Nascar Racing Season 2003 PC Review
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If you’ve purchased earlier versions of this game you may or may not know that this is the last ever Nascar Racing Season game from Papyrus. Only the Lord knows why they’d abandon such a fine series, but one can only think (as usual) that there’s some sort of financial reason as to why they are forced to ditch this game. Since EA have also been publishing a Nascar ‘simulation’ I can only guess that they’ve put more cash on the table than Sierra could manage. Either way it’s a disaster for the series but let us now enjoy the last revision in all its glory.
With all the bells and whistles enabled and increased to the max, Nascar Racing Season has the ability to cripple almost all PCs. Therefore I’ll be evaluating the games graphics on how it performs on my home computer, (2.2GHz, 9800Pro, 1GB). In the graphics menu there’s an arsenal of options to choose from so whether you’re on a budget system or the latest all signing all dancing machine, you can tune the Nascar graphics to suit your computer. You can alter the resolution, car quality, mirror quality, world quality, trackside objects, and opponent pit crews, texture filtering, draw distance, lighting, effects, and shadows! I could go on and on – the number of options you can alter really are impressive.
Now, let’s get down to the in-game graphics. I’m not going to sum it up in one sentence but I’ll give you this little snippet from when I was playing the game. I leaned forward (covering my steering wheel) to check out a replay of the game and when my father walked past my room, he stopped and said “I didn’t know you could watch racing on the computer”. I think that says it all. Next time a Nascar race is on, watch it and then play this game – the realism is frightening. One of the most impressive things is the lighting system used in the game. You can enable reflections off anything and everything within sight. Even the lights in the grandstand reflect off the dashboard on the in-car view. One little upgrade to note from the 2002 version was that if a car in front has lost its engine, and you drive close behind it, all dirt and gunk from the car’s engine gathers up on your windscreen. This is not the only scenario where your windscreen becomes a little dirty -just drive around the track for 30 laps and you’ll notice a build-up of muck on the windscreen! The in-car camera is also very impressive with a metallic dashboard and gear stick, also your rev counter illuminates on some of the night tracks (Bristol, Daytona etc). Another point that I think is excellent is that after a long race (or practice session) the track and the cars begin to look used – just like they do in real life. Skid marks can be seen on the tracks from when the cars have been too ambitious into a corner and slight imperfections on the car such as a buckled bonnet, dented doors etc from when they’ve just nudged each other at the best part of 200mph.
The graphics really are excellent and even now, after a year or so of playing it, I’ll notice something new almost every time I play it.
For a simulation, most would argue that game play is the ultimate factor in determining how great the game is. Before I start singing the game’s praises even more, let’s establish one thing first: This game is a simulation, this game is meant to represent real life and because it does that so well, it’s difficult – and on times it can be very difficult. Papyrus has taken this into account and has tried to make it more welcoming for the less experienced Nascar racer. There is a whole section called ‘Driving Lesson’ where you can go, and the game will take you through the most important aspects of Nascar racing. One thing I like about this is that they don’t just teach you how to drive the car but they also explain what the rules of Nascar Racing are and how the flag system works. I found this particularly helpful because in the UK it’s not easy to lay your hands on some Nascar footage so this gives you a good insight into the rules. In this section they also explain pitting, tire and fuel management, tuning the car and pit strategy. For each topic they have a little paragraph introducing you to that topic and then an option to view the 3-5 minute video on that topic. I have to take my hat off to Papyrus for this section because it really is very helpful.
In the game you have many different modes to choose from; Championship, Single Race, Testing Session and Multiplayer – all of which are self-explanatory. A good feature, but unfortunately one that I don’t like, is adaptive AI. This is where the game sets the AI very low (around 70%) and just lets you race. It then analyses your lap times and increases the strength of the AI accordingly so that you’ll always have a challenge when racing. Speaking of AI, Papyrus has really excelled in this area and it makes the game a joy to play. Even with over 40 cars in the field, as long as you know what you’re doing in the cockpit, you can race nose-to-tail for 200 laps without having an over aggressive AI car shunt you from behind and end your race. This is probably a good thing because any form of damage to your car is extremely costly in Nascar Racing Season 2003. If you exit a corner too quickly and make the slightest contact with the wall, you’ll notice that your top speed at the end of the straights will be less and also, depending on the degree of the damage, your car won’t stick to the corners as well as it did previously. And that’s just skimming the wall! If you hit a wall head on at anything more than 30mph your race is ruined because the car’s bonnet (and therefore engine) will just crumple forcing you to retire. This is a great aspect of the game and it really does put pressure on you when you’re racing in the field because one mistake and you are a goner (just like real life).
In any type of racing, setting up the car is an immensely important factor in determining how well your race weekend pans out. And again, Papyrus has not fallen short in the amount of different aspects of the car which you can tweak. I must say, as much as I love racing games and trying to get the best out of my car, even I felt a little daunted when faced with the mountain of variables which could be adjusted. However, helpfully, Papyrus has included three different settings for every single track called Easy, Fast and Qualify. These are predetermined settings, which do exactly what their name says. Easy is a set-up newcomers should use to get to know the car and how it behaves in different corners. Obviously the downfall of this setting is it isn’t the fastest setting in the book. Fast is a setting, where the car is well tuned to go around the track quickly but it assumes that you know how the keep the car on the island. And the last setting qualify, is the one which you use on your qualifying lap -the car is tuned to go around the track as fast as is mechanically possible, but will only last 3 laps at the most (usually because of large amounts of grille tape). One point to notice when driving the car (on the oval circuits) is that on the straights, due to the car’s suspension being off-set i.e tuned to turn left only, the car will pull to the left and therefore you must apply some right-hand lock in order to keep the car going straight. This is another fun and hugely realistic feature of this game.
I could write forever about how good this simulation is but I think this following piece of information says it all. The Nascar drivers use this game as their simulation to practice on when the season is over and many drivers have given credit to Papyrus because their ‘game’ has helped them improve their skills on the road circuits.
There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing your 750hp V8 stock car groaning down the straight as your foot is planted firmly to the ground. The sound is extremely clear and captures all the different sounds that you’d encounter while racing around a circuit. The big powerful engine, the wheels gently crying as you enter a corner too fast, the tyres locking up as you hammer the brakes frantically trying to slow down the mammoth machine under the bonnet, the catastrophic crunching of metal as you collide with the walls. All these sounds are present and create a fantastic atmosphere, especially if you have a surround sound system. Under the sound menu you can adjust the amount of sounds being played at one time. This increases the realism of the game but in turn does have an impact on performance. The sound is definitely top notch.
Surprisingly, for a game of this type, this game has a pretty decent lifespan. If you get fed-up of the testing sessions, single races and championships you can always hop online into a room and start racing with some real people. Online, there is support for 42 racers in a room at any one time and considering the mass amount of people in the room, lag is virtually non-existent. Also there is a large community with numerous mods available for the game such as the Winston Cup mod and the Truck series mod which will further last its appeal.
This game truly is a masterpiece. It considers every single aspect of Nascar Racing and has implemented it amazingly to create a simulation in every sense of the word. I honestly cannot name one racing game which is even in the same league as Nascar Racing Season 2003. Thus, I can stand proud and declare that this is the greatest simulation ever created, one of my favourite racing games of all time and will set the benchmark in simulations for years to come.
Well done Papyrus!