Release Date: June 22, 2004
Buy 'INDYCAR SERIES 2005': Xbox
Well, this is one heck of a curve thrown my way.
I’ll level with you, kids; I grew up on Daytona USA. Super Mario Kart. F-Zero. Ridge Racer (single-track powah). I like my racing games fast and furious, with loose rules, forgiving controls, and the constant rush of adrenaline as I fight for supremacy against a tightly-knit pack of competing vehicles. Collisions may be involved; oh-so-spectacular collisions, or even crashes. I try to avoid these, yet do not completely regret when they occur, for they are very, very… shiny… to watch.
Barring cookie-cutter battle-kart game knockoffs, this is what racing games have always meant to me.
When I received Codemasters’s Indy Car Series 2005, I honestly expected a racing game here. I mean… come on. Look at the name. It’s a game based on the king of high-speed automobile racing concepts.
What I got was… something different.
What I got was a college course to Formula One Racing that was made to run on my XBox.
Sure, it’s possible to recreate the experience described above, but that will not come until you’ve put in your three credit hours per week, passed every quiz, the midterm, and then the final course. Then, perhaps, you have a chance of racing like one of the greats, provided the almost too-tight control doesn’t cause you to spin out unexpectedly, or crash into a random wall.
Instead of waiting until the end of the review as per normal, I’ll come right out and say this now: if you’re like me as far as racing games go, I can’t recommend Indy Car to you. You will severely dislike it. Oh, you’ll give it its fair share of chances, but after not knowing why you failed for the umpteenth time in the first “tutorial” lesson, you’ll be taking this puppy back, or selling it to your Gran Turismo-addicted friend, I assure you.
However, if you like your sims hardcore, or if you’ve simply decided you want to get into one of these babies for once (and have a masochistic streak), then this game has a ton to offer you. Let’s start with aesthetics.
It’s hard to describe how this game looks; it’s presented very well, yet in a no-frills manner. You’re given basic menus with which you can make your selections and your vehicle tweaks, but some of these menus are confusing at times. Still, they’re set amidst a constant backdrop of cars whizzing by tracks, which keeps things fresh, so it’s all good. The main graphics engine of this game is no slouch, but sometimes it’ll fool you into thinking it is. There are some parts which are beautifully rendered—cars, track asphalt and grass, the skyscape—and give a wonderful sense of reality. Unfortunately, there are other bits that, while smaller, still hit you hard at how shoddy they look, and destroy that illusion of reality that the gorgeous-looking tracks and cars spent so much time and energy building up. The generic driver in the in-car camera view, for instance, looks just plain ugly, and the audience stands only look good from a distance. Textures of backgrounds outside of the track are hit-or-miss as well. All in all, things are a mixed bag in the looks department, but with just a bit more work on the “little things,” this game could have achieved a total immersive effect.
The game at least sounds like an authentic Indy track—perhaps a little too much. Usually I turn the sound effects of any game up to the max; here, I was scrambling for the volume controls. It’s not entirely the game’s fault; it’s just that the roar of twenty-plus high-speed cars zooming across a track over and over grates on one’s ears like an army of buzzing mosquitoes. Plus, that’s most of what you’ll be hearing during your entire gaming experience, because there isn’t much of a soundtrack here. There’s a tutorial voice and some random voice acting provided by your “assistant,” but those mosquitoes are going to be with you forever.
Codemasters, in addition to capturing the look and sound of an Indy racetrack, also threw in a boatload of features. You can race a full season, test out a track, or jump straight to the Indianapolis 500, which will tire your hands out like nothing else (50 laps default? Someone send help). The game carries the full Indy license, meaning everything’s reproduced as is it in the pros, right down the nauseating advertising printed on the cars themselves. The game also takes just about every circumstance of racing into account, such as the consequences of pit stops, the pre-race pace car, drafting, the changes in the handling of your car as it loses fuel—just about anything you can think of. You can also customize your wheels, though it’s not quite like in Gran Turismo; here the tweaks and changes you can make are more for necessity and utility’s sake than for customizability.
On top of all of this, the game supports up to 12 people via multiplayer, both through System Link and Xbox Live.
Finally… there’s the Master Class.
The Master Class is the reason I went on my little tirade at the beginning of this review, because the Master Class is where you will decide whether you will or will not like this game. It’s dismissed by most as the “tutorial mode.” This is incorrect. The Master Class does not tutor. It instructs.
The Master Class starts you from the ground up, building the strong of will into a living encyclopedia of Indy Car racing knowledge, which they will then take to the track and utilize to destroy all comers in their wake. The Master Class is voiced by rising Indy star Dan Wheldon, who talks way too fast sometimes, with varying levels of enthusiasm. The Master Class not only teaches you the techniques required to be a good racer, but it goes out of its way to teach you why these things are important. The Master Class interactively quizzes and grades you on what you’ve learned in each one of its chapters once you go through them.
Most importantly, the Master Class is hard as hell--but if you wish to be at all proficient at this game, the Master Class is required. This is where most people fall off the bridge—yours truly included. I just couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong in the first chapter, I admit it. Still, I looked through all the tutorials anyway; and they’re all just as impressive, if confusing the first, oh, three or so times that they’re listened to. It’s the first game I’ve played in a while that’s actually taught me something outside of increased hand-eye coordination.
I tried racing without hearing what Mr. Wheldon had to say.
I never caught up to a single car.
This, my friends, is why this game will be disheartening to all but the zealots.
I respect this game very much. I respect the lengths it goes to teach; I respect its atmosphere, I respect the wealth of resources it puts at the fingertips of the willing gamer-slash-student; and by proxy, I will respect anyone who becomes proficient at this title.
However, I, personally, cannot play it.
The score I give this game is purely out of said respect, and possibly the fact that I like the theme song that plays during the menu screen just a little too much.
Unfortunately, since I grade games based on fun, respect only goes but so far.
More articles about IndyCar Series 2005