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NASCAR Rumble (PSX) Review

Background Info

So what do you get if you mix NASCAR racing, Need for Speed, and a little Twisted Metal? That would have to be the incredibly fast and fun NASCAR Rumble from EA Sports. Even though all the big name NASCAR drivers are here in this fully licensed game, this is not your typical stock car driving game. Nope, this is a steroid-taking, testosterone-laden shootout with no-holds-barred racing.

NASCAR Rumble has over 30 NASCAR Cup drivers, and even some NASCAR legends and truck drivers. If the driver list leaves you unimpressed, how about the prospect of racing on six different locales with three tracks each? NASCAR Rumble is at heart a racing game, but it utilizes power-ups to make the game a little more interesting. Throw out those physics everyone always complains about in racing games and buckle yourself in for some true arcade fun.

Presentation/Graphics : 90
I thought the cars in NASCAR 2000 looked good, but in NASCAR Rumble, the cars are some of the best you'll ever see on the PlayStation. I was amazed when I first started the game by the detail in the cars. Since the game carries a full license from NASCAR, you'll of course expect the color schemes of the various real teams. However, what I was not expecting was the detail in all the decals attached to the cars. Cars are adorned with a huge number of decals. And if you are expecting the standard NASCAR body shape, too bad. The cars have been updated in appearance to keep with the raw attitude of the game.

The lighting effects on some of the courses are nothing less than spectacular. On the night courses, the highway lights reflect off of the windows and bodies and look realistic. However, the big surprise was on one of the Louisiana Swamp courses. On one particular course, the race takes place before dusk. The early evening sky is ablaze with beautiful colors (pollution is great for one thing at least). When driving into the sun, the backs of the cars are their usual hues. However, once you start driving on the portion of the course where the sun is behind you, the cars have an incredible glow about them. A very subtle graphical touch that shows no stones were left unturned.

The courses have a good amount of detail. There are six locales in the game: Mardi Gras, Badlands, Beach Blast, Southern Exposure, Metropolis, and Gold Rush. While some of the courses are somewhat generic, others clearly stand out. Of particular note are the Metropolis courses, which take place under the night lights. The horizon is littered with downtown lights. The streaking lights along the highways only add to the sensation of speed in the game. The Gold Rush locale features a course with huge boulders that serve as an obstruction. Fortunately these exaggerated muscle cars can bowl right through the rocks, causing them to tumble down the road until they eventually come to them, and once hit, the rocks tumble down to a rest. The next lap around, you'll find that the boulders are resting where they last came to stop. Another example is the sagebrush on another course. The game keeps track of the positions and updates them as they move.

The Mardi Gras locale has a definite New Orleans feel to it, complete with cemeteries with tombs above ground level. The tight streets of the French Quarter are capture perfectly, and the transition from the city streets to the bayous flows naturally. Finally, the Beach Blast locale has a variety of terrain changes, from Florida highways to the sandy beach and some city streets. And one of the courses has a building that completely fits on the East Florida coast. I won't say what it is, but EA did their homework with this game.

For the most part, if you liked the tracks in the Need for Speed series, you can expect the same with NASCAR Rumble. While there aren't as many turns in this game as NFS, the tracks all have that NFS feel to them.

Since NASCAR Rumble tops out at six drivers for any race, you can imagine the graphics move along at a fast clip. With absolutely no slowdown, NASCAR Rumble features some of the fastest racing on the PlayStation. The game never skips a beat in any of the driving perspectives. The default, which is a third person view, provides a nice bird's eye view of the action. Switching into the first person bumper view will push your adrenaline to the limits. The game truly seems to go up a notch in the speed and excitement areas with the first person view. It should be noted that because of the fast pace, you will have a hard time looking for pop-up. Even if you take your eyes off the road to find it, you'll be disappointed. The only time pop-up is noticeable is when the EA Sports blimp appears in the sky. EA must have hired David Copperfield to have the blimp appear from nowhere.

Presentation/Audio : 95
I usually can't stand racing music, but the sound track in NASCAR Rumble is pretty good. While some of the guitar rock gets tiresome, the tunes that accompany the Beach locale falls in the wonderful surf genre. The Louisiana tracks feature music you might expect to hear at the House of Blues.

