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Jarrett and Labonte Stock Car Racing (PSX) Review

Background Info

Jarrett and Labonte Stock Car Racing…is that Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte in a stock car racing game? No, in fact it's Codemasters' newest touring car racer, licensed by Jason Jarrett and Justin Labonte. Never heard of it? Well you have now, and spread the word because it's one of the best racing games available.

Presentation/Graphics : 95
Jarrett and Labonte starts with a highly impressive intro and the graphics are equally impressive when you get out onto the track. Jarrett & Labonte's graphics are at a fairly high resolution for a PlayStation game, and while the visuals aren't as crisp as Ridge Racer 4, they're pretty darn good and compare very favorably with Gran Turismo 2.

The game features 23 different tracks from around the world, such as Watkins Glen, Laguna Seca, Brands Hatch, Mexico City, Monza and Suzuka. All are modeled superbly and you can easily identify many of the major features of the most famous courses. Track-side details are very impressive from buildings, to ad boards, to bridges, to trees, and some very nicely modeled grandstands.

Jarrett & Labonte also features 72 different cars from more than 15 different manufacturers, all of which are modeled superbly with both 'regular' color schemes and also impressive racing decals. Some of the featured manufacturers include Nissan, Ford, Lincoln, Audi, Chrysler, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Renault and BMW. It's refreshing to be able to drive and also race against many cars that you don't usually see in North America such as the Opel Vectra, the Peugeot 406, the Nissan Primera, and the Ford Falcon.

The best feature of Jarrett & Labonte's graphics is the excellent damage model which is probably the best I've ever seen in a console racing game. Almost every conceivable car deformation is possible in the game. You can smash or dent body panels, dent the front and rear bumpers, smash headlights and even knock wheels out of alignment. Frontal collisions are spectacular with tons of debris and you can really make a total write-off of your finely tuned racing machine. The car damage is also progressive, so if you're rear-ended and your bumper gets damaged, it may partially scrape along the track surface sending out sparks until it finally falls off. Two of my particular favorites are when your hood goes flying off and hits a car behind you, and when you smash a rival's headlights during a night race. In the latter case, not only are there some wonderful glass shattering effects, the victim of the collision will be forced to race on in the dark! What's just as impressive is that despite the magnitude of debris that fly around during races, all broken parts remain on the track throughout the race and can be collided with.

Jarrett & Labonte's menu screens are crisp and easy to navigate, while the game's replays are some of the best I've seen in a racing game. There are so many camera angles that while you can save the replays to memory card, I wish Codemasters had included an option to edit the replays as in Driver.

As mentioned before, particulate effects are awesome and feature shattered glass flying through the air after a collision, smoke streaming from overheated engines, sparks from metal touching asphalt, and, of course, tires kicking up clouds of dust and sand. The lighting effects are also brilliant featuring lens flare and some great reflection effects during night races in the rain.

Codemasters have done a great job with Jarrett & Labonte's visuals and have proved that there's still some graphical punch left in the good old PSX (or is that PSOne?). Even with all the great graphical touches and models the game still maintains a relatively quick framerate and conveys am excellent sense of speed. A final point to note is that if you're lucky enough to have got your hands on a PS2, Jarrett & Labonte looks absolutely stunning when you use the texture smoothing option.

Presentation/Audio : 85
Codemasters made a valiant attempt to compete with Gran Turismo 2's soundtrack by getting musical tracks from The Offspring, Methods of Mayhem, Moby, Lit and Radiator (irony perhaps). Unfortunately, there just aren't enough tracks to keep things fresh and after awhile you'll soon be turning off the music.

The racing sound effects, however, are excellent and particular attention was paid to the collision effects which, in tandem with the great collision visuals, will make you cringe in your seat after a collision.

Codemasters have also incorporated some pretty nifty pre- and post-race commentary. While the announcer's sentences sound a little disjointed, the comments are spot-on and it's refreshing to hear virtual commentators going into more detail when they talk. For example, after a race the announcer may mention details about how the race affects the point standings, or if a particular racer has done poorly. I was most impressed when the post race announcer mentioned I had managed to climb my way to 3rd after an early race collision. These context-specific comments do wonders for the game's realism and further enhance the feeling that you're part of a championship racing circuit.

Interface/Options : 92
Jarrett & Labonte also shines on the options front providing 23 courses, 72 cars, an incredible Championship career mode, and a solid multiplayer mode. The two major modes of play are Single Race and Championship. The latter allows you to select the course of your choice, as well as the time and weather conditions. As mentioned before, the selection of cars is pretty impressive featuring racing modified versions of North American models and also cars more commonly seen in Asia and Europe.

The sheer number of tracks and cars would keep most gamers occupied for quite some time. Luckily for us, however, Codemasters also threw in a great Championship career mode that is a hybrid of the championship modes seen in both Gran Turismo and Ridge Racer 4.

When you first start the Championship mode you mist pick either Jarrett or Labonte to race with. I'm not completely sure why Codemasters didn't just let the user input his or her own name to race with, but I guess this has something to do with the licensing. Once you've selected your driver you then receive tryout offers from different racing teams. Each racing team has a different tryout, but most involve completing a lap of a particular course under a set time. These tryouts aren't nearly as difficult as the brilliant (or annoying, depending upon your viewpoint) license tests in GT1 and GT2, but they still provide a challenge and ensure that you have to have some semblance of skill to be able to race.

When you finally get accepted by a racing team they will state their team requirements or criteria. These requirements range from placing on the podium at least 3 times in a 6 race series, to finishing higher than drivers from a rival team 5 out of 6 races in a particular series.

