Whether NASCAR is really America's "fastest growing sport," or the sport is just growing -- and contains cars that move faster than any NFL or NBA player -- is up for debate. Regardless, Aspyr Media's decision to bring Papayrus' NASCAR Racing 2003 Season to the Mac is a welcome one. Many Mac fans received NASCAR 2002 last year with open arms, and this next (and reportedly last) game in the series offers updates and improvements to make the racing even more fun and realistic.
With nearly a six-year gap between the original Mac NASCAR port and last year's 2002 release, many Mac gamers weren't used to the idea of an annual series of games. Why have another NASCAR game so soon? What's new to bring drivers back to the track? I'll try and give a good rundown of what has been improved upon in NASCAR Racing 2003.
The easiest thing to point to as being new is that the game features the latest known 2003 statistics. This year's teams, drivers, and sponsors are all accurately modeled, along with all 23 of the sport's tracks. These include two tracks which were recently renovated, as well as the fantasy monster oval "Coca-Cola Superspeedway."
GameplayThe hallmark for this NASCAR Racing series has always been Paparus' insistence on an accurate simulation of the real thing. While newer spectators of the sport may not immediately recognize the difficulties in going left around an oval track, once you have the experience of trying to control a two-ton car with worn tires while cornering in the middle of a pack of opponents, the complexity can be startling.
NASCAR Racing 2003 doesn't just throw you in the middle of the race, though. Like its predecessor, the title features a number of tutorials which run the gamut from braking to cornering to the all-important pit stop. Along with these, NASCAR Racing 2003 also contains settings to decrease the game's ultra-realistic difficulty. You are able to reduce damage to your car, drive with a more "arcade" mode feel, and set the intelligence of the computerized opponents.
With NASCAR Racing 2003, you can also select a new adaptive AI level, which makes the computer players match your current skill level in the game. This is a particularly nice feature which lets you ramp up with the other drivers, rather than being dropped into a pack of experts.
Once you do get up to speed, NASCAR Racing 2003 gives you the power to modify your car in limitless ways. In the garage you can tweak the car's characteristics like suspension and tire pressure as you see fit. If you're curious, but not altogether confident about your skills as a mechanic, you can also use any number of pre-configured cars which have been customized for various playing styles.