NASCAR 2001 Preview

The development team at Electronic Arts that is currently putting together NASCAR 2001 for the PS2 took some time out to give us a look at the game in its current state and to tell us what they're planning for the world's first next-generation NASCAR title.

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While still rather early in its development cycle, NASCAR 2001 already looks quite impressive. In terms of the features and options that will be found in the game, the producers let us know that the game will feature 35 active drivers and cars from the 2000 season. Some of the drivers featured in the game include top names like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Dale Jarrett, and Bobby Labonte. The game will also include a few special drivers like Richard Petty and Adam Petty. Other features in the game include the ability to choose between racing a full or half a NASCAR season, or to choose to compete on track packs - race just on short tracks, road courses, speedways, fantasy tracks, or superspeedways. EA went all out this year in putting official tracks in NASCAR 2001 - in all, the game will contain 14 official NASCAR tracks, including Darlington, Sears Point, and for the first time, Daytona.

Visually, NASCAR 2001 looks fairly decent. The 3D models used for the cars are extremely detailed, and they appear closer to the real-life articles than in any previous NASCAR game, although the lack of any antialiasing makes the edges of the cars and other objects in the game appear jagged. Despite this and a bit of slowdown, the game is quite impressive-looking, which for this stage of development is promising. The producers of NASCAR 2001 claim that the game will run at a constant 60 frames per second without any slowdown by the time it is completed. Spectacular smoke effects help set up scenarios similar to those seen in the Days of Thunder movie, and you'll have to decide whether to go high or low as you pass through a blanket of smoke that conceals the exact location of damaged vehicles.

In its current state, the game has a basic control setting that seems to be fairly solid. In fact, the control really gives you the sense that the car is real, that it's heavy, and that you're one unfocused moment away from disaster - much in the same way that Gran Turismo does. In the final game you'll also be able to choose between several different types of control settings, including simulation and arcade.

The producers want the simulation mode to be the most realistic interpretation of NASCAR racing ever. To do this, EA is spending a great deal of time working on the AI of each racer so that the drivers will react and drive like their real-life counterparts. Each driver will be rated in multiple categories such as aggression. Dale Earnhardt takes the turns low into the corner, while Jeff Gordon is smooth and consistent in and out of the turns. Moreover, drivers will perform better on certain tracks than on others, according to their real-life performance histories. When the cars hit each other, the damage will show and affect the cars' handling, and in exceptionally hard crashes the cars' engines will actually catch on fire.

After playing the game, it's apparent that EA is trying to create a game that looks, feels, and plays more like a real NASCAR race than any other game has before. Whether they'll be able to accomplish this task is a question that will be answered only when the game is released this November.

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