I shoulda taken that left turn in Miami.
The goal of real-world licensed racing games is to be realistic (I'm not talking about Pen Pen Tri-Icelon here). The whole idea is to make you feel like you are Al Unser Jr., racing along at over 200MPH, zooming around those corners and turns. CART Flag to Flag Racing, on the other hand makes you feel like you're in wacky computer reality, with some profoundly wierd mistakes.
The graphics are decent, due the the Dreamcast's impressive engine, but they are also sort of bland. Yes, there are a few local landmarks for each track, mud does fly onto your visor on occasion, and there's no slowdown, even when all the cars are on the screen at one time. However, after a while all the tracks start to look the same. Always the same pavement, always the same advertisements on the walls, always the same barriers, there really isn't all that much that's different from track to track.
Like most CART games, although there may be a ton of tracks, about half of all of them are ovals, while the other half just have lots of sharp turns, without too much variation. Now this isn't too much of a problem by itself. The point of racing on an oval track is to test your mettle against other racers (or friends), and see who's the best.
To make an oval into an interesting game, the AI has to be halfway decent, to make sure you get a good challenge. But once you get the hang of the controls in Flag to Flag, the other cars are pushovers. Within days, one of my friends completed his life-long dream to lap the 2nd place car.
One thing the game does have is customization up the wazoo. During the championship races, you can change tire type, aerodynamics, amount of fuel, and even change the gear ratios for each gear. Not quite Gran Turismo, but still nice. On the other hand, it would be even nicer if you had different cars to choose from. In Flag to Flag there is only one, standard, indy style car. It's true you can pick from about thirty different drivers, but there isn't any difference between the cars, or the way you drive. A little disappointing.
The controls, although not incredible, are at least usable. They try to simulate how hard it is to turn at high speeds by decreasing how far you can turn as you go faster. This leaves you with a problem at ultra fast speeds, because you can hardly turn at all. It may save you a few spin-outs, but it's not very realistic, and it takes a little while to get used to.
Speaking of physics, the physics model in the game is nuts! They probably break every law of physics somewhere in the game. Let's say you go barreling headfirst into the track wall. Crash you say? No. Damage your car? No. All that happens is that you stop with a little crsssh sound. No real jar, you simply go from 200 to 0 in less than a tenth of a second. Even if you suicidally drive backwards along the track (I have problems), you can actually pass right through the other cars! The grass acts as a mystical object that slows you down to 50 for no apparent reason. That's some good grass.
The best part of Flag to Flag, like most racing games, is the two player mode. This is always fun to a degree, and there's still no slowdown in sight, but you and your friend will still have to deal with all of the other flaws that are already in this game.
The only other bonus I can think of in this game is the official CART licence, giving you all the drivers, official logos, and sponsors. So if you just need to see that cart logo on your game, this dud's for you. I'm guessing all of the real CART fanatics jumped into their cars and raced for the local game store after that last sentence, so for all of you still with me, this game is not the game you should be spending your money on. There are plenty of better, more entertaining racing games for the Dreamcast. So unless your first reaction to the word "CART" is to reach for your checkbook, keep on driving and don't turn left into the Flag to Flag parking lot.