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NASCAR 2000 (PC) Review


Last year, to most everyone's dismay, EA released the less-than-stellar NASCAR Revolution. After 3 patches and every tweak imaginable, that particular effort was still nowhere near ready for prime time. When EA and Stormfront announced they had started work on NASCAR 2000(N2K), I was dubious, to say the least--I wasn't expecting anything good, and would have bet the farm on another dismal effort. Was my instinct right about N2K? Read on, and the truth will become clear...

Presentation/Graphics : 60
There really isn't a whole lot about the visual presentation in N2K to get excited about--it's all very reminiscent of Revolution, and my first instinct is that this is just patch 4 for that release. Once into the actual game, there are some differences, but they are minor enough to make me think that N2K is far from an original--much like the Papyrus succession of titles, this is more evolutionary than not. The most welcome change, to me anyway, is the elimination of the opening of each race, with the end of the National Anthem and driver introductions. I know hitting ESC ended it, but it was just unnecessary fluff, and added nothing. It's gone now, and I say that's a good thing.

All I heard about NR, and all I've heard about N2K, is how stunning the graphics are. Sorry, fans, but I just don't see it. The cars look nice, no question, and the stands and sky effects are very nice, but overall it looks sort of grainy, surrealistic, and very fake. The backgrounds are too drab, the cars are too bright, and there is nothing to make me believe I'm really in a race car. The view from inside the car is vastly better than it was in NR, but there's still a major problem with it--I'll cover that in a minute. There is now some good smoke effects, and while not as good as those in NASCAR 3, they are sufficient--much like everything else.

All this becomes moot, really, when N2K is put into action. The following also explains why N2K has received the low score it has in the graphics area, and I think some of you will agree when I say this: All the pretty, shiny eye candy in the world is useless if the average Joe has to turn it off to achieve a playable frame rate.

Just as NR did, N2K suffers from some of the most sluggish, molasses-like rendering I've ever witnessed. This particular PC runs almost everything I throw at it in 800x600 or higher at a very acceptable rate--including NASCAR 3, Grand Prix Legends, Porsche Unleashed, Falcon 4, USAF, TOCA 2, and MiG Alley. I don't have to turn things off or lower detail levels in any of those, and they all clip along at 30 fps or so, happy as a clam. Along comes N2K (which looks nowhere near as nice as Porsche Unleashed, by the way), and I have to run 640x480, almost everything off or at low, and drive from the roof cam in order to keep the frame rate consistently driveable. There is no way for me to explain this, but it is absolutely unacceptable.

Presentation/Audio : 65
There's been a lot of improvement from NR in the sound. Other cars are now audible, and sound as if they're actually turning some fairly high revs--not quite high enough, but close. Bob and Benny are back, unfortunately, but this time we have the option of turning them off completely. I recommend that you do this immediately, since the commentary is utterly pointless and usually has little to do with what's really happening on the track. Time to put this idea where it belongs--the Dumpster. The audio effort put forth here isn't bad, with the exception of B & B, and is a huge improvement over that found in NR. See, I'm not all negatives....

Interface/Options : 90
The interface is clean and easy to use overall, nothing like the nightmare of Madden 2000--maybe EA Sports has seen that complexity and flash isn't always good.

There are tons of options this time around, with several adjustments for graphics (too bad they don't make much difference in frame rate), sound, and controller settings. Everyone should be able to find the options that suit them with N2K.

Game options are about what you'd expect from a racing title, with quick race, single weekend, full season, and multi-player modes. There is also a "Race the King" option, which will pit you one-on-one with Richard Petty. The options for the races themselves give the player a lot of flexibility--race length, AI strength, yellow and black flags, and many other variables can be changed to whatever makes you happy. This is the one thing that N2K does very well, and it makes the next section that much more disappointing.

Gameplay : 42
Two words--inaccurate and insipid. Before we go any further, let me mention a couple things that shot all N2K's credibility down in flames: My first lap at Martinsville, with the default setup, I broke the real world track record. Then, at Talladega, my top speed was 179--but I turned a lap time that equals 189.956. There's something very wrong here.

Those things can, and would, be forgiven if N2K were any fun at all. Fact is, however, that N2K is just too full of bugs, inaccuracies, and just plain stupid mistakes to keep this reviewer's attention for more than a few hours. The amazing no-gravity atmosphere is back in all its glory, with the slightest contact sending cars 50 or 60 feet in the air, the replay is still useless, and the tracks are still nowhere near right--take Texas as an example. In N2K, you can go flat-out all the way around, never even having to consider lifting or braking. Same with Charlotte. At Sears Point, a quick lift and some light braking is enough to get by everywhere except the final hairpin, and you can get through that at about double the speed you should. This is all with the game set at the Veteran level, which I assume is supposed to represent reality.

The AI is much better this time around, admittedly, and are probably a little racier and more realistic than the CPU cars in NASCAR 3. I still think they are a little too aggressive (or maybe it's stupid), but they do keep it interesting.

The progress in AI, unfortunately, didn't make it to the driving model. N2K feels almost exactly like NR with improved control--the disconnected, floating feel is still present, with absolutely no indication of what the car is going to do until it does it. What I mean by that, for example, is that the car will be stuck right to the bottom of the corner, and without warning push straight toward the wall. Hit the brakes, hit the gas, turn the wheel--and you still go straight into the wall. This is especially common when running on the outside of traffic, when you can't sit right in the racing groove.

One thing I do like is the way a race weekend is handled. There are 2 practice sessions, 2 qualifying sessions, a happy hour, and the race--but I'd still like to see the possibility of missing a race if your qualifying speed was too slow. Maybe next time....

Add to all this is the fact that about 3 times out of ten N2K would lock my machine up tight, forcing a reboot--this can't definitely be blamed on the software, but it rarely happens with any other app. Maybe time to start on the patch? The car setup options are pretty good, and unlike NR, seem to actually work the way they should. There are all the same adjustments as in NR, and it's once again based on using sliders to make the changes. Overall, I like the setup screen, and wish the rest of N2K was up to the standard this area sets.

I suppose someone who's never tried any of Papyrus' NASCAR titles could be satisfied with N2K, but if fun, raceability, and a touch of realism is what you're after, N2K won't be your cup of tea.

As for multi-player, there is the capability to run a maximum of 8 drivers via IPX, or 4 using EA's Internet matchmaker service. I tried several times, but never did see a race online. I did talk to one player who said you could sometimes find as many as 20 or 30 people racing, but I never saw more than 3 in the lobby--and never once saw anyone racing. When compared to the several hundred racers found running NASCAR 3 on WON daily, this speaks volumes about the title's acceptance and support. In other words, if it's multi-player racing you want, don't even consider N2K.

All in all, N2K is not as bad as NR, but it doesn't have nearly enough improvements to warrant accolades. There are still way too many issues with realism and playability to consider the gameplay a threat to NASCAR 3--or even NASCAR 2.

Replay Value: 70
High replay value is inherent in racing titles, simply because the races aren't scripted, canned events. N2K is no different than the others in this department, and this score would be higher if there were more multi-player going on. It is deep enough in single player, however, to keep a player racing until the release of NASCAR 2001, which is coming as sure as death and taxes.

Overall : 63
This release is much better than the last effort, but still falls well short of the standard set by others in the genre. For every item that was fixed or improved, there is another that is as bad or worse than in NR, and as long as the frame rate issue isn't fixed N2K will not be a viable choice for most gamers. After playing the stunning Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed, I can't help but think EA has the wrong developer working on the NASCAR series--maybe some new blood could get it right next time.

By: Scott Moore 5/18/00
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