You've driven 498 hard miles in the sweltering heat of Arizona, sweat has soaked through every inch of fabric that nearly smothers you on a day like this, yet you don't notice. Not now. Now there are only two miles to go -- one lap, and you're three-tenths of a second off the lead. Coming out of turn one, you see your chance. Fittipaldi has drifted high onto the wide bank of asphalt, leaving you a small, but perhaps adequate gap through which to pass him. You reach over, slam down on the turbocharger and gun your fragile bullet of a car up over 160 miles per hour. It's light now -- your tank nearly empty, but not too light to hold its traction on the curve. You hope. Fittipaldi sees you trying to edge past him and cuts down hard on your right flank -- in two hundredths of a second you make the decision to try to shoot past, but your car does not react as fast as your brain, and as you try to beat him out his right tire catches yours and sends you into a sickening spin. For one moment you see the grandstands flip by, then the wall coming fast, then nothing.
Later, when you watch the replay, you see how the wall sheared off one wheel before turning you over and rubbing you wrong-side up for a good 200 yards along the backstretch. In real life, you'd of course be watching the replay -- assuming you survived the crash -- from the extreme discomfort of your body cast. Fortunately for those of us with a lust for things that go fast and crash hard, game makers like Papyrus have afforded us the opportunity to try breakneck stunts and come away with a cool video of us kissing the wall instead of a pair of crutches. And so it is in IndyCar 2, Papyrus' latest offering in their increasingly impressive line of racing sims.
One of the stronger selling points for IndyCar 2 is its realistic driving model. Of course, there are times when this is also a weak point, but I'll get to that in a minute. Using my SideWinder, the Indy cars responded quickly and well, even when running with all the graphics options turned on. This was a nice surprise after coming up against a hardware wall with a couple of flight sims recently. The control basics of IndyCar are very simple and straightforward, but trying some of the more arcane keyboard commands in the manual -- i.e. talking with your pit crew while rocketing around the track -- can easily be fatal. Still, overall, the driving model that Papyrus has created has a nice feel -- it really seems like you're sliding out of a curve and wrenching your car back in line as you hit the straightaway. And that brings me back to one of the major the weaknesses in this game: the controls, even in my non-Indy car driving opinion, are too realistic. Yes, OK, maybe you think that I'm a weenie because I can't handle the fact that it's tough to hold a real Indy car on the track, but once again, this gets back to my main gripe about many, many games: they're supposed to be games first and foremost. Yes, simulations are cool. Yes, realism (to an extent) is good, but quite frankly, it is way too easy, even with the game variables altered in favor of "weenie," to wipe out, mess up, oversteer, kiss the wall, visit the grandstands, etc., etc. And when the variables are set to the "normal" realism mode, a driver can expect to last perhaps 5 to 10 laps before some minor miscalculation rips off a wheel or fatally damages some part of the car. While crashes can be a fun addition and challenge in any racing game, they are just too frequent and too destructive in IndyCar 2 -- if the average Joe computer racing jockeys in the world really had what it takes to drive an Indy car, being a pro driver would be as exciting a career as busing tables. And that's where a GAME is supposed to bridge the gap between reality and fun.
This is point #2 where IndyCar 2 falls down. I mentioned earlier that I was pleased to have the game run smoothly with all the graphical options turned on; the problem is that even with all the options turned on, the graphics are frankly not that great. In Papyrus' defense, though, during the game you really don't notice the lack of graphical sophistication all that much, since the action is gripping and the competition is fierce.
Speaking of competition, one of the really nice touches in IndyCar 2 is the ability to "weight" your opponents' strength: you can set their top speed up or down up to 20% from their normal speed. This is a great ability to have when you're first learning the game, and it is a control feature that other game makers should make note of when designing their racers. Now then, at full strength, the opponents in IndyCar 2 are, well, as good as Indy car drivers. That means that they regularly and summarily will kick your butt. Why anyone would want to set the opponents' top speed over 100% is beyond me, unless you didn't get a good enough chance to read the sponsors on their tail fins when they were passing you at their normal speed. But set your opponents down to 80% and you have yourself a race. Better still, fire up your modem (or LAN if you're fortunate enough to work somewhere that has one and lets you play on the weekends) and take on some real human opponents. This is where IndyCar 2 shines, as other human players are just as good (or bad) as you are and must deal with the same control difficulties as you do.
This is one area where IndyCar 2 really lets you go to town ... or rather, to the garage, paint shop, pit area, machine shop, etc. You can even go so far as to decorate your driver's helmet with a decal of your choice, paint your car purple, and put a big, nasty skull and crossbones on your hood. Papyrus gave you just about every option they could think of here, and it's a great addition to the game. Of course, you can also mess with the more crucial settings on your car: choose your tires, how much they're inflated, how your camber and toes are set, how your wing is adjusted, and on and on. If you're into every detail, you'll probably love this feature so much that you'll spend as much time tinkering as racing. Just don't start bragging to your friends how your suspension adjustments allowed you to reduce your drag coefficient enough to win at Loudon, or you will find yourself qualifying for gaming geek of the year honors.
486-DX33, 8 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, 12 MB hard drive space, VGA
video card, keyboard
IndyCar 2 is quite a lot of fun, especially against human opponents. There will be better race sims, better race games, possibly even in the not too distant future, but for the intended audience and niche, IndyCar 2 performs admirably. The strong points of this game tend to at least balance with the weak ones, so while I can't give this second incarnation of IndyCar an unequivocable thumbs up, I would give it an 80 out of 100 -- buy it if you want a great model of Indy car racing, but approach with some caution if you just want a slick, pretty racing game.
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