Genre: Racing Simulation
Developer: Papyrus Racing Games
Release Date: 2/4/2003
Racing games make up a very unique genre in the realm of video gaming. With other genres, games that are geared towards the arcade crowd can still appeal to the simulation crowd, and games that are meant to be as realistic as possible can still get the attention of the arcade style group. With racing games if you swing one way too far to either camp you are almost guaranteed to alienate a good portion of people, and with Nascar Racing 2003 Season that seems to be the case.
Racing in itself is a sport unlike any other, where men strap into cars geared for maximum performance and push both themselves and their machines to blur the line between speed and sanity. Translating that into a video game is no easy undertaking; no other type of game relies so heavily on play control while still being expected to deliver good enough graphics and sound to make the player feel immersed. In Nascar 2003 Racing Season almost none of the above conditions are met, in an almost unforgivable way.
In Nascar 2003 Racing Season, the ability to control your car to any degree of realism without going out and purchasing a steering wheel peripheral has been totally forgone. While it is still possible to control your car via your typical keyboard, mouse, or gamepad, the control is extremely touchy even at lower speeds. This problem is made even worse when every car inexplicably pulls to the left, even when on flat ground (ed. this has in the meantime been clarified by Nascar afficionado's as being a Nascar specific car design). This means that if you are using a keyboard you are forced to systematically tap your right button just right to keep going in a straight line. Failure to do this near perfectly results in loss of control, what little that was held beforehand at least. A person who has a steering wheel peripheral will have a much easier time controlling the car, but those who do not should expect to struggle more with control than anything else.
Another problem is that Nascar 2003 Racing Season is a sim in the strictest sense. Races start off just like actual Nascar races, which means if you don’t know the rules you are out of luck. In our press build there was no tutorial, no arcade style of play, nothing to help people new to the world of Nascar racing, such as myself, play the game (ed. those options WILL be available in the final retail product though). Breaking rules have large consequences as well, sometimes resulting in complete disqualification. Granted, overtaking a pace car or accidentally nudging a competitor’s car can and usually will get you thrown off a track in real life, but to put such aspects in a game without the option to turn if off to protect new players is, simply put, stupid.
Nascar 2003 Racing Season does have some shining points in it, but they are few and far between. The amount of things you can tweak on your car before a race is astounding. You can adjust nearly every single component almost to a point that if you can successfully do it you deserve to be on a pit crew. Also, you can paint your car, add text, and add decals to make your very own custom-made car design. These features should be in every decent racing game, while they are far from necessary they really set the game apart in a sense.
Sadly, the shining parts of the game do not extend much past there, the graphics in the game are almost a slap in the face. While the cockpit view is rather nice and very well detailed, all of the gauges actually work and work well, you are limited to just that view. The only thing you can do view-wise is look to your left and right. The outsides of the cars are modeled and textures fairly well, with glossy paint jobs and reflective glass. However, the tracks themselves look like something you would see on a Nintendo 64 game. The textures are low quality, with a lack of any detail and an uninspired theme. The grass texture is mercilessly repetitive, as is the texture that makes up the roadway. Granted, the low overall graphics quality means that many people will be able to run the game just fine, but on the other hand anyone with a PC less then 3 years old is going to feel shortchanged.
Sound is nearly as bad. If the robotic pit manager voice doesn’t get to you, the monotonous droning of the engine will. The game boasts 3D sound and does indeed deliver, but the quality of the sounds makes it almost pointless. Even things that you would imagine should sound cool such as crashing and hitting a wall sound very flat and dull. Again, this means that anyone with a simple sound setup will be able to experience the game’s audio without trouble, but anyone with anything more won’t need it.
All in all, Nascar 2003 Racing Season delivers heavily to hardcore simulation fans while leaving everyone else confused and frustrated. Fans of the racing genre might want to look elsewhere for their next racing game purchase, unless looking for a game that takes the simulation aspect as far as it can go. For those who are desperate for a Nascar racing game and still want to try the game on for size, proceed at your own risk. In closing I would like to state once more that this preview is based on a press version which in the meantime, according to Papyrus' Devlopment Manager Chait David, has vastly improved in every aspect of the game. To Be Continued!
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