NASCAR Racing 2002 Season Review
By Steven Conover |
An oval? Where's the fun in that? Hell, I can turn left in my Civic. I don't really see the big deal in doing it in a car with advertisements plastered all over the front, aside from all the extra pretty colors of course. What makes them so special? I don't see the Mars Corporation paying my ass to paint my car with an M&M logo while I turn left. What's up with that?
I think a lot of people have that exact viewpoint on NASCAR racing, a sport that, while wildly popular across the United States, remains a love/hate, predominately hate relationship for a majority of people. Personally, I don't much care for watching televised NASCAR. Hundreds of laps and sickeningly ecstatic announcers start to bring me down (like the Spanish soccer of that world). But that doesn't mean the sport is any less legitimate, demanding, or enjoyable. Indeed, reality proves to be quite the contrary. And if you fancy yourself brave enough to play NASCAR 2002, you'll understand just that.
Without a doubt, NASCAR Racing 2002 Season is currently hands down the best PC NASCAR racing game around. From sound, to physics, to graphics, to control, to options, it's the complete racing simulator... Simulator.
Uh oh, now we have two things to potentially turn away the masses of casual to avid players around the world, who, though madly in love with gaming, perhaps don't want the complexities and overtly realistic play inherent with the simulation. Sims can be intimidating things, after all. But simulations of NASCAR? I can appreciate how that can be a downright terrifying prospect to many.
Allow me to set you at ease. You too can and should play and enjoy Papyrus's latest, even though it's a heck of a lot like Papyrus's last.
Don't be fooled by the simulation aspects of the title (control options, customizability, and a demand for interest in and knowledge of the sport), NASCAR 2002 is just as easy to pick up for the beginner as it is the pro. Certainly the more experienced will have the advantage, and the beginner may be daunted, but new options and allowances in the realm of realism are made with the intentions of catering to a wider audience (the word "optional" is of vital importance).
Turning left at 180MPH and keeping a cool line into the straight is tough in the purest simulation mode. Doing it with 42 other cars muscling in on you is downright crazy. That's why there are plenty of novice assists in place that act as training wheels.
Foremost are the expansive, and still disappointingly non-interactive tutorials and tours of the many tracks and nuances of NASCAR. It may sound like Kurt Loder is narrating the game's ten tutorials, but it is all NASCAR goodness, to the limit. Gameplay footage, visual indicators, and plenty of audio pull along what turns out to be descriptions on a ton of basics and more advanced intricacies to the game. Then comes Darrell Waltrip, famed racer, and his run through the 24 courses. Darrell talks a bit about each course and then offers advice on how to handle it. What sucks is that all this is a strictly look but don't touch affair. There's not a bit of interaction in the whole thing. As helpful as it is, the lack of any real hands-on is pretty sad. Mini-games like GT3's licenses or even Crazy Taxi's Crazy Box that are designed to improve your skill while keeping it fun are definite musts. A free test session that provides a colored overlay indicating a proper line through courses and how to take turns is in there (also available in actual races), but that hardly makes up for it.
Once you've come to grips with the beast, the actual game can also be played from a more novice/arcade way, or a strictly realistic simulation (as always). Damage, breaking, and steering assists exist to lighten the load, but wind up positively working for diehards as much as they can for beginners.
Managing your position among the 42 other cars is what it's all about. Weaving in and out between your hapless and soon to be dusty victims and using strategy and foresight to gauge when to floor it and when to hold it are paramount to success. But because doing this while navigating the many minor but altering differences of the tracks alone can be tough enough, enabling the steering assist alleviates the pain of getting around bends while fighting for position. This in turn allows for more attention to be diverted to drafting and position. Inching close behind those in front and making quick battles to the outside or inside requires a lot of nerve. Assists in steering let you concentrate on that without worrying about things like the wall exploding your car. Of course you also got difficulty, damage, and other twists to ease or harden things up as you see fit.
"In an era in which the term realistic simulation is viewed with disdain by many in the gaming industry, you've proven that there IS a market for such products -- if they're done right."
Amen to that, brother. Amen to that. If only more could see the light.
Regardless of what play style is chosen, investing in a quality steering wheel is practically a necessity with NASCAR 2002. Keyboards and joysticks are just not going to cut it anymore. Even though linearity adjustments that allow you to configure the responsiveness and way in which the car carries out your commands are provided for, the very precise and intensely tight nature of NASCAR prohibits the tried and true interfaces entirely. I even had problems with an analog gamepad because it simply did not have enough subtlety and precision to pull off the maneuvers I was attempting. Flowing from gas to brake and back again in very minor adjustments while trying to keep as best a draft as you can is critical to success, so it's important, that while you may be able to play with an analog stick on most gamepads, you have a means for very precise analog control for not only steering but also acceleration and deceleration.