The simple answer to my strapline is yes. Before I get into why, I feel compelled to preface this review with a bit of honesty. My experience with NASCAR gaming prior to this assignment largely started and stopped on the PC where I was privy to some unfathomably bad efforts and some astonishingly good ones (sweet Papyrus and your Racing Season
, how I will forever remember thee fondly). This is important to note because I've had to reacquaint myself with what is essentially a different franchise (even had to go back and play previous NASCAR titles on consoles). Like EA's Tiger Woods
of earlier years, NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup
is significantly different from the PC simulation games which may misleadingly feature similar titles.
Even being so heavily influenced by the personal computer's more demanding NASCAR efforts, and admittedly being somewhat biased because of them, I have discovered it impossibly hard to find serious fault with NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup from a console gamer's perspective or from that of an avid NASCAR fan looking for an in-depth, but accessible racing game that sometimes borders on the simulation.
It still must be made abundantly clear that this is not Papyrus' NASCAR Racing 2003 Season on the PC, and it should not be taken as such. This is a game for a different audience and I hope to explain to that audience why it is for them, as opposed to explaining the fundamental differences between the console and PC demographics and then elaborating on why this happens to coincidentally not be Racing Season 2003. With all this in mind, if you have any general feedback, please feel free to email it to us here at IGN.
NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup, is a chase worth getting caught up in. While it may begin with a somewhat absurd and almost completely out-of-place street race against Ryan Newman (to impress him into hiring you), it quickly drops into pure NASCAR and offers a career mode that's unrivaled in today's marketplace. Moreover, Chase for the Cup will still appeal to casual and hardcore fans with its impressive production values, clean graphics, incredible audio, and finite conclusion. Now we can end it all.
There's a point to playing anything and that's to finish it, good or bad. Chase for the Cup is just that, a chase for the cup. We can now bring our season to an end. We can strive to be the best, and actually see it payoff. Being the best, of course, involves a few things: racing, configuration, and management.
All of this most excellently comes together in the significantly revamped career mode. While Chase for the Cup offers its players all the racing they've come to expect, it now furthers the managerial role, should you want it to. If you prefer, you can find yourself managing drivers, races, pit crews, and different teams all at once through a surprisingly intuitive and yet complex enough to be worthwhile interface.
Of course, pigeonholing yourself into boss mode will make you miss out on a lot of what makes the new form of racing this year more exciting than it previously was. First, the grudges and alliances system has been worked up. While racers will maintain their wicked or grateful tendencies in four-player online play against AI racers (PS2 and Xbox only), it's much harder to appreciate than it is offline. Nudging and destroying your opponents this year has some real consequence. You'll find them less likely to join a drafting train, more likely to push you off the line in a two or even three-wide, and even likelier to call you up on your shenanigans post-race and demand a little one-on-one.
Even if you don't spearhead management, you should still appreciate that all of your actions get broken down into points (categorized in different areas). So regardless of your play preference, it's still important to play a certain way and stick to it. This isn't to say you can't make your way through life nudging, cutting, and pinning. If you do, you might even be rewarded with a little extra intimidation power. While there have been some slight changes to the feel of the game, most are probably going to be unrecognizable tweaks to physics and controls that still seem to popup from time to time, but only the most scrutinizing of players should be able to consistently identify them. The one thing everyone will be able to pick up on in-game and on-track is the new intimidation technique, which works somewhat similarly to drafting, and plays off the reputation you've been building up to this point. If you're seen as a pro's pro, and more especially if you're seen as a bully, you'll be able to intimidate people into submission without resorting to the more conventional cuts and scrapes that would result in a prestige penalty and some unwanted challenge post-race.
This added bit of personality catered to the way a gamer wants to play really helps develop the title. While not as deep as conventional RPG hero building or anything like that, making out your character, taking a touch of management and customization, and then bullying or rallying fans the way you want to play, help make the already robust career mode a touch more personal, and thus more likeable. All of it also carries over from Featherlite Modifieds through the Craftsman Truck and NASCAR National Series before finally falling headlong into the NEXTEL Cup.
Throughout the entire run (and any of the other Lightning or Speed Zone play you do), you'll experience a finely combed graphics engine. This is a point I've found myself arguing with others about, for they believe it to be a straight port of Thunder 2004's engine, but this just isn't true. Granted, it's not like moving from Atari's original Pole Position to Daytona USA, but it's still an improvement.
The new sky boxes, for one, are substantially better and smoother. You'll also find more detailed damage models, and a lot more authentic trackside detail that manages to add a bit to the game's speed sensation. For instance (the most obvious example, I suppose), yellow-clad security reps edge certain tracks. They stick up from the rails at the bleachers. It's not that they're real detailed or anything, but seeing them placed in sequence, spaced out at modest intervals, and passing by at insane speeds, causes a real sense of fast movement. As would be expected, the Xbox version will provide the cleanest visuals of the three, with a seemingly more consistent visual feel, but that's not to put down the other two, still admirable efforts.
The sound, on the other hand, is something there can be no argument over. We're talking about more voice, more music, and higher quality. Yes, the cars still sound like cars and the tracks still sounds like a bloody piece of road underneath some tires, but the level of quality, spread across positional 5.1 (even on PS2, less I be completely deaf) is just phenomenal. The new swooping pack sounds, sudden lulls, and very subtle changes in acoustic patterns when drafting make rushing through lines more intense, but they also often give slight audio cues related to the performance of your car. Sometimes you may find yourself so transfixed in a hot lap that you'll start to hear things that aren't really happening, but it's hardly any fault of the game's audio, unless you're playing the GameCube version. While it's not bad, it's just not as clean as the other two.
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