|This review is dedicated to the memory of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. |
Having recently played and reviewed NASCAR Heat by Hasbro Interactive, I have a clean basis to compare these two titles for this review. Last year, I named NASCAR Heat the best NASCAR game to be released on the PC platform. It seems that a new king has risen in the form of Sierra’s NASCAR 4. Papyrus came back with a completely redone physics engine, a whole new graphics engine, and a fun factor of 10, as they stormed the racing simulation genre, and created what might be the best racing game ever to be released on the PC.
In a way, Papyrus threw out what they did with the first three NASCAR games and crafted this fine game based on feedback. With a completely new graphics engine, the game sports some really sweet looking graphics. Gone are the blocky cars from NASCAR 2, and in come the finely designed cars for NASCAR 4. These cars support realistic damage modeling, real-life physics and real-time lighting effects. The real-life physics are by far the most impressive addition to the game. From the cars shifting weight to one side to the independent movement of each tire, watching a replay will make you think you are actually watching a Sunday race. The damage modeling is also a very welcome addition to the series. When racing, if you get rear-ended, your car will reflect the damage. If you get clipped in a 23-car pile up, your fender and bumper will be nowhere to be seen. Which leads into one of the game’s problems: When something is thrown off your car, it loses all mass. Once that piece of sheet metal hits the track, it is made of nothing. Other cars can hit it, you can hit it, the pace car can hit it, but it does absolutely nothing. This does take away from the realism of the game in a little way, because the danger of debris on the racetrack has been completely eliminated.
Another thing that Papyrus went back and redid was the user interface. From the very second you boot up the game, you will notice the difference in the interface. It is crafted very cleanly, and sports some nifty bells and whistles. When you place your mouse over any thing that can be changed or clicked, a nice little mouse-over effect will pop up giving you an exact description of what that button does. This is very handy for rookies who are playing a NASCAR game for the first time, because they can be guided around and shown how to get right into the game.
The new graphics engine, as I have already mentioned, is very well done. Anything that would happen in a real race could happen in this game. Now that is all fine and dandy, but when the incident that could happen looks like it should, you have an awesome game at your fingertips. Racing along at 185 MPH and hit a wall, and you will be jolted a bit, but then you look back at the replay and see what really happen. You are cruising along, and you lock the brakes. Realistic skid patterns flow from your back wheels to the pavement, your car hits the wall, and your tires plaster the wall black. This is how it would look watching a real race, and this is how it looks playing NASCAR 4.
There are a few advantages to actually playing a racing game, in relation to watching a race on TV. The major one is the excellent replay feature found in NASCAR 4. Using more than 10 different camera angles, you direct the action as you can morph into any one of the 43 drivers’ cars, roof cams and bumper cams. This allows for you to see each crash in perfect detail, because you have found the perfect camera angle. Using the slow-motion feature, you can see the crash at 1/17th of the normal time, and see your car fly through the air and slam into the retaining wall. Since this is a game, and no one gets hurt, creating spectacular crashes is just one of the many fun things to do in NASCAR 4. Get ahead of the pack, turn around or just sit there on the track, and create an awesome 26-car pile up, and watch as your car spins and flies through the air. This is a very well done replay feature, and it’s one of the most versatile I have seen.
Another way NASCAR 4 shows it means business is the garage feature. In the garage you have the option of tweaking every aspect of your vehicle to your exact specs. Want to play with how the steering responds? Enter the garage and tweak to your little heart’s desire. Also, you can customize your car’s paint job. Create your own sponsor, and show their true colors as you customize your car to your personality. You also have the option of customizing your pit-crew’s uniforms, and even their faces.
NASCAR’s sound is the only average part of this game. I couldn’t find any way to really like or hate the sound in the game, but it seems that it might have been an afterthought to the entire design scheme. The sound of the engine roaring is adequate for my tastes, except the "redneck" leader of your pit crew who is always yelling at you about a crash, or "You won!" The funny thing is when he says, "You won!" he seems almost surprised, like for some reason you shouldn’t have won. Which leads me to…
The game’s AI is very, very good, but it may be too good at some times. The opponent cars seem to get that extra boost when the green flag waves while you are struggling to stay behind the pace car so you don’t get a black flag. As in most games, the computer cheats, and you have to be better than it.
After all is said and done, there are only a few things that might detour you from really appreciating what a truly excellent game this really is. There seems to be some serious clipping problems with the graphics engine. When you are heading for a wall, your car seems to morph into it before being thrown back. And on more than a few occasions I saw two cars become one, and then separate.
Like most series, the Sierra-Papyrus NASCAR products get better with age. Still, if you can deal with some lackluster sound effects, and some minor graphics problems nothing else can stand in your way from enjoying this game. NASCAR 4 is set to up to accommodate both rookies and veterans alike. The game boasts some amazing graphics, and more fun than all three Blair Witch games combined. NASCAR 4 is worthy of any simulation fan’s computer, or anyone who is looking to learn more about the popular world of stock car racing. No matter who you are, NASCAR 4 is an engine revving good time.