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Publisher: Aspyr Media    Genre: Sports
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G4 @ 733 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    Hard Disk: 665 MB    4x CD-ROM

Nascar Racing 2002
February 11, 2003 | Andy Largent

If there is one sport which exemplifies American racing, it's NASCAR. Featuring beefed-up cars going nearly 200 miles per hour, you know everyone in the stands is secretly waiting for that first spectacular crash. The oval courses seem simplistic to outsiders, and they belie the amount of strategy required in taking the corners, pitting correctly, and tuning your car to its peak performance. Races are often won by a matter of inches, so in NASCAR, every split-second counts.

Aspyr Media is hoping you'll find even more excitement in NASCAR Racing 2002 Season than just watching the sport. The game features realistic models of every 2002 driver and car, as well as all 23 tracks in the circuit. Developer, Parpyrus has nearly perfected the game's physics model over the years, and the graphics are sure to make you feel a part of the race as well. For fans still hanging on to the original version of NASCAR Racing brought to the Mac by Sierra in 1996(!), you're in for a treat.

Getting Started
NASCAR Racing 2002 Season tries to make it easy for those brand-new to the sport to get a handle on how things work. Included in the game are a number of tutorials which cover all of the basics concerning rules, pitting, drafting, and even terminology. While these are unfortunately non-interactive videos, they do give you a good basis from which to start. Also included are overview videos of each of the 23 tracks used by NASCAR, running down the history of the track along with the best strategy for winning. These are narrated by NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip, who does a nice job with the voice-overs.

Once you've watched the videos and are ready to sit down in the driver's seat for yourself, you've got a number of options. First off, you're going to want to consider purchasing a racing wheel. As with the other major Mac racing title, F1 Championship, NASCAR benefits immensely from a good wheel. NASCAR supports force-feedback right out of the box, so if you're running Mac OS 10.2.3, you've got no excuse not to upgrade to a top-of-the-line wheel. In my review, I used a Saitek R440 wheel and pedal set and was extremely happy with how NASCAR felt with the setup.

To configure a wheel, you'll need to first run the NASCAR setup program and map the inputs on your wheel to the game. Then after starting up the game, you can calibrate settings like steering and acceleration with your wheel's axis. This was a smooth process, but keep in mind that if you switch driver profiles, you'll have to re-configure things again.

For your first outing, I'd recommend jumping onto a well-known track like Daytona in a testing session to get a feel for how the car handles. Once you can follow the racing line around the track without spinning, consider turning off some of the many assisting options. As your skill improves, these helpers like steering assistance and traction control can all be toggled off for a more realistic game.

It may take a while, but after you can consistently make it around the track, it's time to jump in with some other players. No matter how fast you may think you are when going it alone, the experience of having 34 other racecars on the track at once is sure to set you for a spin (literally). The intricacies of following the ideal racing line are moot when you're in the middle of a pack three cars wide and 10 deep. Now's the time to know which alternate lines will help you get around other cars and to practice drafting to keep pace with the leaders. NASCAR Racing 2002 Season features a hefty learning curve for getting all of this straight, but thankfully many beginners should be able to start out either with all driving aids enabled or in Arcade mode to get up-to-speed.

The physics in the game are surprisingly detailed. After playing for a while you'll begin to get a feel for how your acceleration and braking greatly affect your steering, both on curves and straightaways. If you look in the garage (which isn't recommended until you've mastered the basics), you can see how tire pressure, weighting, and balance are all crucial for having a successful race. Change any one of these parameters just a bit, and the whole rest of the system can be thrown out of alignment. A number of default car setups are included to make this more straightforward.

The races themselves can also be crafted to your liking, which is very nice considering most people don't have time to sit down and race 200 laps. You can customize the number of laps, how many opponents you want, their relative intelligence, as well as whether you want to warm up and practice or just get to the race. One unfortunate omission is the ability to save in the middle of a game and come back to it later, which means you should only set as many laps as you think you'll have time to finish.

The experience of NASCAR Racing 2002 Season feels as close to the real thing as you can get without a sponsorship of your own. The races are high-tension and require you to be constantly on alert for passing opportunities, curves, and accidents. That said, once you've mastered the driving, the gameplay largely hinges on seemingly minor things like fast pit stops and making sure you follow the many (sometime obscure) rules.

Multiplayer in NASCAR supports both LAN (Local Area Network) play as well as online play via GameRanger's matching service. The interface takes a little time to get used to, but it's very serviceable once you know get familiar with it. A number of racing leagues have already begun to mimic the 2003 NASCAR season just starting now, so if you're looking for a human challenge it should be easy to find. Of course broadband gamers will have a better time, as only two or three modem users are recommended to play at once.


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