Genre : Sports/Racing
Publisher : EA
Release Date : August 31, 2004
NASCAR gear heads rejoice: the best NASCAR racing simulation yet is here. EA Sports’ latest racing contender, NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup is bar-none, the top NASCAR racer to hit the shelves thus far. And it’s got a few factors going against it, too: jaggies and other graphical problems are abound en masse, and the absence of the amazing TV-style sound presentation made available in the rest of the EA Sports lineup – yet this game still delivers above and beyond both its predecessors and any past competition. If you’re looking for an alternative to the avalanche of Gran Turismo-style racers out there, NASCAR 2005 is going to be your best bet. And if you’re a NASCAR fan, you should already own this game – don’t even finish reading this review, just go to your nearest videogame retailer and spill the contents of your wallet on the counter.
Everything a NASCAR fan or a plain gamer would want from a racer like this is here; a great story mode, create-a-driver mode, the choice to side with “good” or “evil” racers, a roster of 60 real drivers to choose from, online support, car customization, custom soundtrack support, hi-definition TV support… the list goes on and on. Even the strictest tastes of a NASCAR fan, finicky gamer, audiophile or video-quality freak are easily catered to in terms of features. The game isn’t perfect, but you won’t find much to complain about.
With a sport so rooted within the intricacies of physics, it’s important to keep the gameplay very tight and true to life, but at the same time the developer must keep things accessible for the layman who just wants a fun racer for his Xbox. Developer Tiburon managed to strike this balance better than any previous developer has. The game plays worlds better and more realistically than the old Thunder series, but isn’t as hard to pick up and run with as Sierra’s NASCAR PC simulations. EA’s design influence is very clear here, as this approach is the watermark of their Sports lineup. Everybody can play and win some races, but the players who take the time to climb up the learning curve will find an array of functions and abilities to deal with, such as drifting, drafting, tire wear, developing rivalries, realistic crash situations, and more.
The variety of game modes is the next best thing about NASCAR 2005 – the best selection of any NASCAR game up to this point. The flagship Chase to the Cup mode puts you through ten races (similar to the Nextel Cup series). Then there’s the Craftsman Truck Series, the Featherlite Modified Series, and the NASCAR Nationals. The best mode available is the Flight to the Top mode. Here, you create your own NASCAR racer. You begin by racing a NASCAR star on a street course. When (if?) you beat him, he ends up being so impressed that he refers you to his agent, who sets you up with your first racing series, the Featherlite races. You can earn sponsors to keep your car in top shape, and keep the cash flowing in. Best of all, you can unlock lots of special items and modes here, which will keep you glued to this mode for months to come.
The multiplayer game is one of the few weak points in NASCAR 2005. With a four-player online limit (the rest of your competitors are A.I. controlled), the excitement dies down quite a bit when you realize you could be doing the same thing with a few friends in front of your TV – if the game’s offline multiplayer didn’t limit you to two players. The online experience would have been drastically enhanced if the player limit was upped just a bit, even to six, just to keep the human-to-A.I. ratio a bit more balanced. I understand the bandwith limitations present within the PS2 online infrastructure (or lack thereof), but on a closed, monitored service like Xbox LIVE, EA should have put a little more effort into improving the quality of play. This, coupled with the absence of a content download option, will keep NASCAR 2005 from putting much of a dent into the online community. Offline, I’m sure a few friends will love to give it a go on a semi-regular basis, but the player limit will keep it from being the life of the party.
NASCAR 2005 is also weak in the graphics department. This game could have been beautiful had a few technical details not bogged the presentation down. Everything looks authentic, down to the logos and crash damage. Tire skids, flying chunks of newly out-of-commission vehicles, it’s all near-perfect. Even the menu system is easy to use and a pleasure to look at. So what’s the problem? The consistently unavoidable frame-rate issue? Nah. Lighting? Nope, the lighting was wonderful. It’s the jaggies. The unexpected problem of this generation that has been plaguing games since the release of the Playstation 2. Since this game was originally for that system, the un-optimized Xbox version suffers the same fate. If they had just worked on those anti-aliasing issues for the Xbox release, we would have a largely superior picture. HD-TV users will only run into more trouble here, with a very clear look at those stair-stepping angles spattered about their screens. The picture quality will be wonderful for them, for sure, but they’ll be noticing those jaggies better than anybody else who picks up this one.
The audio also falters a bit due to one lacking aspect. The atmospheric sounds are all perfect, with everything sounding just like it would if you were at the track watching the cars colliding and skidding their way towards the finish line. The problem is the lack of a good color announcer to keep things moving and entertaining during the races. This feature is present before the races, but the TV-style running announcer present in every other EA game is completely absent here. You do hear occasional messages from your pit adviser, and perhaps that’s why a color announcer is missing, but I think it would have been easy enough to differentiate from the color announcer and the more important pit adviser. Perhaps some will see this as a minor gripe, but after playing through EA’s other games, NASCAR 2005 feels like something’s missing.
NASCAR fans, this is your game. Get it now, with no hesitation. For the rest of us, if you’re not into the micromanagement of Gran Turismo and you aren’t up for waiting for Sega’s Burnout 2 to hit the shelves, pick up NASCAR 2005. Unless you’re looking for a good multiplayer romp, this game has almost everything you could want.