Nail'd is an arcade-style off-road racer with a focus on speed and chaos over realistic physics. Straight away, Nail'd seems a little dated. From the name to its style, it screams "X-Games circa 2003," when dudes were screaming about sick air while "DOING THE DEW BRO." But in reality, Nail'd actually goes further back from a design perspective, calling on memories of games like Off-road Thunder and other arcade rally racers in the late '80s and '90s. Those games eschewed complication in favor of immediate, in-your-face gratification because they had to; they were competing for your quarters 90 seconds at a time. However, it's 2010. Arcades are dead, consoles are king, depth is expected, and Nail'd just can't keep up with the pack.
The setup is simple enough. The meat of the game is in its career mode, where you can race an ATV or MX bike through several leagues and courses in a quest to win the Nail'd championship. Most races require you to finish three laps around a course, though occasionally, Nail'd mixes things up, whether it's by adding "mutators" to races (which add quirks such as infinite boost or no collision with other drivers), or through stunt challenges, where you're judged on your completion time and the "tricks" you pull off. I put tricks in quotes because there isn't much in the way of finesse here. Something as simple as landing successfully from a jump can be a trick, as is passing through flaming gates or running other racers off the track. There's also multiplayer racing for up to 12 players online.
Nail'd isn't about tight turn ratios or drifting or any other piece of racer jargon you've heard this year. The challenge in Nail'd is intended to come from finding the most insane, fastest route possible by boosting through busy courses while avoiding getting, well, nailed by other racers on ATVs or dirtbikes. There are times when it almost comes together too -- running off a ramp in the air at about a thousand miles an hour and weaving in between hot air balloons, or threading through giant wind turbines is admittedly cool. The physics in Nail'd aren't realistic, at all. Instead, you always have more or less complete control of your bike or ATV, leading to the aforementioned turbine-dodging and other crazy moments of in-air maneuvering and taking turns without slowing down at all.
Unfortunately, my desire to experiment and find routes and really push the courses was knocked out of me by the wreck and respawn system, which would be a player friendly feature, if it worked. As intended, respawning will keep you going instead of stranding you if you take a wrong turn. Instead, I'd often find myself in mid-air, positioning myself to land on a spot marked as the course below, only to explode when the game decided I wasn't in an approved area and killed me. There's no indication of what's cool or what isn't here. It's all learned the hard way, and it kills the game's momentum.
There are also strange forces at play that will cause wrecks with seemingly little provocation or reason, and times when the respawn mechanic won't kick in when it seems like it should. If I'm driving with all four wheels on the ground toward a ramp, why did I explode as my tires left the mud and hit the metal? If the slightest deviation from the course into the brush on the sides will cause my vehicle to explode, why will the game let me get stuck on a random piece of geometry and force me to sit in place, motionless, for precious seconds? Why go off the beaten path if the game is going to kill me for it?
Nail'd's main failing is that its primary idea just doesn't work that well. The physics that lend themselves to mid-air adjustment are far too lenient on the ground. There's an initial rush to take every course at maximum speed all the time, but it drains the need for strategy or much skill during races. Weird as it sounds, the fun in a racing game comes from dealing with a vehicle's physical limitations -- knowing what they are, testing them, etc. None of that's the case in Nail'd, and races usually end up feeling lifeless as a result. Even Nail'd's multiplayer lacks much excitement. I was winning most of my races and still didn't feel any real accomplishment. The courses did more to beat my competitors than I did.
Polish developer Techland's previous games (both Call of Juarez titles, for example) have been marked by a distinctive sense of personality that's helped to compensate for the otherwise rough edges of their presentation, but Nail'd comes up short. Instead of an appreciable identity, Nail'd instead thrusts forward with extreme sports clichés that would seem old years ago, which goes double for the soundtrack. Some fairly generic jock metal is joined by licensed tracks that have been making the rounds for longer than this game has likely been in development. I love Queens of the Stone Age, but can we please get a song other than "3's and 7's" for a change? And why is there a six-year-old Slipknot song here?
You can see some fun poking out here and there in Nail'd. The in-air physics work largely as advertised and add some excitement, but the game still feels surprisingly boring most of the time. Without the benefit of exploration for new routes or any meaningful challenge to vehicle handling though, Nail'd gets tedious fast and stays there.