I love a good racing game. And, while the definition of “good racing game” may vary from person to person, in my case that means “ridiculous, physically improbable and probably fatal things happening in realistic-looking environments”.
I have no interest in an accurate simulation of what it’s like to drive a Rover Metro around Donington Park circa 1987, but present me with the opportunity to fling myself off the side of a quarry on a motorbike going over 200 miles per hour while I admire the ruins of ancient Greece passing majestically by beneath me, and I am 100% there.
As you may have surmised, nail’d falls very comfortably and firmly into this latter category.
nail’d is an off-road racing game in which you can drive either an ATV or a motocross bike. There are four different environments in which you can race, and a variety of different track layouts within each. Some are point-to-point (usually downhill) races, while others are lap-based circuits.
All are absolutely, wonderfully ridiculous.
nail’d was put together by the Polish studio Techland, who are perhaps most well-known today for their Dead Island and Dying Light series, as well as the Call of Juarez series of rootin’ tootin’ first-person gunslingin’ games. nail’d is about as far from those as it’s possible to get, though; what we have here is pure, simple, massively enjoyable arcade racing action — and a game that will have those prone to motion sickness bringing up their lunch.
The game is available for Windows PC, Xbox 360 and PS3, though note that while the former version looks and runs the best, as is usually the case, it really doesn’t like modern operating systems and graphics cards. It runs, just don’t expect to see any text on the screen. And that, as you might expect, makes navigating menus a bit of a challenge. At the time of writing, you’re probably best off with a console copy.
nail’d was designed from the outset to explore that much-overused buzzword, “verticality”. As such, you won’t be staying on flat, level ground for very long at any one time. If you’re not flying through the air in some of the biggest jumps I’ve seen in any racing game ever, you’re probably weaving around banked corners on the side of a mountain that will very quickly leave you wondering which way is “up”, or plummeting in freefall, hoping you land on that bit of road you can see several hundred feet below you.
nail’d takes positive glee in its overblown physics, and makes no attempt whatsoever to even look like it’s “simulating” anything. Instead, this is a game all about the joy of driving fast and having fun. It’s pure wish fulfilment; it’s a game about the fantasy of offroad racing and motorcross, rather than the somewhat more mundane reality.
The challenges you’ll face will take you from the desert wastelands of Arizona to the muddy greenery of Yosemite National Park, then onward to the aforementioned Greek ruins before plonking you at the top of a mountain in the Andes and inviting you to get on with it.
These four environments present a surprising amount of variety. It would be easy to assume that an off-road racing game would be predominantly brown in colour, but each of the environments have their own distinct look, feel and colour palette, giving a nice sense of progression as you work your way through the substantial single-player campaign — particularly as the various races unfold at various times of day, too.
nail’d is a speedy game, and this is further emphasised by some stylistic, presentational choices. As you accelerate, the game’s field of view becomes exaggerated considerably, leading to deliberately distorted visuals that take a little adjusting to. This is combined with heavy use of motion blur, and making use of the game’s boost function also desaturates the colours and turns up the contrast, making it a little harder to see where you’re going and really providing a convincing sense of “white knuckle” thrills.
Ah yes, the boost. As if the game’s base speed weren’t already enough, performing various “Boost Feats” around the course enable you to build up a meter and unleash it as you see fit. Boost Feats range from flaming gates and hoops you need to drive (or fly) through to performing impressive stunts or takedowns of your opponents.
These aren’t necessarily essential to success in the basic races or checkpoint-based time challenges, but in Stunt Challenge events, you’ll score points for every Boost Feat you successfully accomplish. As such, it pays to learn the courses well, since many of them have multiple routes onward, only some of which have valuable flaming gates and opportunities to pull off spectacular tricks.
There’s a really nice feeling of exploration and adventure to nail’d’s various tracks; while they’re not completely “open-world” in design — thankfully; it’d be easy to get lost otherwise! — it can be very rewarding to try different things every so often and see where you end up.
Go too far off the beaten track or wreck yourself and you’ll respawn in a matter of seconds; this minimises risk and encourages you to enjoy yourself as you see fit, since although a respawn will cost you a little time, it never puts you in a completely unwinnable situation, even on the harder difficulties. The computer racers will mess up just as much as you inevitably will!
As you progress through the single-player campaign, you’ll unlock additional parts for both the ATV and the motorcycle rather than completely new vehicles. These allow you to customise the performance of each vehicle in several areas; none of them specifically make either vehicle “better”, since there is usually some sort of stat tradeoff going on, but if you’re struggling to come out on top in a particular race, it might be worth swapping your parts around a bit to see what happens.
You’ll also unlock new paint jobs and colour customisation options for both your ride and your rider (who can be either gender) — these are a fun way to gauge your progress through the game without ever feeling like you need to “grind” to acquire a new vehicle in order to overcome a particular challenge.
nail’d is a prime example of the Eastern European game development philosophy. It’s pretty simple and no-frills in terms of execution and structure, but it does what it does extremely well and is a massive amount of fun to engage with. I can’t recommend it enough for those of you who just want some ridiculous, high-speed thrills, realism be damned. For an arcade racer fan such as myself, it’s a truly heavenly experience.
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