IndyCar Racing. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Stunning 3-D texture mapping, user control over almost every variable, and real-world attention to physics make this the benchmark racing simulation of the future.
Rarely have so many creative ideas come together with such perfect precision as in Papyrus Publishing's IndyCar Racing, the new benchmark for all future driving simulations. The game was designed by David Kaemmer, author of Electronic Arts' 1989 8-bit bestseller, Indianapolis 500: The Simulation. Kaemmer combines his previous expertise with new breakthrough graphic and 3-D modeling routines, taking full advantage of today's 32-bit processing power. The results will leave you breathless.
Eight challenging tracks in the official Indy car circuit are included, and additional track disks are currently in development. All curves, banks, and dips in elevation in the actual speedways are painstakingly rendered. The available tracks offer an incredible variety of racing challenges. Tackle the mean streets of urban courses like Toronto's, famous for its hairpin turns, chicanes, and towering offtrack landscape. If speed's your thing, you can run hell-bent for glory at the all-time speed champ, Michigan's Super Speedway. Requiring something between finesse and flatout insanity. Monterey's Laguna Seca is a 2.2-mile masterpiece of track design that's sure to be a favorite stop on your racing circuit.
By IndyCar Racing isn't just for speed demons: It's structured to offer equal appeal to desktop mechanics. Prerace options include a choice of six styles of racing chassis and five engine types. Realism settings allow you to select the race length, from 1 to 100 percent of each track's full lap count. All races can be saved and restored in progress. You can set the weather to constant or random, including variables such as temperature, wind strength and direction, and rain. Rookies can turn off the car damage variable. This, combined with optional computer-assisted braking and autoshifting, effectively turns the simulation into a game of high-tech bumper cars.
One-player game modes include single races and the full championship season. Head-to-head games require two computers connected via null or remote modem links. Modem play is virtually indistinguishable from single-player mode: Your human opponent simply becomes part of the pack. No chat mode is available, but there are onscreen icons that alert you to broken connections. Unlike most modem-compatible games, IndyCar Racing supports COM ports 1-4 and most nonstandard IRQ settings.
The simulation's hallmark feature is its extraordinary attention to real-world physics. Car-handling characteristics are intricately influenced by a daunting number of variables, from track grade and tire pressure to the downdraft created by a full fuel tank. Enter the garage to fine-tune your suspension, fuel load, wing settings, gearbox ratios, and tires. Every adjustment produces a realtime effect. If you find a killer combination for a particular track, save the settings to disk. Three generic presets (fast, easy, and ace) are available for those not interested in tinkering under the hood. And Papyrus's analog joystick routine should be an industry standard--it's tight, responsive, and capable of holding its calibration between racing sessions.
Key to much of the program's visual success is advanced 3-D texture mapping. The proprietary 3-D modeling engine developed by Papyrus is called SuperTexture, a technique that results in detailed surface texturing, rendered in realtime, from any perspective. This stunning visual trick offers the best of two worlds: the raw speed of polygon-based graphics with the color and realism of bitmapped textures.
SuperTexture is used to fill blank trackside billboards with colorful logos of corporate sponsors and to splash authentic numbers, colors, and sponsor decals onto each car. Other examples of high-speed texture mapping have less to do with cosmetic appeal than genuine on-track realism. Textured asphalt--a blur of multishaded streaks and track discoloration--creates a marvelous illusion of speed. The designers have evoked stout depth of field here; you get an honest sense of movement across a solid, 3-D foreground. It's the closest thing to the rush of real driving that you'll find on the computer screen.
The price for graphics approaching photorealism is processor speed and memory. Although the game runs well at its minimum system requirement, don't expect to use all the graphic frills without experiencing a significant drop in performance. The program detects your system's capability and automatically sets what it considers the appropriate graphic level and animation frame rate. You can tweak these settings manually from the main menu, selectively turning on or off peripheral details, and then test-drive your choices. Your first indication that graphic detail is set too high is a noticeable difficulty in steering. If you're struggling with the joystick, tone down any nonessential graphics. Those with an 80486/33 or higher should enjoy smooth performance at maximum detail.
This game absolutely swims in cutting-edge visual effects. Some of the best are not merely aesthetically pleasing but closely tied to on-track performance. Not sure of the optimum line? Just follow each track's groove, a blackened line caused by years of constant tire friction. Take a spin through the grass, and you'll kick up a realistic cloud of dust. Slam into any solid object at top speed and expect to lose at least one tire. In a close race, accidents often result in spectacular multicar pileups, rendered with bone-jarring realism involving explosions, smoke, and tires and debris scattered down the quarter-mile stretch.
Don't expect to be the only cause of track mishaps, as in many other racing games. When you see the yellow caution flag, prepare to dodge one or more cars stopped dead. Likewise, while other simulations feature dangerously stubborn computer drivers who invite disaster by relentlessly hogging the road, the Al employed here works to avoid collisions. If you dog the driver ahead of you, he'll usually move off the line and allow you to pass. Expect both competition and professional courtesy from your fellow drivers, who are modeled after real-life veterans like Al Unser, Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, and Danny Sullivan.
About the only thing more exciting than driving in IndyCar Racing is watching breathtaking replays of skillful maneuvers, photo finishes, and spectacular crashes. As is not the case with most efforts in the genre, IndyCar Racing's replays are limited only by available memory. Another nice touch: Replays automatically cue to the leading moments before a major event, such as a finish or a crash. If you'd like to view the entire replay, use the VCR-style interface to rewind the tape to its beginning.
Of course, only two or three camera angles simply won't do. IndyCar Racing's replay feature records your glory (and agony) from seven spectacular positions: in-car, which is behind the right front tire; gear box, which lets you look backward; chase car; sky; blimp; and two at trackside. Capture some particularly stunning footage? You can save it to disk for later playback. About the only thing lacking here is the ability to edit replays to create full-length racing highlights.
IndyCar Racing is a major accomplishment, combining full-throttle action and strategic challenge for both new and experienced racing fans. It's one of those rare simulations that you'll grow into, not out of, as you race repeatedly for the checkered flag.