We got the black flag.
As most racing fans know, NASCAR Racing 2
has few real
competitors in the slow-growing genre of realistic driving simulators. While arcade
racers are piling up faster than a first-turn wipeout at the Bristol International,
only Grand Prix II
Car Racing II
and Microsoft's new CART Precision
offer authentic physics, pit-crews, spotter relays, modeled tracks,
weather variance and simulated professional opponents. The dearth of choices surely
means that the NASCAR Grand National Series Expansion Pack
is welcome news
to NASCAR Racing 2
Now most expansion packs
can be placed into one of three categories: those that give you what the original
game promised but lacked (the add-on for X-Wing vs.
Tie Fighter that will finally provide a strong single-player campaign);
those that extend a great game to new heights (the Quake
add-on, Scourge of Amargon, that had new weapons, monsters, destructible
architecture and better single-player levels than Quake);
or those that extend the game's life by giving you more of the same (the new
campaigns for Longbow in the Gold edition,
for example). The NASCAR Grand National Series Expansion Pack falls safely
into the third category.
Though there are a variety of ways the year-old NASCAR
Racing 2 could have been substantially improved -- 3Dfx support, in-game
music, pit-crew animations, a rethinking of the menu structure, better on-line
help -- none of these enhancements have been made. Instead, the add-on offers
new cars, drivers and ten tracks from the 1997 Grand National Circuit. A painless
installation creates a "Season Schedule" option on the Race Weekend menu; from
here you can choose the original 1996 circuit or the new expansion circuit.
As a bonus, Papyrus/Sierra has included two extremely fun "fantasy" Need
for Speed-style tracks which are quite unlike any of the realistic rides
you'll normally find in the original NASCAR Racing 2.
The hefty 65 MB add-on also updates the original by fixing a few multiplayer
bugs and providing a new mid-race save feature--after the third lap you can
now save your race while you are driving.
My favorite new track is
the Texas Motor Speedway; this is the one place you can mash the gas with little
or no breaking and still survive. Other notables are the expansive California
Speedway (another long track rendered in wonderful detail) and the Hickory Motor
and South Boston Speedways--two short tracks (under a half-mile) which makes
for non-stop swerving and dodging even if you're ten laps down. In general,
the new tracks have a slight bit more detail than the original NASCAR tacks;
you'll still see the requisite spectators, RVs, advertisements, trees, camera
crews, announcers and a few surprises here and there.
NASCAR Racing 2 fanatics who have mastered the 1996
circuit will obviously consider this expansion pack a "must-have." And for frustrated
drivers, the new ability to save races in progress will certainly be welcome.
But apart from this new save feature, the NASCAR Expansion Pack offers
no significant improvement in gameplay, graphics, or sound. This raises the
question of value. I suspect that for most users -- who probably never even
made it through the copious tracks in NASCAR Racing 2
-- this add-on will just be overkill. The fantasy tracks and bug updates are
available online for free (www.sierra.com),
and $29.95 is a high price to pay for just ten tracks and a new set of computerized
opponents. For the addicted, the NASCAR Racing 2 Grand National Series Expansion
Pack is a good fix -- it may even stave off the shakes until Christmas 98
when NASCAR Racing 3 should be out. For the rest of you, hold out on