There’s a moment when the gameplay of Nail’d clicks and you understand what its all about, and that moment does not take place while your wheels are on the ground. Early on in the seemingly superfluous tutorial section (where it tells you how to accelerate and brake) it also mentions that you can steer in the air. “How quaint” you think to yourself as you quickly discard the information, hoping that the end of the tutorial will reward you with the pavolovian satisfaction of that sweet, sweet achievement noise and five juicy points. Minutes later and in the game proper, you realise that you’ve done two laps of the first course already and you’ve barely touched the ground. The majority of your time has been spent hurtling through the air. With this realisation you begin to try steering your jumps and realise you have as much (if not more) control of your verhicle when your flying (or falling) as you do when grounded. This puts Nail’d into a strange, possibly unique category of game: The non-flying, airborne racing genre.
Those opening minutes of Nail’d are not without other peculiarities either. The first tracks seem to twist and rise and fall more like a roller-coaster than a race course and the over-abundance of ramps is disconcerting. The game engine meanwhile is peculiar with rival racers skidding and floating over the landscape unconvincingly while the environments fly past so fast and blurringly that it feels like the framerate is much lower than it actually is. All the while the soundtrack is hard to judge impartially as the banging American hardcore will likely alienate many, although personally I don’t mind a bit of Bad Religion or Rise Against.
In fact it was while listening to Rise Against’s pleasingly up-tempo Re-Eductaion Through Labour that I experienced the first breakthrough moment of the game (literally) as I hit a huge ramp and cleared a blimp, then seemingly broke through the cloud cover before hurtling back down to earth. The sheer ridiculousness of this moment (and many similar ones that followed) are the main strength of Nail’d and its main weapon when put up against rival racers in the competitive racing genre. It should be noted though that the track list is small and if you hate one particular song, its sure to pop up again and again. Thank god for the guy who decided it would be a good idea to let the Xbox import your personal music collection.
The intensity of the twisting, turning tracks can, at their best moments,suck you into the game world in the same way as WipEout could but its the landing rather than the turning or jumpng which is a major feature of gameplay. In many ways the game can start to feel like classic PSone title SSX (I know thats a snowbaording game) with smooth, level landings rewarded with increased speed and rough landings punished with the pack of rival racers speeding past.
The tracks themselves look good. They don’t have a high level of visual fidelity, but the sheer insanity of the amount of things happening at once is impressive and the blurring, mud splattering and water splashing makes it feel kinetic and fast at the same time. The boosting effect is a little dull though; removing colour from the game world to imply speed doesn’t work. Worse, some of the games modes allow you to boost for the whole race. Hard to control, ugly and difficult to follow; this modes a complete failure.
The tracks can be a little too open and free-form at times. The work that must have went into crafting so many paths and secret routes is huge, but ocasionally its not clear which routes are part of the race line and which are drops into oblivion. This is most common the first few times you play a new track but thankfully the punishment is nothing more than a quick respawn.
To maintain interest there’s a range of different mutators applied to specific races throughout the single player tournament. These include the aforementioned boost races as well as more esoteric options like races with no collision. Adding little to the game and failing to redefine the gameplay in a meaningful way, these quickly become relegated to the file of clever ideas poorly implemented. Vehicle choice is limited to the likes of ATV’s and bikes but tuning options are straightforward and accessible. The different race types meanwhile are a little more interesting with a variety of goals such as tasking the player with staying in the lead for as long as they can.
Whether its straight racing or not, the challenge level is generally low with only later races really amping up the difficulty. In the early races you’re lucking to see your rival racers far less jostle with them for position. If your hoping to find a degree of longevity in the online multiplayer then you’re out of luck. In the UK at least I couldn’t find any games to join and hosting myself consisted of playing games on my iPhone for an hour waiting for someone to drop in (in vain).
With that in mind the future for Nail’d looks rather bleak. In competing with strong titles like Motorstorm its in a competitive market, and when games as good as Blur fail to sell its a warning sign to other devs. It must be said that despite some of its shortcomings I had a good deal of fun with Nail’d. It reminded me of one of those classic coin-ops that threw every graphic trick in the book to get your money. Like the best moments of Hydro Thunder, Ridge Racer or even Outrun, the highlights of Nail’d are when you forget about everything but the race..and dodging the hot air balloon too obviously.
6 airborne land vehicles out of 10