For those familiar with NASCAR, a video game with a title like Jarrett and Labonte Stock Car Racing is sure to spring to mind thoughts of oval racing on a hot summer's day, where Jason Jarrett and Juston Labonte are neck and neck to the finish line of the Daytona 500. This is, however, not the case - in fact, Jarrett and Labonte Stock Car Racing has nothing to do with NASCAR nor with Jason Jarrett and Juston Labonte, but it is nevertheless a rather surprisingly in-depth, realistic racer that video game racing fans should definitely check out.
The game is, in fact, the unofficial third installment to the TOCA series, which, while mildly popular, didn't have enough depth when it was stacked up against the likes of Gran Turismo. This year, however, Jarrett and Labonte Stock Racing has taken the TOCA engine to a whole new level with a tweaked physics model and more features, cars, and tracks than before. In all, the game offers 42 cars, including models from well-known manufacturers such as Ford, Dodge, BMW, Lexus, and Chrysler. You can race across the world on 23 real-world tracks including Laguna Seca, Suzuka, and Hockenhiemring. The tracks have been painstakingly re-created through various methods: The developers took countless photos, tons of video, and even used helicopters and laser scans of each track to ensure that the details of each track in the game were as exact as possible.
The gameplay has an ultrarealistic feel to it, thanks to an accurate physics model that not only shows the car lean from the stress of a turn, but also totally lets you stay in control with tight responsive controls. The cars all react realistically to collisions, turns, and even damage. If you slam the front end of your car into a wall or an unfortunate opponent, your bumper is likely to fall off, and if it's a serious collision, you may cause an engine fire. The damage your car takes actually affects how it handles, which means that sometimes your car will pull to the left or right, forcing you to compensate.
Visually, Jarrett and Labonte Stock Car Racing is very impressive. One of the best things about the game's graphics is how realistically the cars show the damage that they are dealt. Codemasters used a dynamic polygonal deformation damage system, which appropriately shows damage on the part of the car you collide with. By far, it is the best car damage system we've seen. When you have a bit of trouble with the front of your car, headlights are appropriately knocked out, which makes night races even more fun. The car models, before they get all beat up, are very detailed and extremely realistic looking. You can play the game from a standard chase view or a standard cockpit view, which allows you to see everything you'd see inside of a real stock car, including a working instrument panel. The game even features a Matrix-styled 360-degree freeze-frame camera effect that highlights exciting moments, like collisions during the game's replay of a race. You can find little extras around the track, such as hot air balloons in the sky and other small but interesting elements.
In the audio department, Jarrett and Labonte Stock Car Racing is packed with all sorts of goodies. Its soundtrack includes music by Offspring, Methods of Mayhem, Radiator, Lit, and Moby. Ned Jarrett provides the commentary for the game, which is a great addition since he's been doing it for the real sport for more than 30 years now.
In the end, Jarrett and Labonte Stock Car Racing is a solid racing game that's great fun for anyone who really enjoys spending a great deal of time learning all the ins and outs of a totally in-depth racing game. It's definitely one of the best PlayStation racing games to come out this year.