'NASCAR The Game: Inside Line' preview

The makers of "NASCAR The Game: Inside Line" focused on making the cars more natural to control. Eutechnyx

Danica Patrick is getting on my last nerve. She has been bumping my car from behind for the past two laps, aggressively trying to pass me on every straightaway, and has almost caused me to wreck for the past few minutes of my heart-pounding first race.

Next thing I know, Patrick hits me from behind, again, spinning me sideways into the Daytona grass, but as I spin her car is sent into the infield wall. As her car ricochets back toward me, I hit the gas and narrowly escape, with her car then flying back into the field where her ride is T-boned by Joey Logano, causing her car to roll and flip in a scene that’s both spectacular and scary.

When the caution flag is waved, the replay is instantly shown, highlighting just how close I came to being taken out of the race, then showing Patrick’s frightening flip that caused another 12 cars to wreck in a chain reaction of carnage and chaos.

But the crazy crashes are just part of the fun of Activision’s “NASCAR The Game: Inside Line,” as developer Eutechnyx went to great lengths to capture everything fans love about the sport, from the fiery wrecks to the skill and precision it takes to roll three- or four-wide at Talladega.

“One thing we wanted to add this year were computer-controlled cars causing crashes,” Eutechnyx’s Ed Martin says as he watches me play the game for the first time. “In past games, if there were crashes, it was usually user controlled. Now you’ll see a caution flag, and then you’ll watch a replay of something that happened around you. You might have seen the smoke, but now the replay will show you the collision.”

Aside from crashes, Martin also promises his new game will feature a much more robust online offering, including a set of challenges based off the real NASCAR season. Eutechnyx doesn’t want to elaborate at the moment, with Martin only saying the feature is something he has always wanted to see in a NASCAR game, and he’s excited to finally see it in “Inside Line.”

Says Martin: “While the last NASCAR game was a bare-bones, price of entry-type game, this is going to be what a 21st century NASCAR game should look and play like, with all the polish and bells and whistles, not to mention some surprises along the way.”

What made me most excited, though, was the gameplay. The game doesn't ship until November, but it's already playing incredibly smooth. The designers have toned down a lot of the over-the-top graphics that you saw in the first game, especially when drafting, leaving a much cleaner look as you roar down the straightaway. Also gone is the ticker that appeared at the top of the screen, giving you more of a sense that you’re driving the car, as opposed for a TV-style presentation.

In addition, former Jeff Gordon crew chief Ray Evernham has been added into the game to help guide you through career mode as coach, team owner and crew chief to help you out with everything from acquiring new sponsors to actual race strategy.

And while you can earn sponsorships from products such as Mountain Dew and M&M’s (there are over 125 sponsors in the game) and add the iconic paint to your created car, the only thing missing is the ability to kick the current Mountain Dew or M&M’s driver from the team.

“If you become the Home Depot driver, it’s not like you kick Joey Logano out of NASCAR,” Martin adds with a laugh. “If you get the offer in career mode to join the Home Depot team, Joey Logano will still be out there, too. You just can’t be the No. 20 Home Depot car, you’ll be assigned your own number.

“We pay a lot of money for these drivers, so you’re not going to be able to toss them out of the game.”

Seems like a great way to build a rivalry mode to me.

Oh, well, maybe I can talk them into it for “NASCAR 14.”