NASCAR Racing 2003 Season
by Vivendi Universal Games
For anyone who has been interested in the best driving simulations on the PC over the last decade the name Papyrus will be revered. Fans of the racing simulation genre will remember, with fondness, the Indycar Racing series, the NASCAR Racing series and of course the greatest of them all, in terms of realism if not sales, Grand Prix Legends. Papyrus have always had a knack for combining realism and great gameplay and their latest addition to their impressive portfolio, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season is no exception to this.
Here in the UK we see NASCAR Racing as simply driving around oval tracks and a little bit monotonous. Of course not all the tracks are oval and after competing in a few races you'll rapidly come to the conclusion that the motorsport is anything but monotonous. Fast, furious and action packed is perhaps the only way to describe it. Spinning out of control can lead to some cracking pile ups and I'm pleased to report that Papyrus have done an admirable job in simulating the highs and lows of NASCAR.
Those who have played a previous NASCAR game will be familiar with the gameplay options. There's Testing Session which is basically a time trial mode but is also useful to learn any one of the 23 tracks. Single Race is just that, with the option to compete in a full race weekend or simply head straight for the race itself. Championship Season is of course where most of you will head for. The Championship Season can either be carried out as the 2003 NASCAR Cup or raced over all of the 23 tracks. For any of the races you can set the weather (or choose realistic) and details like whether or not you'd like a pace lap before the race begins. The attention to detail is simply fantastic. The Multiplayer option allows you to compete over the Internet or LAN. There are always competitions that are running and there is even a ratings system in place to show you how good or bad you really are.
Papyrus realised that every driving game fan is not an expert at handling these superb cars. In their wisdom, and certainly to my relief, they included options to switch between arcade and realistic gameplay. You can alter the strength of the opposition down to as low as 70% of what it should be. You can even activate an adaptive AI that will catch you up if you're leading and slowdown for you if you're trailing. This may seem strange but it prevents you from feeling totally rubbish, thank you Papyrus.
Papyrus saw fit to let us configure the graphical details in a multitude of ways. You can alter the amount of cars drawn, trackside animations, the quality of textures and many, many more details. This is exceptional as it allows you to turn up the resolution by sacrificing a few details. You can also compete in races with 42 AI opponents and with the ability to set how many cars are drawn in front and behind you, it is possible to race against this many opponents without taking a huge hit in performance. The verbal driving lessons (which we will talk about in a moment) mention the fact that you should always keep your framerate above 30fps in order for your control of the car to remain accurate. Pressing the F key will show you your framerate. With our usual AMD Athlon XP 2000+, GeForce 4 Ti4200 system we managed between 35-100+fps with most details turned up full, including the excellent animated pit crews, at 1024x768 which is impressive for a game that looks this good.
In terms of sound NASCAR Racing 2003 takes driving games to the next level and this is where deaf gamers will be slightly disadvantaged. The pit radio commentary is exceptional with a huge amount of feedback being given to the hearing gamer. You can change the spotter/crew chief in the sound options to display the commentary in text instead of verbally, but the text is red and placed at the top of the screen. This makes it difficult to concentrate on your driving and read the information at the same time. The text should have been lower down and made clearer to read. Information such as yellow flags etc. are shown on screen by the way of an icon.
The simulation also comes with 10 driving lessons which are exceptional but alas are not subtitled. Very brief points are shown in text but a wealth of information is missing. Some of the rules of NASCAR are explained in the lessons but thankfully the manual explains them in greater detail. The manual is short and to the point and should answer most questions you will initially have. It's not as comprehensive as previous Papyrus manuals but that is understandable with the move to DVD style cases. On a final note the old 'Did you hear the sound file?' message appears when you attempt to install the game. Of course you'll have to click yes to continue, even though you won't hear it. The force feedback is superb and really adds to the game for the deaf gamer. In fact one thing I would say is that a wheel is pretty much essential for a game such as this. There is provision for keyboard control but it isn't half as satisfactory as using a force feedback wheel.
NASCAR Racing 2003 Season is without a doubt one of the greatest driving games ever on the PC. I was surprised to learn from page 3 in the manual that this is the last in the series. This simulation is simply superb and when it's gone it will be sorely missed by those who have enjoyed the series over the years. The car physics and handling are brilliant and the package as a whole is superb. The in-car pit (spotter) commentary is not as good for deaf gamers as it is for hearing gamers and it's a shame that the driving lessons are not subtitled but deaf gamers will still appreciate the quality of this title. The icing on the cake has to be the price tag which at £19.99 is possibly the best value for a new PC title in recent times. Driving fans simply can't afford to miss it.
Game Rating: 9.0/10