World of Outlaws: Sprint Cars 2002 is a game that focuses on the niche motorsport of sprint car racing. While many people haven't even heard of the sport, most would recognize the distinct design of the speedy vehicles, with their partially exposed frame and trademark roof wing. The idea is simple, and anyone who is somewhat familiar with NASCAR--or any form of automotive racing, for that matter--ought to be able to pick it up with a little practice. The game is for the most part a simulation of real-life racing, with a strong career mode and a number of customization options. There are also elements to it that make it accessible to those who are looking to try something new, but overall, this is a game that is aimed directly at sprint car racing fans. As such, the developmental focus was clearly on the gameplay, seemingly at the expense of the audio and visual aspects of the game.
In order to understand how the game works, you'll need a basic understanding of how the sport of sprint car racing works. Sprint car races are fundamentally different from other racing events due to the fact that they take place on dirt instead of pavement. With that in mind, the design of the vehicles is drastically different from that of formula or stock cars. Sprint cars are lightweight, usually weighing less than 1,300 pounds, and very powerful, featuring high displacement engines that can crank out upward of 800 horsepower. Sprint cars regularly hit speeds of 170mph in races, and due to their light body weight, they need to employ a large wing that sits atop the vehicle and uses airflow to keep the car rooted to the ground. Also, taking into consideration that the tracks are ovular and that most of the turns consist of extended powerslides, the right rear tire is abnormally large to accommodate the extra weight and pressure that is put on it in each turn.
World of Outlaws has a number of different modes to choose from. The most basic of these are the time trial and single race options, both of which are self-explanatory. There is also an arcade championship mode that lets you jump right in and start as part of a professional racing team, complete with your own vehicle and free maintenance. The career mode is the most in-depth of all the options, as it puts you in the shoes of an aspiring sprint car driver. You'll start off with just enough cash to buy a basic car and enter a local event. The goal is to win the event, or at least place high enough in it to begin building your reputation as a racer. One of the keys to success is impressing sponsors, who will offer you contracts if you do well enough. At first, because you're low on funds, you'll have to wait for events to come to your local track. As your wealth and reputation grow, you'll be able to travel to larger events with larger prizes and more visibility.
Each event consists of a battery of races and a somewhat complicated process of progression and elimination that you'll need to brave on your way to the prize. At the beginning of each championship or career race, you'll have the option of taking a few practice laps to get warmed up. While every track is essentially an oval, you'll find that each is completely different once you're up and racing. The texture of the track and traction of your tires changes slightly after each lap, as dirt is packed down more in the middle of the track, while the looser dirt is thrown out to the sides. The packed dirt in the middle of the track is good for making a quick run down a straightaway, but the more tacky dirt that piles up on the inside berm or outside cushion make for much better control while taking turns. Once you've gotten a feel for the track, you can move on ahead to the qualifying race.
The qualifying race has you complete three laps around the track. The first is to get you up to speed, while the second and third have you trying to post a good time for each. The times you post in these laps are compared with the times of other qualifying racers, and the starting position of each racer is decided in this way. After you've received your position, you'll move on to one of two heats involving 12 racers each. The heats usually consist of five laps, and the top six cars from each heat move on to the trophy dash, while the bottom six cars from each heat are pushed into the B race. The racers participating in the trophy dash race another five laps or so to vie for a better starting position in the main event. The racers in the B race complete another five laps as well, and the top four cars from this event are brought back into the main event.
After this somewhat complicated and grueling process of elimination and progression, the top 12 cars will compete for the trophy in the main race, which typically consists of 15 to 20 laps. By the time you've reached the end of the event, it's highly likely that you'll have completed more that 30 laps total, and in the career mode, chances are that you'll need to pay for some repairs and tuning. Needless to say it can be frustrating to go through all this and lose. This is where the game clearly appeals more to the hard-core sprint car racing fan and may scare off the casual gamer.
The gameplay is solid, and the physics are top-notch. The cars all control quite well, and you'll learn to appreciate the nuances of this style of racing. You can adjust the game's difficulty in any mode other than the career mode. The adjustment in difficulty is reflected by the change in handling of the car. On the easy setting, you'll be heavily aided by the computer when you make turns, as it watches your speed and handles most of the necessary breaking. The medium difficulty still aids you in turning, but not nearly as much. The most difficult mode, outlaw, removes all handling assistance and boosts the skill level of your opponents to the maximum. Outlaw mode is quite difficult, and it is only for those who have spent a good amount of time with the game.
Clearly, there is a lot of depth to the game, but the audio and visual elements are unfortunately pretty subpar. The graphics aren't especially detailed, though the car models and textures are pretty slick. The game has a drab, earthy look to it that becomes very monotonous, especially considering the high number of laps you need to complete in each race. Essentially, the only things you'll see in the game will be the tracks, which are all very similar looking, and your garage. At least the dirt does get lighter and darker, depending on what time of day you're racing.
the game's sound is clearly its weakest component. The races themselves are barren of any music, consisting entirely of engine and tire noises. The engines sound good, and you'll get used to listening to their pitch and using it as an auditory cue for accelerating and decelerating, but that's really the high point of the audio. Aside from that and the sparse in-game sound, there's only the dull clunking sound and the quickly forgettable music you'll hear as you navigate the bland menu system.
World of Outlaws: Sprint Cars 2002 is clearly a game that will appeal to fans of the real-life motorsport. The game certainly leans more toward the simulation style of gameplay than the arcade style, and it therefore doesn't have as broad an appeal as it might have had. An effort was made to make it more accessible through the inclusion of some of the more forgiving modes, but the grueling nature of the long racing events will probably turn a lot of people off. With that said, racing fans who are looking for something completely different would be wise to check this game out. Chances are that they'll be in for a nice little surprise.