelligence.
The braking occurs most noticeably when taking pace laps before the green flag. The screen will show a message to stay behind the adjacent car, but the AI-controlled vehicle will speed forward while the player-controlled entry randomly slows down. This drops the player well behind the pack before the race even begins.
The AI issues often surface in the heat of the race. The non-player drivers will break from their predetermined routes and collide with each other or the walls. One example featured several cars piling up at the entrance of pit road instead of proceeding to their respective boxes for tires and fuel. They remained in this position for the final 10 laps of the regular-season finale.
Occasionally, the AI drivers will stop suddenly in the middle of a lap, causing a collision at nearly 200 mph. However, the damage does not consistently show up. The hood and front bumper may appear crumpled from the side and rear, but switching to the front view makes the hood flicker before it reappears in perfect condition.
The biggest technical problem that surfaced across a full season schedule and in several one-off races was the spotter. Motorsport Games brought in Freddie Kraft, the spotter for Bubba Wallace, to provide guidance on the track. However, he frequently lists the wrong number of surrounding drivers or says “all-clear” when there are other vehicles mere inches away.
Multiplayer Would Benefit From Private Lobbies
While the career mode has its issues, the multiplayer mode functions much better. There are far fewer technical problems, such as cars veering off of the track and hitting the pit road wall or hoods popping up and down, and the ability to vote on tracks is a helpful addition. The experience is far more enjoyable overall, provided the other players in the lobby also fight for the win.
The online players have very different priorities based on a wide variety of tests races. Some line up and try to take their favorite driver to Victory Lane while others aim for pure chaos. These trolls simply load into the race and immediately begin wrecking everyone else. Several purposely try to drive in the wrong direction, continuing a trend that has plagued a multitude of racing games.
When the 40 players are on the same page and trying to compete for the win, the multiplayer mode becomes an exhilarating experience. However, one or two players trying to create chaos can turn the entire match into a frustrating battle of attrition.
Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid these other players. “NASCAR 21: Ignition” does not have private lobbies. The only way to play is to hop into one of two playlists — Shake and Bake or Bump and Run. Though players can create parties on their respective platforms to remain together.
The Paint Booth Provides Endless Options
Motorsport Games teased an expanded paint booth prior to the release of “NASCAR 21: Ignition,” which would provide creators with the ability to showcase their skills. The developer did not oversell.
The early version of the paint booth is a playground for designers that want to put bright, colorful stock cars on the track. They can create a number of designs with the shapes, colors, and logos available once the game finishes installing. The only limitation is their imagination and roughly 300 decals per zone.
The downside of the paint booth is that there are fewer sponsor logos available. M&M’s, Roush Fenway Racing, Toyota Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, and a few other companies are available. However, other big names such as NAPA, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Busch, or Monster Energy are not available for placement on the cars.
Bottom line: “NASCAR 21: Ignition” is still a work in progress. The patch notes released by Motorsport Games listing myriad fixes prove this to be true. There are some technical problems that create frustration while the lack of private lobbies opens up opportunities for trolls to disrupt online matches. “NASCAR 21: Ignition” has some promise, but it requires more work before it’s the next big thing in racing video games.
“NASCAR 21: Ignition” is currently available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam for $59.99. The Champions Edition, which includes Hall of Famer Bill Elliott and the Season Pass, is $89.99. Motorsport Games provided an Xbox One code for the purpose of this review, which took place on an Xbox Series X.