NASCAR Racing 2002 Season (PC) Review
It's been a long and successful ride for Papyrus's Nascar Racing titles and I've had them all. Nascar Racing, Nascar Racing 2, Nascar Racing 3, Nascar Racing 4, and the current Nascar Racing 2002 Season round out the series. So why did I bother to list each one? Well, by the fifth release you should pretty much expect a perfect game, right? After all, Hasbro did a pretty good job with one release with their Nascar Heat title.
Again (while writing a review), I find it tempting to make a comparison to past titles. Since this latest release is not intended to be an upgrade to Nascar Racing 4, but a $50, stand alone product, it should be reviewed that way. Any discussion as to whether or not this should have been an upgrade cannot be compared to EA Sports' release of F1 2001, which was also a stand alone game but only cost $20. This doesn't mean, however, that I won't make brief comparisons to other games. There may be readers who have another one and want to know if it's worth buying NR 2002, or who are trying to decide which Nascar title should be their first.
Since some indication of video and audio performance will be given in this review, it's appropriate to list my computer components.
Retail Radeon 8500
Abit SD7-533 motherboard (SiS 645 chipset)
Intel P4 1.6a (Northwood) overclocked to 2.55 Ghz
256MB OCz PC2700 memory (DDR333 2.5 CAS)
C-Media 8738 built in 5.1 Audio
Cambridge Soundworks FPS2000 speakers
Generic 3 1/2" floppy drive
ViewSonic 21" monitor with BNC connection
Logitech Cordless Keyboard and Mouse
For this review, I used an Act Labs Force RS FF Wheel, Shifter and Act Labs Performance Pedals.
Presentation/Graphics : 85
The graphics go from "Wow!" to "Give me a break!". Mostly what you get is very well done, photo-realistic scenery (which is a little sparse on the two new real tracks, Chicagoland and Kansas) and cars that are good, but not as nice as the scenery. Unfortunately, during replays you sometimes see a solid green block in the background instead of trees or something else.
Another disappointment is that the big, orange "76" balls are not round, but instead are made up of obvious polygons (I know they're polygons, but they shouldn't look like it). I ran in 1600 X 32 mode almost exclusively (strangely, 1280 was not given as an option.) I'm not used to seeing many jagged edges at this resolution, but they were prevalent here. The white track lines were also quite broken up and turned into dots sooner than I expected.
Solid green instead of scenery.
These things hurt the overall Graphics score. Like many of you, I enjoy watching the replay after a race. Since frame rates in a replay aren't that much of an issue, there's no need for skimping here. (I took 5 or 6 points off for this, so take that into account when considering the rest of the graphics quality.)
76 ball should be round.
Aside from these few things, the graphics are very well done and create a nice, believable driving experience. Fine lines in the metal fences are done even better than they are in F1 2001 and car damage is rendered as well as in any other game. Grass and road textures are the best I've seen in any game to date. I like eye candy and Nascar 2002 has plenty of adjustments to keep the frame rates high enough and still look good. Just turning off 'Reflections' will give a big frame rate boost to those who need it. The rear view mirror can be turned off or have medium or high details, and the roll cage can be displayed or turned off. (hint: turn it off during a furious race and it's easier to see what's behind you.)
Despite the much improved graphics in Nascar 2002 over Nascar 4, the frame rates are better. I was able to get about 50 fps at the beginning of a race from the end of a 43 car field, and reach well over 100 fps at other times. This is in the highest resolutions and with all graphics options on full except for reflections and rear view mirror detail.
Was able to maintain good frame rates.
Presentation/Audio : 95
This is one of the greatest improvements I've ever seen in a game. The audio, when set properly, is just spectacular. It worked flawlessly with my Sound Blaster Live card, but had some problems initially with the build in C-Media sound (which I prefer over the SB Live). I had to make a few adjustments that were mentioned in the readme files and all was well. All the sounds you expect to hear are there from wind, road and tire noise, to the sound of the engine's exhaust and intake. Other cars are heard around you and give a very good approximation of their location, and your spotter's comments, while not perfect, do a better job at keeping you informed about traffic than any other Nascar game. Unfortunately, at the beginning of a race, his annoying "green flag, green flag, green green green!" is still there from the older games in the series.
