IndyCar Series Review

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Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Codemasters


Platforms: Xbox, PlayStation and PC
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

Codemasters puts the official Indy Racing League license through its paces with this IndyCar driving simulation. Inside you'll find actual drivers and courses modeled for both quick races and full seasons, as well as a master class designed to teach you how actual Indy races are won and lost.

Rating:
Rob de los Reyes


When Codemasters makes a racing game, it leans to the "realistic" rather than the "arcade" orientation. There's certainly room for both ends of the spectrum in the market, but there's simply no denying that the arcade end tends to be a little more accessible to a broad range of gamers than hardcore driving simulations. There are some exceptions to the general rule, and Codemasters has been a party to at least one of them. Its superlative Colin McRae Rally 3, for example, offers a (mostly) realistic presentation of rally car racing, going so far as to banish a music score in favor of variable engine hums and the voice of your co-driver. Yet even amidst a realistic presentation of a driving sport that hardly anyone in America follows, it was easy to recommend Colin McRae Rally 3 as a pick-up-and-play racer for any gamer who gets a kick out of driving games. The realism is there, but you don't need to know that to play. Sharp graphics and odd cars plus challenges familiar at some level to gamers of nearly every stripe (go fast around the curve, don't hit the tree) add up to a game with multiple levels of appeal. IndyCar Series, by contrast, is a solid simulator, but it just isn't the kind of game you're apt to pull out for a couple of weekend hours with some friends.

Having acquired the official Indy Racing League license, the theme throughout IndyCar Series is an emphasis on simulating the sport. Real drivers, real courses (modeled down to the random bumps, they say), and realistic driving challenges characterize the game. The thing about driving a real Indy racer is that it isn't easy. Nor, in a video game sense, is it necessarily visibly exciting. Driving like this approaches the level of a science with repetitions and progress through slight movements. In street racing or rally racing, you'll sling around corners, pulling the joystick or d-pad from one side to other, whipping around obstacles and slamming on breaks. It's all very active and video game-y. In Indy racing, you put your car in the groove around the inner portion of the track and make an extended left turn. For hundreds of laps. The challenge lies in endurance and in the precision of the tiny movements and whisker-thin lanes for advancement in a field full of pros also looking for that narrow window to pull ahead.

If that's the level of simulation you're after, you'll largely find it here. The groove really does feel different than other parts of the track, the AI is quite challenging even on the Easy level, and races really are won or lost in the details. Better still, to the extent those sorts of challenges interest you, you can spend some time in a master class narrated by real life Indy champ Eddie Cheever Jr. learning the minutiae of the minutiae of Indy racing. Of course, realism waxes and wanes with the difficulty level. Depending on the level you set, tires may or may not wear, crashes may or may not result in damage or disqualification, and so forth. By the time you hit the highest difficulty level, there's a fair amount to keep track of, just as there would be in real racing. The problem is that this gives the easiest difficulty level a strange feel. It strips away realism but doesn't fill in it with the arcade features that normally go along with less realism. To be fair, the point is to deliver Indy racing not street racing in an Indy chassis, but such are the challenges of simulating a real life sport in a video game format.

If you're in to the simulation aspects, you'll likely be much more forgiving of the absence of bells and whistles. IndyCar Series includes a generic rock soundtrack and graphics that, while not uninteresting, fall a touch short in a genre that nowadays consistently pushes the graphical envelope. As you might expect, the Xbox version is sharper, based on early glimpses, the forthcoming PC version looks even better. Still, there are prettier and groovier sounding racers out there, but none that we're aware of with the Indy focus. People for whom that's a difference maker know who they are.

In other words, to the extent the names, places and stats of real-life Indy racing mean something to you, IndyCar Series offers a number of features to hold your interest that are outside the scope of simply driving. The master class and Full Season modes in particular give the Indy fan some meat to chew on. But if you're just out for some video game action on four wheels, you'll find plenty of other racers that are more active and accessible. Or perhaps I'm just a boor, as unable to appreciate the true mass appeal of Indy racing as the frenzied majesty of a 0-0 tie in soccer. Well. I leave it to you.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 6, 2003 12:16 PM.

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