NASCAR Racing 2002 Season

Reviewed by: Matthew Carson, send e-mail
Published by: Sierra, go to the web site
Requires: Windows 98/Me/XP, Pentium II/450MHz, 64MB RAM, 16MB Direct3D compatible video card, 8x CD-ROM drive

Perhaps the common stereotype of the nature of NASCAR fans skewed my view of the playability of this game. Perhaps it was my general opinion of most racing games - the genre seems to be cluttered with garbage - with gems such as Need For Speed and Gran Turismo appearing very rarely indeed. Perhaps it was just that the game play isn't varied enough and it's too much like a SIM. Whatever the cause, NASCAR Racing 2002 Season just couldn't do it for me.

This is not to say that it's a bad piece of work. On the contrary, the development and professional quality of this product is excellent. The control system is as simple as any other racing game - up arrow to accelerate, down arrow to brake and the left and right arrows to steer in those directions. The game, like any other modern racer, shines best when some sort of game pad, preferably a driving wheel, is in use (which should clue you into how much this game is more like a SIM). The physics of the cars are spot-on and careful control of the car and its speed are necessary to avoid spin-outs, just like most other games in the racing genre. The picture-perfect graphics, from the road to the fans in the stands, lend a good sense of realism to the game and the car models are exquisitely done. All like every other popular racer on the shelves today and perhaps this is where the true problem lies.

It's not what NASCAR Racing 2002 Season has in common with every other racer that brings it down, it's what it doesn't have in common. NASCAR Racing's main claim to fame is the realism aspect. You can chose to race any or all of the 23 NASCAR tracks, all of which have been recreated in stunning detail. Three-time NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip gives you the lowdown on the drivers and the tracks, with hour upon hour of recorded commentary. As mentioned before, the cars themselves are spectacular and you can race against all of the greats: Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., etc. The problem however, lies not in the game but in the game play. The realism aspect is present in every part of game play, including the racing itself and this is where the fun factor of the game takes a sharp nosedive. Want to take off from the start line in a blaze of glory, screaming past the other cars with the pedal to the floor? Sorry. NASCAR rules forbid such activity. In fact, most of the racing rules seem geared towards anything BUT racing. Too many times, I found myself behind pace cars, unable to pass on the outside or simply disqualified for my ignorance of NASCAR rules. Arcade mode isn't any better; one would think that the term "arcade" would have a suspension of rules as part of the package, but alas, it is not to be. The fact is, you cannot just install this game, pick it up one day after work and just race. This thing screams SIM.

Despite the extensive garage features, the multitude of tune-ups and changes you can make to the cars, the many true-to-life locations and of course, the famous drivers, one problem overshadows the entire masterpiece: it's more of a SIM than a game, so it's just not very much fun (unless you're into SIMs). When you get down to the nitty-gritty of actually moving your car around the track faster than anyone else, the game falls apart, because of its unwavering attempt at total realism. For the hard core NASCAR fans, I'm sure that the attention to detail will have them gearing up in excitement. But the sad fact is, because of such attention, NASCAR Racing 2002 Season will never stack up to the other current greats in the genre.

(Ed. Note: NASCAR Racing 2003 is available now)

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