Interface : 82
Escape, enter, escape, enter, escape, escape, enter. Yup, that's still the sequence for exiting a game. It goes all the way back to Grand Prix Legends. I had really hoped that Papyrus would have changed this by now, but I suppose they're comfortable with it. I guess I would be, too, if I only played Papyrus games. A series of Escapes, without the 'OK' needed for "Are you sure?" between each one, would do just fine, though. Otherwise, the interface is quite well done and intuitive. Once again, there are not enough options for adjusting force feedback steering wheels. Strength, damping and latency are there, as is a linear to non-linear adjustment. That's it. There are no adjustments for pedal slopes (how slow they come on and how fast they get to full). This would be helpful. I wish all game developers would take a look at the adjustments in Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed and copy them. Once again, except for these setup options, everything else is laid out well for graphics options, sound, and racing. There's also a nice replay editor that allows you to save just parts of a race and much more.
Gameplay : 90
The driving school is a nice addition to Nascar Racing 2002. It's fun and informative, even for a seasoned sim-racer and, although it's not interactive like the one in F1 2001, it's nicely narrated by Darrell Waltrip. Also new is the "ideal racing line" that you can superimpose on the track. I didn't always agree with the racing line, but it sure is a good starting point on most of the tracks and was very helpful on others. For novice drivers, there are lots of driving aids that will get you going quickly. Besides the 'arcade' mode, you can turn on traction control and steering assistance, as well as a few other things to make driving easier.
On-line racing is as good as, if not better than, any other Nascar game. Yellow flags are handled well and I didn't get beat up too much trying to get back in line. Again, they are at least as good, if not better, than any other Nascar game. The AI (computer) drivers are pretty good. I did get hit by them a few times, but not as often as I got hit by human drivers in an on-line race. Unlike what you may have read in other reviews, the AI drivers will crash with each other even on super speedways like Coca Cola.
The force feedback effects are still tied into the wheel camber, so adjustments to damping and strength need to be made from one track to the next. Otherwise, some tracks will exhibit weak forces and others will make the steering wheel oscillate and driving will be difficult. Track accuracy is pretty good overall. Certainly you can capture the feel of each track and all the 2002 season tracks are in the game, with the addition of a fantasy track named Coca Cola where you reach speeds over 230 mph and where, I suppose, Jeff Gordon never wins.
Driving into an AI crash on Coca Cola.
The car physics are very well done. Steering is smooth and precise. You do feel the turbulence from other cars, so driving in a crowd can be hazardous. The force feedback, once adjusted properly for a particular track, is very good. However, it can be a balancing act to get out all the wheel oscillation and still have enough force in the feedback. It will also change, even on the same track, if you make enough changes in your racing setup. Still, once that's done, the driving experience is very nice.
I've found that I can cheat a little by exhibiting the driving line during a race and it helps when you are in heavy traffic because you can see where the turns start. This isn't always easy when you're on someone's bumper. Perhaps the biggest disappointment to many hard core sim-racing drivers will be the continued inability to save a race. So, if you're in 3rd place on lap 450 of 500 and you hear your wife say "Come on, Honey, it's time for bed.", you've got a very big decision to make.
Replay Value : 90
It's easy to get totally immersed in NR 2002. I get the same thrill from the game each time I play it as I did on my first test drive. Unless you tire of Nascar altogether, I can't imagine getting bored with the game. There's so much to do. Paint your car (not the best paint shop around), take the driving school for each track, learn the driving lines that work best on a hot lap and the ones that work for you in different traffic situations for each track and then work on a racing setup that'll knock a tenth of a second off your best time. It's endless. If you're a novice but really want to have some fun, race your buddies on-line on the Coca Cola track. It's wide open fun and you can learn how to use the draft. To win on super speedways, you need to learn how to draft anyway.
Overall : 88
By: Gary DeRoy (GTX_SlotCar) 5/12/02
If you have a moderately fast computer and decent video card, you should be able to really enjoy Nascar Racing 2002 Season. Nascar 4 didn't quite do it, but I wonder if Nascar Racing 2002 will replace Nascar Heat as my Nascar game of preference. It has nice graphics and physics, and incredible sound. The AI drivers do a respectable job and yellow flags are handled well. My review is very critical because this is the 5th Nascar game in the series and you should expect a lot from it. Although it's not a giant leap forward from Nascar 4, it's certainly better in a lot of ways and overall, it does deliver a very pleasant racing experience.
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