The cars have engines that roar as you accelerate. They give a sense of quickly accelerating off the line, and they change pitch as you move up in gear. The same crash sound occurs whether you hit another car, a stationary object, or the ground. I haven't noticed any distinction between them, and they all sound like they were sampled by throwing metal trash cans around a room.

Other significant sound effects include the chain link fences in the Metropolis locale. The sounds are spot-on. On one of the power-ups, the Big Rumble, your car can literally bowl over the competition. And in keeping with the image, EA has implemented the sound of a bowling ball striking pins.

But perhaps the best audio is the commentary. Forget dull and repeated comments, as NASCAR Rumble enlists Jess Harnell of "The Tick" fame to keep you company. If you make a mistake, Jess lets you know. If you make a good move, Jess lets you know. And if you do anything else, Jess lets you know. One of the power-ups available in the game is Bad Gas. If you find that power-up and drop it off, Jess remarks "Put a little turtle in your tank." The commentary is always fresh and unless you are a grump, you will probably find yourself chuckling as you drive around at close to 200 miles per hour.

Interface/Options : 95
Controlling the cars is a snap. All you need is to steer the car with the analog stick or the digital pad and use two buttons, of which one of them isn't really even the brakes. The gas, which is the X button, and the power-up enable button, which is the R2 button, are the two most commonly used buttons. This game is all about hitting the gas, so the brakes, enabled with the circle or square button, are rarely engaged. To cycle through the car cameras, press the L2 button, and a rear view mirror pops up while the R1 button is pressed. NASCAR Rumble offers three controller configurations.

NASCAR Rumble is very easy to walk through. The menus from title screen to racing are kept to a minimum. The main menu has entries for one or two player modes as well as game options. By default, the skill level for racing is set to Rookie. You can go down to Kid Play when first starting the game, but the higher Pro and Elite levels must be unlocked. The amount of power-ups in the game can be selected from the main menu. The power-ups vary from none to Mayhem, which means plenty of excitement. Finally, the main menu allows you to set audio and controller settings as well as view records.

Once a one or two player game is chosen, you select the type of race. Possibilities include a standard race, the Cyber Team race (you and the CPU partner race two other teams), two-player co-op races, and championship (battle it out on the many locales).

Gameplay : 90
As mentioned earlier, NASCAR Rumble takes elements from the Need for Speed and Twisted Metal series and winds up being a fast-paced weapons-based racer. The goal is to come in first using your raw driving skills as well as the offensive and defensive power-ups. The racing entails up to six cars on the track with some tracks having the additional feature of shortcuts.

The power-ups in NASCAR Rumble number just short of a dozen. Power-ups are picked up by running through glowing orbs on the track, and you can only pick up one power-up at a time. To release a power-up, just press the R2 button. Two of the power-ups can be dropped on the course, only to be run over by one of your opponents or even you on the next time around. The Bad Gas power-up causes the engine to sputter and slow the car down, and the Oil Slick reduces wheel traction. Power-ups which improve your performance include the Invincible (make your car invulnerable to competitors' power-ups), the Nitro (yields a burst of speed), and the Super Traction (big tires for more grip). Power-ups that can be used to affect your opponents include the Freeze (turns an opponent into a giant block of ice and they lose control), Storm (send a thunderstorm over an opponent making driving tough), Twister (whip up a tornado to send everyone spinning), Big Rumble (turn your front end into a hammer), and the Shockwave (send a shock that tumbles everything in its wake). Finally, the Joker power-up is an unknown power-up. Use it at your own risk, as it may not be beneficial. Often you'll stick yourself with bad gas or an oil slick.

The key to winning in NASCAR Rumble is effective use of the power-ups. Power-ups which don't adversely affect you can be held until you press the R2 button. Once released, depending on the type of weapon, you have powers for a few seconds or the power-up simply releases. Weapons which stay with you for a time include the Super Traction, Nitro, Big Rumble, and Invincible. The Storm and Freeze power-ups travel down the course in search of a victim. The first car found is affected, whereas the tornado affects everyone in its path. The Joker power-up is held for around five seconds and then disappears. It can be activated any time before it expires.

