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NASCAR 2000 (N64) Review

Background Info

N64 Screens(24)

Last year Electronic Arts introduced NASCAR racing to the N64; the reception was lukewarm. In the wake of several NASCAR games for the Playstation and PC that enjoyed good reviews, this was a bit puzzling, although it was also evident that NASCAR-style racing did not grab the imaginations of all reviewers. This year, NASCAR 2000 promises updated drivers, teams, cars, and tracks. Does it deliver anything more?

Presentation/Graphics : 65
To say that NASCAR cars are colorful is to understate the obvious, but NASCAR 2000 succeeds in blurring body paint details and washing out the vibrant appearance of the competition. That's too bad, for the cars may be the most interesting thing to see on the track. They leave skid marks, dig into the grass, and kick up dust and smoke; you may want to throw a race just to see the result, or turn damage on to get a look at the reshaped body styles fashioned by collisions and scraping the wall.

Players can choose from several cameras; those which are above and behind the car, while they offer a better view of what's ahead, are nearly useless when it comes to keeping an eye on your tail, depriving you of the chance to block opponents. There's one in-cockpit view, complete with hands and steering wheel, as well as an over-the-hood look. But don't expect to be blinded by the sun or by reflections off other cars: the lighting effects, natural and otherwise, are minimal, aside from the sky reflections on the rear windows.

Track graphics are mundane. Stands materialize out of the distance (and at times this becomes annoying); clouds in the sky move. The result does little to bring you into the game, to make you feel as you are racing instead of pressing buttons. At a time when other N64 games are starting to take advantage of the opportunities for detail and representation of various effects, EA's failure to go beyond first-generation graphics is curious.

Presentation/Audio : 65
The sounds of NASCAR 2000 are as uninspired as the sights. Yes, you have the noise of the engines revving up and the crowd cheering, as well as the sound of metal against concrete (or metal), the squeal of tires, and so on. All of that is acceptable. But the limitations of the cartridge format for sound are all too evident when it comes to the feeble effort to offer commentary from Bob Jenkins and Benny Parsons. Better, I believe, to scrap that altogether in favor of concentrating on communications from the pit crew and spotters. Especially over the length of a season, I'd like to have an idea of who is where so that I can plan race strategy in terms of season standings. Instead of offering a second-rate alternative to the Playstation's superior audio treatments, N64 developers should begin to contemplate how better to work with what they have.

Interface/Options : 70
Players may run a quick race, a single race at any track (complete with practice, qualifying runs, and car setups), and choose transmission type (automatic/manual), rear spoiler, wedge settings (essential on ovals), tire pressure, gear ratios, as well as damage (none/limited/on) and equipment breakdowns (on/off); race length; and physics and AI settings (CPU skill and strength, degree of drafting, horsepower, car balance, and speed-sensitive steering). In two-player contests, you may help the trailing player to even things up or add six CPU-controlled cars to the starting grid. You can select one of several button configurations and controller setups. Lacking are the enhancements offered in the Playstation version of this title, especially a create-a-driver mode and fantasy tracks (at least I haven't found any).

The interface enables players to select a level of challenge and control tailored to their own preferences and capabilities. However, it does not go beyond that minimal requirement. The cars are relatively easy to control (except you will have to play around with the control stick to gain a feel for steering). The result is adequate--and little more.

Gameplay : 80
The nature of NASCAR racing shapes one's gameplay experience in significant ways. On all but a handful of tracks, drivers compete on fundamentally oval course layouts; if you want to turn right as well as left, go immediately to Watkins Glen. Car set-up proves crucial in gaining starting position (especially in shorter races) and in determining your chances of passing those cars that start ahead of you. The more laps you have, the more patient you can be--although greater distances also introduce pit stops, which add another consideration (if all you want is a short, speedy race, you can set up your car with tires that would easily wear out in a longer contest, for example). In addition, drivers must employ in-race tactics (notably drafting) to gain position and pass opponents; the absence of a rear mirror makes it harder to block drivers trying to pass you, since all too often you do not see your foe until it's too late.

Within a short time the game reduced itself to a rather simple and repetitive exercise of practicing on a track, making some adjustments, hit the track again for qualifying (so I wouldn't have to pass certain cars during a race), making a few final pre-race adjustments, and then seeing how many other cars I could pass during a race. The rank-order of the CPU cars rarely changed; if my car spun or slowed down after scraping a wall, I could safely predict which cars would pass me (and in what order). Although some people might find left turn--straightaway--left turn--straightaway--rinse and repeat racing mind-numbing, the variations in such tracks (number and nature of turns and length and location of straightaways) will keep the interest of more dedicated drivers. Or turn off the damage and play bumper cars against weaker opponents. Maybe someday they'll introduce a fighting component whereby drivers jump out of their cars and go at it--with exactly the same meaningless addition to gameplay seen in videogame hockey fights

The degree of competition you will have depends on the options you choose and your ability to control your car. Patience pays off: practice before qualifying, and note your setups for future reference. Get used to the tracks and your controller before attempting to qualify. The temptation to pick up and play by diving directly into qualifying should be resisted if you want to get the most out of the game.

Replay Value: 65
Limited. Oh, you can tinker with the difficulty settings or run Championship races at 50% length in an effort to unlock several NASCAR legends (you can race as Richard Petty from the beginning), or you can run Championship season after Championship season to amass career points. But that's it. Aside from the normal relationship between learning curve and increased difficulty level (in the form of more competitive CPU opponents), there may be little to keep players coming back for more. I'd suggest running a sample Championship season with short track runs in no damage mode to get a sense of the tracks before elevating either the competitiveness of other racers or introducing damage levels (with somewhat less challenging opponents) and then look for race lengths that require at least two visits to the pits. Once you adjust to these challenges, then go all out. But it would have been so much better if you took a rookie driver (whom you created) from season to season, earning increased resources (read financial backing, a more experienced pit crew, more cars, and so on) as you moved up the ladder from season to season in a true career mode. Some of these RPG elements have been present in other racers, and they add a great deal to the replay value of those games. Oh, well.

Overall : 68
If you like NASCAR racing, but don't have NASCAR 99, and own only a N64, you may well find this game to your liking. If you already own NASCAR 99, you may not find the new version much of a change; it may be better to invest your money elsewhere. And if you own a PSX, go with the richer and deeper Playstation version. And if all you want is to acquire a new racing title, think before you buy this one--unless, that is, you really like NASCAR racing or want to see what all the fuss is. In truth, there's plenty of strategy and excitement in NASCAR racing, but console translations are not always successful in capturing these qualities.

It's not that this is a bad game: it is a serviceable representation of NASCAR racing, and players who learn how to manipulate the controls and take advantage of track and car characteristics and racing tactics will be satisfied--but not ecstatic. Then again, the same could have been said of NASCAR 99 for the N64. One wonders exactly what EA was thinking when it invested so much into offering a fresh NASCAR game for the PSX while leaving the N64 version largely untouched.

By: Brooks Simpson 10/14/99

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