Nail’d is what Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 might have been if it were a racing game. The whole experience is a textbook example of blink-and-you’re-dead twitch gameplay. The outcome of online matches is decided in seconds. You find yourself moving closer and closer to the screen as you get more and more frustrated with each death. Yet, everything about it feels oddly familiar. You’ve played this game before, but this version is slightly different. There may even be a similar sequel this time next year. Perhaps most importantly, despite their very different genres, Nail’d and Modern Warfare 2 target an identical demographic and share the same credo: “When in doubt, boost.”
Nail’d is a flashy but simple arcade-style-racer from Polish developer Techland that values speed and big air above depth and originality. At first glance, it seems like a great idea. Most racing games, regardless of their dedication to reality, are lauded for their graphics, sense of speed, and controls. Judging the game on those criteria alone, Nail’d is an absolute hit. The game looks great. The ATVs and bikes fly around like rocket-powered hovercraft driven by squirrels on crack. Besides a single stick to steer, there’s one button to go faster, one to go less fast and one to go ludicrous speed. Unfortunately, the reality is that while Nail’d really is that simple, most gamers aren’t.
Somewhere along the way, Techland must have confused minimalism with laziness. Nail’d is stripped of anything that might give it any replay value or originality. While it is a fun game at first, there’s very little to keep you going after you’ve gone sailing through the same ring of fire into yet another balloon. The things players would normally expect from an over-the-top off-road racing game are completely missing. You won’t be doing any tricks, fighting with any of the other racers or obsessively customizing your ride for maximum performance. You may tweak your ATV or bike once or twice, but generally, it’s all going to be the same experience as you jump, boost and slam your way to victory across a handful of tracks.
The racing environments are beautiful but repetitive and oddly claustrophobic. If your rocket sled drifts out of bounds during a jump, expect to find yourself re-spawning, wheels planted firmly on the ground, somewhere farther along the track. Nail’d turns itself into a game of memorization as you learn each leap and turn in order to avoid those painful, flow-breaking moments. When playing with a bunch of AI racers, a wrong turn could result in an exasperated sigh as you’re forced to find your way back on track. When pitted against online rivals, a crash can place victory out of hand and make a rage-quit very tempting. If the game eased players into the punishing difficulty over a variety of different environments, Nail’d might have been an amazing ride. As it stands, the arbitrary collision detection and poor track design make for an experience that’s far more frustrating than it is exhilarating.
As is the case with many new intellectual properties, Nail’d plays more like a tech demo than a fully developed release. To put it bluntly, the game feels generic and average. While a lot could have been done to give it personality and re-playability, the current version of Nail’d is only a fun distraction at best. If Techland is able to make a sequel, one can hope they expand upon this foundation and use it to bring something unique to the gaming community. It would be great to see the existing model of big air and twitchy speed combined with better tracks, deeper customization, and Road-Rash-style combat. Sadly, budding franchises like Nail’d – those that get as much wrong as they get right – don’t always get a chance to make improvements.
Obviously, whether or not Techland gets that chance is up to you. If you think a simple off-road racing game built around speed and air-time is something you’d enjoy, Nail’d might be worth a shot. If you’re looking for the Gran Turismo of ATV games, you’re squarely out of luck. Nail’d is a good start, but there’s little here that will keep the attention of the average gamer for long. In fact, the whole concept seems to exist solely so that 12-year-old boys will have something to play in between slamming back energy drinks and overusing the word “extreme.” It would have been nice if Nail’d gave the rest of us a reason to care.
Nail’d was released on November 30th, 2010 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Review is based on the Xbox 360 version.