The championship mode features three tiers of racing. The first tier consists of seven National Championship series, each consisting of six different races, for a total of 42 races for just the first tier! You receive points corresponding to how well you do in each National Championship series and once you reach 140 points you unlock the International (2nd) tier, which consists of 3 Continental Championships itself. Get a set number of points in the 2nd tier and you unlock the 3rd and final tier; the WSCR Series. As you progress through the tiers the cars become more powerful and the opposing racers more ruthless. Furthermore, if you're successful in a particular circuit you'll receive offers to drive for other racing teams! As mentioned before, success in this mode also unlocks cars and cheat codes for use in the single race mode.

Jarrett & Labonte also features two- and four-player racing. Split-screen racing with two players is a truckload of fun; however, in the four-player mode the draw distance is severely reduced and you can only race from the bumper cam. As such, four-player mode is frustrating and I don't expect many gamers to pull out their multi-taps for Jarrett & Labonte.

Gameplay : 94
If there's one thing I've taken from Jarrett & Labonte it's the appreciation of how a solid and accurate damage/collision model can enhance the racing experience. Not only does Jarrett & Labonte feature a collision model that looks great, it's a collision model that is equally impressive in the way it affects car physics and handling. If you knock your wheels out of alignment you're going to have to compensate for the wonky steering for the rest of the race (or until you pit in). If you damage your engine it can affect your top speed and acceleration. Even slight collisions at high speed can have important ramifications upon the handling of your car.

There are two important consequences of the damage model. Firstly, it means that you can no longer be so gung-ho and reckless in your driving. Most racers, myself included, have just about mastered the Gran Turismo Method of Crash and Bump OvertakingTM. However, if you drive the same way in Jarrett & Labonte your car won't last two laps! As such, you have to take a more realistic approach to racing. You have to follow the racing line more closely, and really pick your spots to overtake another car. The second consequence of the damage model is that Jarrett & Labonte's races are far more exciting than races in other games. The most enthralling race I experienced in Jarrett & Labonte was when I had picked up engine damage with only two laps left in the race. With pitting not an option I had to defend my third position without being able to go faster than 100 mph! My third place finish in that race was far more exciting and rewarding than any race in Gran Turismo or Ridge Racer 4.

Jarrett & Labonte also features the meanest, most ruthless AI opponents I have ever raced against. These guys are brilliant at both attacking and defending the racing line, and you'll need a keen eye on your rear view to hold the hounds at bay. They're also the most aggressive AI opponents I've raced against, and while in other games you only get overtaken if you make a mistake (i.e. stray from the ideal racing line), in Jarrett and Labonte, opposition drivers will try to force the issue and several times I've been out-braked entering a corner! If you pick an exterior racing view a really cool feature is a small overtaking arrow that indicates where and how far the car behind you is. However, despite the drivers being incredibly ruthless, they're not perfect, and it's good to see AI drivers tussling amongst each other and getting into accidents.

The great AI also creates rivalries throughout the season and I've had many a run in with my arch nemesis, Carsten Schmidt in his BMW 328i from the German Loeck racing team! You also get to race against 11 other drivers rather than the paltry 6 other racers in Gran Turismo and this leads to more hectic action.

So with such heart pounding, adrenaline pumping action Jarrett & Labonte is the best racing game around right? Yes, and no. While Jarrett & Labonte is one of the best console racing games available, it can't compare with Gran Turismo and Sega GT when it comes to car handling and physics. A large part of the fun in Gran Turismo is learning the intricacies of each car, and no two cars handle exactly alike. In Jarrett & Labonte there isn't such a significant difference in handling between cars. You'll notice things like different acceleration and cornering, but things like subtle tendencies for certain cars to understeer or oversteer (like in the Mazda RX-7 in Gran Turismo) aren't present. Mastering a car in Jarrett & Labonte takes only a matter of laps rather than a few hours as in Gran Turismo. The entire physics engine in Jarrett & Labonte seems a tad watered down, and it could be best described as a hybrid of the Gran Turismo and Ridge Racer 4 physics engines. It's by no means an arcade racer, but it's just not as demanding nor as ultra-realistic as Gran Turismo. I'm usually a simulation purist; however, I didn't mind the slack physics engine in Jarrett & Labonte because the emphasis is more on racing and racing tactics, and the game has the AI and damage models to complement that.

Replay Value : 90
Jarrett & Labonte's championship mode is incredible--it's challenging, addictive, and the vast amounts of tracks and cars will keep racers busy for a long time. The different team contract requirements keep things fresh and also add a lot of replay value. Racers won't spend a lot of time collecting cars or learning how to handle each one like in Gran Turismo; however, the intense racing action itself provides a lot of replay value and no two races are ever alike.

Overall : 94
To be honest, the first time I heard of this game was when it arrived at my doorstep! Fortunately, Jarrett & Labonte has been a wonderful surprise, and the intense racing action really blew me away. Despite the lack of hype or notoriety, Jarrett & Labonte is without a doubt one of the best console racing games I have played in the past few years and deserves to mentioned in the same with the likes of Gran Turismo, Ridge Racer and Sega GT. Jarrett & Labonte may not be for everyone, however, and if you're more of a car enthusiast who demands highly realistic handling and car physics, then Gran Turismo 1 & 2, and Sega GT may be more up your alley. However, if you're like me and put more emphasis on racing tactics and strategies rather than car handling, then Jarrett & Labonte has everything you want and more.

By: Lavan Chandran 12/13/00

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