What? Another Left Turn?
Yeeeeeehaaaaa! Time to mount that gun rack to the back of your pickup and head on down to the track for another season of video NASCAR racing. So all you racing fans who can't wait to burn rubber and make countless left turns get ready to strap on your helmet and jump into the drivers seat!
Well, there it was. I attempted to make EA's NASCAR '99 as exciting as possible so you would read this far, but now the charade must come to end. Maybe I just don't appreciate the sport of stock car racing as much as I should, because in my opinion this occasionally boring sport translates into a consistently boring video game.
As you may already know, 99% of stock car races involve only left turns on short tracks (laps usually take anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds). NASCAR '99 does feature 17 authentic tracks (somehow leaving out Daytona!?!), and even lets you race some tracks under the flood lights at night. But unless you're a hard core racing fan, all the tracks end up looking pretty much the same.
The game also features 37 different NASCAR drivers and cars, complete with detailed bios and sponsors. There's even six hidden NASCAR legends, such as Richard Petty, that you can unlock by winning certain races. Unfortunately, you need to enter these races at a minimum of 50% actual length. This means you'll be racing about 100-160 laps, as opposed to the 6-12 lap races you're accustomed to on video games. Yeah right - like I'm gonna spend 2 hours making 500 left turns just to unlock a new driver.
Lets move on to graphics. The individual car graphics are excellent - very detailed and realistic. You can see pieces of your car flying off when you crash into walls, or, in my case, watch pieces of your opponents' cars flying off after you ram them. Also, there are a variety of cool views to choose from, so you can find one that fits your style best. The rest of the game's graphics, however, leave much to be desired. The grass along the raceways looks like concrete painted green, and the pits and grandstands aren't much better. It feels like you're racing a Playstation car in an Atari 2600 setting.
The feel of the car as you drive seems very realistic. Although I haven't yet mastered that all important left turn, I can tell there is a definite right way to handle your NASCAR racer. The adjustments you can make before and during the race (i.e. tire pressure, gear ratio, etc.) make a noticeable impact on the way your car drives. Plus, the instruction booklet actually tells you exactly what each adjustment means. Kudos to EA for that one!
The pit crew options in NASCAR '99 show both strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, your pit crew talks to you while you're on the track, letting you know where other cars are in relation to you (which almost makes up for the lack of a rear view mirror) and when you should come into the pits. Actually going to the pits, however, is rather unexciting. You just choose what you want fixed and they do it. I remember in Days of Thunder, a game for the SNES, you actually had to control your pit crew manually so you could work on decreasing your time in the pits. That's something EA might want to think about for next year...
In addition to hearing your pit crew during the race, you also hear the television announcers. As in most other video games, these guys get boring and repetitive after about 20 minutes. And for some reason they keep telling you about the safety features of your car. Hey, come on guys, I'm playing a video game here. What do I care about safety for? I've got a reset button!
Another feature that could have been cool but just didn't pan out is drafting. In racing, drafting is a strategy wherein you tailgate your opponent in order to cut down on your own wind resistance. The game makes this technique entirely too easy, and it always seems to work a little too well.
A couple more good points about the game before I finish up...You can run through a championship season, and EA stays true to form by making the points rankings identical to NASCAR's real life system. Also, the two-player split screen mode is pretty fun, because it usually turns into a 'bumper car' battle between you and your friend. Other than that though, I just don't feel this game has much to offer.