NASCAR 2000 (PC) Review
Presentation/Graphics : 60
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
Interface/Options : 90
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
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
Overall : 63
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