"He rubbed ya...and rubbin', son, is racin'."
- Robert Duvall, Days of Thunder
Many folks can't see the logic or entertainment value in stock car racing. What they see is a bunch of good-ol-boys driving laps in an oval, each racer dedicated to getting their big shot in Daytona, where they will drive many more laps in an oval. Ask around. Ask, what's the most exciting aspect of stock car racing? I'll bet you my autographed Motley Crue CD they'll say, " I just like it when they crash."
Pretty pathetic really, people watching a race for the sole purpose of hopefully seeing a 750 horsepower car explode. I've observed this firsthand, someone flipping through the channels, discontent with Thundercats and Oprah, stop on stock car racing and express their excitement in hoping to see a crash. When there is no crash in say, a 25-second time span, it's right back to the Christopher Lowell show. And I have to admit I'm one of those people. Nascar doesn't get any play at my house unless I see either smoke, fire, or some other form of chaos.
However, Nascar is a billion dollar industry with cash flowing in from fans and hundreds of sponsors, so it would only make sense that EA produce a series based on the sport. But while past versions of this game have done well, the PS2 version is something of a letdown.
EA boasts new technology designed especially for the system to enhance the 3D graphics. Well, the Hindenburg and Titanic had, in their times, state-of-the-art technology, but their designers aren't bragging anymore. Graphically, this game is a mess. I believe that people who face eviction for spending rent money on a PS2 deserve better. As I sit here, controller in hand, Country rock a-blastin' while quoting Days of Thunder lines, I stop in the middle of my Robert Duvall impression when I see the car models. While the player car model is palatable, the opposing drivers' cars are not. In fact, in comparing the rival cars from the Playstation version, it is hard to distinguish the two.
The area around the track and the backgrounds suffer the same fate; they're jaggier than Rambo's knife. After inflicting damage to my M&M sponsored car I go in to pit, only to be greeted by a heavily pixilated crew who look like they came straight out of an 8-bit Nintendo game.
Although the graphics are archaic, the controls are actually quite good. Racing games today follow two types of control - Arcade or Simulation. Nascar 2001 offers both, making it suitable for racing fans who have a preference - the Arcade mode gives the player unbelievable control and is recommended for beginners, while Nascar fans who want the experience to be a little more realistic should choose Simulation. This means anyone who slams their foot on the gas (or rather pushes the analog stick all the way up) from a stop position will sit there for a while and melt tires.
Most racers today rely on parts that can be added to increase performance. The cars o' Nascar rely on modifications of pre-existing parts, meaning that modifications in stock car racing play a smaller role, and the emphasis is on the drivers abilities. EA goes into extreme detail in how the cars can be tweaked. Gear ratios, down force and shocks are fairly standard, but this game takes it a bit further. You can now check tire pressure, determine the wheel lock, and even specify the fuel load.
If you're playing Nascar for the first time, get ready for some left turns...a lot of left turns. Racing in this arena requires the driver to run laps counter-clockwise on an oval track. The game itself has 24+ tracks and 17 of them are ovals. How's that for variation. The non-oval tracks are probably just in there for those arcade style racers.
Sadly, the best thing about this game is testing the crash physics. I like to stop in the middle of the track, turn around and hit the gas, then watch the group of cars coming and wonder which is going to lose his standing. To my delight, the crashes in this game are superb. Not only does the car fly into the air, but debris from the car litters the track and remains throughout the race. Neat.
The biggest problem with Nascar 2001 is it's reliance on the Nascar license to succeed. Fans of racing games tend to prefer a variety of cars and complication in the tracks. Nascar 2001 provides neither - the cars are eerily similar and the tracks are kept brutally simple.
Frankly, this game is for hardcore Nascar fans only. The crummy presentation and relatively boring gameplay make it a tough sell for general racing fans. If you absolutely have to play this game because your friends said it was cool, do one of two things. One, remember that you're a strong individual and that you don't give in to peer pressure. Two, rent it first.