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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    Graphics: 32 MB VRAM

Nascar Racing 2003
September 23, 2003 | Andy Largent

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Looking back
Broken ribs, fractured shoulder blades and brain lesions are just a few of the reasons the Richmond International Raceway recently installed new Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) walls in their turns. Anyone who tells you NASCAR is a boring sport may be ill-informed on the subject, and Jerry Nadaeu, the driver still recovering from his May 2nd crash at the arena, would likely say the same.

With NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, Aspyr Media is hoping to bring a little of this racing excitement to a Mac near you -- sans the life-threatening injuries. This is actually the second NASCAR title from the company to be released in the past year, and though it's run on the PC side has been almost uncontested, it's rumored to be the last in the series from original developer Papyrus.

There are a few angles from which to look at the game, and some buying decisions are easier than others. Any NASCAR fans who missed NASCAR Racing 2002 should have no qualms about running out and picking up the game now, assuming they have the necessary hardware. Those who already have last year's version need to decide if 2003's improved graphics and opponents make it worth the upgrade. Finally, those people still on the fence about the whole sport in general have to take a look at what the title offers (and demands of) its drivers before getting behind the wheel.

NASCAR Racing 2003 Season shares much in common with its 2002 predecessor. Configuration is mostly the same, the menu screens aren't a great deal changed, and the game's graphics and physics are similarly impressive.

Some of the new features to be on the lookout for include new graphic effects like solar flares and dirty windshields, more environmental objects, and improved variable computer opponent Artificial Intelligence (AI). Westlake Interactive's Duane Johnson also worked hard to get the performance of the game (which can tax even high-end PC rigs) to acceptable levels, though the official system requirements remain the same.

The track-by-track commentaries by legendary Darrell Waltrip have been omitted from 2003, though it's unlikely many people made it through all 23 of them. Thankfully, the training videos are still around, and these can be very helpful for newbies getting familiar with NASCAR terminology and driving basics. One unfortunate audio stuttering bug that I first encountered with 2002 is still present when watching these videos, though. Pausing and restarting usually fixes the issue, but it's a minor annoyance which I hoped would have been cleared up by now.

When first booting up the game, I noticed the menus now have moving backgrounds, which can hiccup a bit on my system but are otherwise slick. A recent PC patch supposedly gives you the option of turning this off, though there's no official date yet from Aspyr on when this update might make it to the Mac. Overall performance seems slightly better on Dual G4 867s, and I noticed the Radeon 9000 kept up admirably with my Radeon 9700, even on the very highest settings. The game would range between 30 and 50 FPS on tracks with a number of cars in front of me and a lot more when racing alone.

Graphics-wise, NASCAR Racing 2003 should be called an evolutionary step up. The sun flares add a great new level of realism, and the effect can be convincingly distracting when the bright light from a setting sun hits your eyes. Another very good idea was making your windshield slowly accumulate dirt and grime as you lap the track. It may seem like a simple trick, but it helps with the experience of going around the track.


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