If there's one game genre that keeps getting outdone by itself, it has to be racing games. From the earliest games like Night Driver and Pitstop to today's battles between realistic racers like Gran Turismo and over-the-top stuff like Burnout, racing games have consistently upped the realism level on one side, and then thrown it out the window six months later whenever crazy new racing ideas have come around. nail'd is the latest game in that arms race, released conspicuously only one week after the stuffy, meticulous Gran Turismo 5.
And after spending a while with simulators where you're trying to find a tenth of a second on one corner, nothing could be as refreshing as a racing game where you spend around one quarter of the time on the track, well, off the track - in the air. nail'd delivers high-flying racing on ATVs and motocross bikes, and while it purposely skips things like performing stunts, its seemingly drug-induced brand of ridiculous racing hardly needs any of that to be exciting.
Playing nail'd is like controlling a Choose Your Own Adventure rollercoaster with a gamepad. Its tracks have massive ups and downs, completely unrealistic verticals - like not just crossing a canyon, but actually diving down into it, and landing it perfectly - and a sense of speed that's unparalleled in the motocross racing genre. Your vehicles are technically upgradeable, but they're more "sidegrades" in that any part you add on will increase one of your vehicle's stats and decrease another stat by the same amount - this means both online and offline play are intended to be balanced, and while it remains to be seen if that winds up being the case, I at least appreciate the intent.
nail'd does come with some downsides, though. While the tracks are fantastic and have lots of routes for you to go through, the developers often actually punish you for going too fast or too high, as you'll often crash into stuff in mid-air if you're going too fast. There's a ton of air control in this game so you can get side-to-side movement going no problem - and you'll need to master it to really consistently take first place on the harder tracks and in the harder of the game's three difficulty settings - but up-down movement isn't something you can adjust as easily. This means that that little gap you've got to fit through on some jumps will have an obstacle right above it, so it's going to be impossible to get into if you are going too fast or too slow in mid-air. If you don't know each track well, you'll feel helpless in some places once you leave the ground.
At the very least, crashing in this game is something that has been accounted for, and you'll only lose a second or two overall. That's a lot in online play, but while you're still learning the tracks in the game's single player tournament, it's fine. There's actually an achievement for getting first place in a race where you've crashed five times, and I'm pretty sure I've gotten first place on Medium difficulty while crashing at least fifteen times.
Beyond that, there was a strategy in games like MotorStorm where the bikes could do the huge jumps up at the top of a multi-level race course, while the big rigs did much better in the mud below. Here, the multiple routes are more just to fit the twelve racers that you can get into the single player or online sessions, because they generally don't offer too much in the way of advantages. Sure, if you can boost fast enough you might hit a ring or some gates that give you even more boost, but there's no reason not to do that as long as you're able.
Despite the lack of depth to your racing strategy, nail'd is still a blast and a half for at least a while, and the online play works nicely - if you can find people online to play with, that is. The console versions are fine, but the PC version of the game was completely devoid of players on launch day. That said, there is LAN/System Link play on the PC and 360 versions of the game, and I do have to say that the PC version not only runs great, but it looks better - mostly because the annoying motion blur that the console versions have been saddled with is simply not there on the PC (and you can get much sharper visuals out of a decent gaming PC and 1080p-ish monitor).
2010 has been a weird year for racing games, with very little being released before the end of October. It's been worth the wait, though, as NFS Hot Pursuit and GT5 have fulfilled a lot of people's needs for blistering-fast arcade racing as well as the picky apex-finding sim racing. But out of nowhere comes nail'd, which is so ridiculous that it actually makes a game like Need for Speed look like a sim, but this game's core is still all about the fun of arcade racing. Even though there's almost a complete lack of strategy required to race, some wonky visuals on the console editions, and a conspicuous lack of split-screen play, I can still offer a pretty hearty recommendation for nail'd.