Monday, 17 September 2012


Over the months and years I've had tons of fun picking apart critically acclaimed games to find that they're not too great. Or at least I think that qualifies as fun... I'm not entirely sure.

But hey, here's critically "mixed" game, so I guess that means that once I've picked it apart, it'll be horrible. Nail'd for the Xbox 360, because we need to omit the "e" - that's obvious.

Developed by Polish developers TechLand and published by Deep Silver in 2010, Nail'd is a typical "budget" off-road racing game for seventh generation hardware. It had virtually no impact on the gaming landscape and few remember its existence, but who knows, perhaps it's a hidden gem that deserves a second chance. Or maybe not.

I guess if nothing else, Nail'd is educational. For one, I've not been keeping up to date with the world of racing games, so it's good to see how things have (d)evolved over the last few years, but it also stands as a prime example of why you shouldn't release a half finished video games to the general public. Nail'd isn't as excruciatingly painful as others may have you believe, but it's not unreasonable to expect one of the lead designers to be fired over this game... or at least demoted.

In Nail'd, you race non-branded dirt and quad bikes across muddy terrains, usually against eleven other players across fifteen different tracks. It has "arcade" physics which don't stress realism, and is presumably aimed at XTREMEEEE sports fans of some description. At its heart, Nail'd is perhaps more similar to Mario Kart than typical racing games, though if I'm honest, its style of gameplay reminds me more of F-Zero GX/AX on than anything else.

There are no items, but Nail'd comes equipped with some basic boost mechanics. Unlike F-Zero however, it has no concept of damage, merely repositioning players should they fall of the track and offering very little punishment for failure. It's silly, mindless racing fun and it will likely bring a smile to your face for the first handful of races.

Unfortunately life isn't plain sailing for Nail'd. There may be fifteen tracks on paper, but in practise it's arguably closer to four, with a small handful of track variations to make up the numbers. Aside from the occasional uninspired landmark, the three DESERT tracks will look the same, as will the three FOREST tracks and the three ICE tracks (the rest, bizarrely, taking place in "GREECE", because that's a country known for its... off-road dirt racing... apparently).

Nail'd contests to being about multiplayer, but because its single player campaign doesn't hold much water, competing online is almost a non-option. You won't find many people on the servers, nor will you be particularly inspired to race against them due to the sheer mundane-ness of it all. Because there doesn't appear to have been any real effort poured into the single-player experience, there isn't a huge amount of content to soak up in Nail'd, and so there's little point in putting the disc in the console.

You see, Nail'd offers absolutely nothing to the user aside from those fifteen tracks - there's no career mode to chose from, not many options to play with and regardless of what you do, every vehicle plays more-or-less the same. The single player "tournament" mode tricks you into believing Nail'd has depth, but in reality there's a truckload of repetition and no notable pay-off.

The single player campaign forces to race around the three, virtually indistinguishable four-minute long desert tracks before it gives you access to the forest set, a process you'll have to repeat should you want the Greek and ice sets. If you want to progress further at a later date, you'll have to race across all of these courses a second time (now bundled together as "cups"), and then you'll have to do it again, this time with slightly different options enabled. And then you'll do this again, and again, and again.

Bearing in mind he AI never changes and the tracks fail to get noticeably harder, there's really no way around it - this game is padded beyond belief. There are stunt challenges and time attacks, and occasionally the game will make use of its stunning array of two Unreal Tournament-style "mutators" (one lets you boost forever (thus eliminating challenge completely), and the other takes away player-player collisions (which affects nothing) - what a selection!), but it's clear that even some of the earliest of examples of the genre are more captivating than this.

You'd think there might be promise in the concept of stunt modes, but in Nail'd, "stunts" equate to "doing wheelies", "landing in a funky way" and "boosting". Time attacks are identical to normal play sans computer opponents, and every single mode in this game can be won in exactly the same way - finishing in a fast time. And if you've not adjusted your difficulty settings, fast times could be as simple as pressing the right trigger - you might not even need to steer!

The AI only improves if you tell it to in the options menu. On the default easy setting, nothing will ever overtake you. On medium things are more balanced, and on hard the computer is allowed to cheat, but there's arguably little point in computer opponents at all - they barely affect the choices you make during gameplay and merely act as a glorified stopwatch. If you have the player-player collision turned off, you've produced a second time trial mode. Because we needed more than one, I'm sure.

And once you've rampaged through the forest for the fourth time, you may start to notice the other issues which plague the game, including the often wonky collision detection, the crappy set of NPCs at the starting line, and the wearisome soundtrack comprised entirely of licensed late 90s American rock (because heaven forbid they hire musicians of their own). It all makes for a very half-hearted package - as if key members got bored half-way though production.

To put this into perspective, the original arcade version of Daytona USA, released back in 1994, had AI which adapted itself to give the player a hard time. Yep, the game that introduced textured polygons to the genre had smarter AI than Nail'd from 2010. And it has better music. And hell, for the time period, even better graphics. And of course should it be set up where intended, you could be damned sure you'd have human opponents to race against.

The game occasionally rewards you with new parts for your bike, which might sound like a good thing, but in reality, no parts "add" anything to the vehicles in Nail'd. Instead you are given equipment to merely re-balance statistics such as handling and acceleration, which in my experience, made very little difference to proceedings. The game lets you exchange control for raw speed, but you're forced to work for the privilege first.

In fact, it's a complete waste of time visiting the garage. "Paint jobs" hardly matter when everything is covered in mud, and you don't have time to admire what your wheels. It also doesn't seem to matter what type of bike you're driving, and the gender of your character is pretty meaningless too (though for some reason the women default to bikinis - inequality and mild objectification is EDGY and XTREME).

Tracks are far too long in some cases to remain enjoyable. It's fully possible to build up double-digit second leads over your competitors, and as you're always driving on mud, you don't have the Sega Rally experience where the differing ground surface affects the physics of the car (and I guess that means another fifteen year old release out-paces Nail'd from 2010). Thankfully the graphics are quite pretty on occasion, but even then it's ruined by needlessly excessive motion blur and frame rate stuttering. I mean look at these in-game screenshots I borrowed - you think that looks cool?

And it's such a shame, because for the first fifteen minutes, you could be forgiven for thinking that Nail'd was a good game. Indeed, it will be one of those occasions where the demo is fantastic, but fails to allude to the fact that this is about as deep as this game gets. I don't care for the music or the bland tone of the game, and though you can easily pour several hours of your life into Nail'd, you won't be getting much enjoyment from doing so.

Nail'd is hindered by the lack of lasting appeal, and stands as an opportunity missed. I've nothing hugely against the gameplay side of this release, but it's attached to an annoyingly shallow experience - arcade racers are fun to play and I presume fun to make, so why the conservative ideas? There's no sponsors to offend and tons of "serious" competition to overshadow this game, so you really should have gone wild to make an impact. Instead we don't even get mirrored tracks or changes in weather. There's not even a survival mode, which surely can't pose much of a challenge to implement. Unless the AI is destined to kill itself.

There's silly bits too, such as the time trial and boost markers showing up even if you're in a mode which doesn't require them. The fact the AI players have the most boring names imaginable, or the idea that you can have a "cup" with only two tracks. Why did you ship something so mediocre? It just doesn't make sense to me.

In small doses, Nail'd could be seen as a decent game, but the longer you hold the controller, the more it's going to leave you feeling bitter. Why this was rushed to market in such a poor state is anyone's guess - congratulations guys, you've made a completely unmemorable game. Who wants to cut the cake?

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