IndyCar Series

Review

posted 10/16/2003 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
One Page Platforms: PC
Rather than a robust simulation, Codemasters has produced a console game and ported it to the PC. Because of this, it will receive a rightfully cool reception from the dedicated PC racer. It has a very unrefined interface which exhibits itself almost instantly when it comes to configuring controllers. The configuration application is separate from the game itself, and requires the program to switch out to the Windows desktop. Ick. To add insult to injury, it is by far the suckiest configuration application I've come across in years. It is ugly, and it is counterintuitive. Once (if?) you do manage to get your wheel and pedals configured, you will switch back into the game itself, where you will be presented with a menu system that screams "CONSOLE!!" I hate it, but I’m getting used to it.

Get through all that, though, and you finally get to the racing. That's what it's all about anyway, right? Well, be ready to take the bad with the good. A major downer is that you cannot drive in and out of the pits yourself – you hit the pit lane are the game takes over. This removes a major competitive element from the racing. Guys that are good at getting in and out of the pits can make up multiple track positions on each cycle. Guys that suck at it, conversely, can lead for lap after lap, then drop to tenth after a pit stop. Not having any control over this aspect of the race is a real disappointment. On the good side, there are a couple of ways of getting into a race. You can go through the qualifying process, including the very complex qualifying format that is exclusive to the Indy 500, or you can choose a quick race. The quick race option allows you to choose any track, and to choose whether to start in the front, rear, or middle of the pack.

In-car graphics, on the other hand, go the extra mile from “good with the bad” to “just completely suck.” There are no side mirrors (making the signature side-by-side IRL racing a bit hair raising to say the least), the drivers arms seem to be constructed of no more than three polygons, and there is no system display on the steering wheel like there is in the real cars. This information is presented in a graphic on the lower right side of the screen. Suspension of disbelief? We don't need no stinkin' suspension of disbelief. All that aside, the absolute gravest omission is the lack of either side mirrors or a ‘look left – look right’ capability. You do have a spotter that is supposed to tell you when another car is next to you, but it isn’t always reliable, and doesn’t tell you the relative position of the other car. Is it right alongside, or just poking its nose in? Makes a difference as to the line you choose for the next turn if the guy is far enough back that you can shut the door on him. There is a ‘look behind’ view, but it is suicidal to try this just as you’re entering a turn. “Car, meet immovable wall” is the typical outcome of sneaking a backwards peek at the entry point of a turn.

But, another good side: once you look outside the lame car cockpit things look really good. Other cars are well detailed, and the special effects (tire smoke, sparks, fire, etc.) that result from the inevitable spins and crashes are awesome. The sense of speed that comes from going 200+ mph just a few inches from the wall and/or the car in front of you is quite believable. A nice little touch is the way dirt shows on the tires after an off-track foray. You can watch it disappear from the tires once you get back on the pavement. The tracks are well modeled and quite good looking, and include nice bumps in some of the turns to break the car loose and smack it into the wall. The force feedback models these well, and you eventually learn where they are and how to deal with them.
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