Since your competitors also have access to the power-ups, expect to be thwarted in your efforts to win the races. The game warns when one of the weather-based power-ups is approaching. To avoid their effects, you can slow down and let the danger pass. While the manual does not specify the critical speed, it appears that if you follow the legal limit for highways you should be fine.

As you race, you'll realize the physics book was thrown out the window. Don't expect any realistic driving model with NASCAR Rumble, as the game is strictly an arcade racer. As such, the cars accelerate quickly and reach top speed in just a few seconds. Furthermore, steering is extremely tight. You can almost turn on a dime depending on the road surface, although you do tend to drift. My first tracks in the game reminded me of Sega's Daytona game. The tight control will be appreciated as progress to the later tracks.

To advance through the game, you have to place first in each locale as well as some specialized circuits. In the first race, you start last in a field of six. The three-race championships reward placement with points. If you beat the competition or tie for first, you win the Gold Cup, which opens up that particular locale's stud driver. In addition to each three-race locale event, you can also race the six-event EA Cup to unlock the EA Sports car or the Wild Card Cup to unlock even more items.

By obtaining gold cups for the competitions, you can move up to the pro and elite difficulty settings. With each locale taking approximately fifteen to twenty minutes (races typically run five to six minutes), expect to spend a few hours moving up. Unfortunately the higher levels have not presented additional difficulty. The rookie level is quite easy, and in fact most everyone should be able to place first in each locale on the first try. Once you get the hang of driving the loose cars, you'll find the competition is fairly light. It took a couple of hours to win all the rookie level competitions, but in that time, nearly every race was a victory. I won each locale the first time out. I shrugged that off figuring it was meant to be an introduction into the game. However, the pro level offered little additional challenge. Only one locale had to be repeated. Every other locale was again one the first time out. At the time of this review I am halfway through the elite class, having had to go back to a locale only once. So if you must find a flaw with this game, it has to be its ease.

However, I think breezing through the levels is a function of the power-ups. If you limit the power-ups, the game approaches the difficulty of games like Need for Speed. At the higher difficulty levels, that series has tough competitors which keep you on the edge of your seat. Without the power-ups, you can't cripple your opponents easily (the only way is to crash into your opponents). Thankfully you can turn the power-ups down or off to make the game more difficult.

Even with the power-ups fully enabled, the elite class provides a more challenging game. By no means is it unbeatable, and in fact you may have to race a locale a couple of times to win the gold cup. If an AI car gets out in front, it can be difficult to chase them down. Running into a brick wall will almost certainly kill your chances at victory.

The driving AI of the opponents is exceptional. The opponents follow you through shortcuts and occasionally discover shortcuts before you. The cars are all evenly balanced, so if you find yourself trailing the field it's usually because of poor driving skills or being hit with a nasty power-up from a competitor. When in the lead, it seems as though your opponents throw more of the weather power-ups your way.

Besides the locales and their tracks, NASCAR Rumble dishes up three bonus tracks. The track design isn't as involved as the main tracks, but one particular track is an absolute blast to race on. Called the Minimunis track, this is a circular track that is extremely short. Lap times are on the order of ten seconds. With five opponents and yourself racing it's an all out dash to the finish line. And with the power-ups set to the mayhem level, the races on this track are loads of fun.

Replay Value: 85
Even though the game is easy with the default power-up setting, the gameplay can be simply extended by reducing the frequency of the power-ups. Doing so turns NASCAR Rumble into a straight-up arcade racer. While the shortcuts still exist, they require a little extra driving skill to navigate through rather than the mindless weapons.

In addition, the cooperative modes add more replay value to NASCAR Rumble. Whether you use a friend or the CPU as your driving buddy, advancing is made more difficult since both drivers must perform.

Finally, this game packs the main ingredient for replay - it's fun. Each time I race I find myself enjoying the game. The over-the-top nature of the game is a fresh alternative to the traditional arcade racer.

Overall : 90
Despite the potential for limited replay value, NASCAR Rumble is one of the best arcade racers to come to the PlayStation. The ease of the game can be controlled by manipulating the game options. Doing so extends the challenge of the game and increases its longevity.

By: James Smith 2/12/99

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