Nascar Racing 2003 - An oldie but goodie racing game

May 09, '05 11:25:00AM

Contributed by: robg

Nascar Racing 2003 icon The macosxhints Rating:
8 of 10
[Score: 8 out of 10]

[Playing catch-up, this is the Pick of the Week for May 2nd]

In looking at the Pick of the Week table for 2005, I noticed that I hadn't yet chosen a game for the list. Coincidentally, I've also got a new ATI X800XT video card in my machine right now -- keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming review. So I was spending a lot of time the last week or so digging through my collection of games. I'd fire each one up and put it through its paces with the new card, comparing the performance to that of my original card, an ATI 9800 Pro. I'll save the details on the video card's performance for the future write-up, but suffice it to say, I was very impressed. During this revisit, I played a number of games that I haven't launched for quite a while, and had actually forgotten just how fun some of them were -- Nascar Racing 2003 Season among them. Hence, this week's PotW is a relatively old game...

There aren't a ton of "serious" driving games for the Mac. I can think of four relatively easily: Nascar Racing, Total Immersion Racing, Ford Racing II, and Virtual Grand Prix 2. I own all but Virtual Grand Prix (and I have a demo of that). Of the four, it's a close race (so to speak) for me between Total Immersion and Nascar for the best driving game title. Both are fun, but at the end of the day, Nascar's more fun for me because the tracks are familiar and the cars get to bump and bash each other regularly. I really like the game's attention to detail, and the graphics, while a couple years old, still look quite good. The crashes in Nascar can also be quite spectacular.

Read on for more about the game, as well as movie with some in-game footage...

One advantage to running older games on a new video card is that you can get great frame rates with lots of eye candy enabled. With my Dual 2.0 G5 and the X800XT card, I was able to turn basically all details to "high" or "max," and run at 1920x1200 on my 23" display. Even at those settings, I would still get anywhere from 100 to 150 frames per second, depending on how many competitors' cars were visible at any given time. At those settings, Nascar Racing is a very immersive experience -- it takes up much of my field of view, and the shadows, reflections, cars, and sounds are all amazingly well done. Partly as an excuse to play with QuickTime 7, I recorded a short (under two minute) demo movie using SnapzPro, and I did the capture at 1920x1200, too -- this slowed the frame rate to somewhere around 40fps, although this is still very playable. I then scaled the resulting clip down to 720x450, and encoded two versions of it: a 20.2MB MPEG4 version and a 55.3MB H.264 version. You'll need QT7 for the H.264 version, but the MPEG4 one should play in QT6. The clip starts on the pace lap, and ends a few turns later with a wreck that yours truly induced (on purpose) -- I wanted to show some of the smoke, crash, and mark-on-track effects that are present in the game. Nascar will even model a flipping car, which is what I was really trying to get to happen in the wreck at the end (but no luck).

The basic premise of the game is that you're a driver in the 2003 Nascar season. You need to setup, practice, qualify, and then race on each track, ideally to win the points championship. To win, you'll need to master car setup, pit stop strategy, drafting tactics, bump-passing, and turning right as well as left (there are some road tracks). If you've got the time, you can play every race at its true-world distance. But there's also a "percentage of reality" slider that lets you shorten the race distance. You can also bump up the pit stop requirements, so that you'll still have to manage fuel and tires even during a shortened race.

You can set the amount of damage modeling from none to realistic; at realistic, you really have to be careful to get your vehicle through the race in one piece. During the race, you must control not only the car, but communications with your crew. For upcoming pit stops, you specify the number of tires, amount of fuel, damage repairs you want done, and even how much duct tape to stick over your car's air inlet (more tape = faster but less engine cooling). As the race progresses, your car's handling changes as the tires heat up and eventually, traction diminishes as the tires "go away." Run too long on an old set of tires, and you'll eventually get a blow out, which can be quite exciting at 200mph.

I don't have the free time to pursue the entire season, but for a quick and fun stress release, Nascar Racing is tough to beat -- especially if you've got a reasonably new machine with a decent video card. You should be able to get good frame rates while still having some nice eye candy to look at.

Getting Nascar Racing 2003 may be a bit tricky, since the game is so out of date (none of Amazon, MacMall, or The Mac Zone seem to have it). eBay is always a good bet, but there may be one other source -- Aspyr themselves. Though you can't order it from their site directly (the Buy link takes you to Amazon.com), they do have a PDF fax/mail order form on their site. On that form, Nascar Racing is still listed, and it's price is only $9.95. In my mind, that's a great bargain. I don't think we'll see any future Nascar releases on the Mac (I hope I'm wrong, but racing sims are smallish niche even on the PC), so this might be your only option, short of a PC or console version...

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