Ever since the release of Indianapolis 500 almost seven years ago, Papyrus has remained the undisputed king of hard-core racing simulations. While many established software houses have produced offerings with improved graphics, sound, and other frills, none has managed to outperform Papyrus's top-notch driving model.
Daring to tread where so many have failed, upstart Terminal Reality (previously known for the decidedly arcade-like Hellbender and Monster Truck Madness) has produced a surprisingly realistic driving model that not only matches that of Papyrus's excellent IndyCar II in complexity but may even surpass it in some respects. For example, the vehicles in CART Precision actually turn with the front wheels, not the center of gravity. While this may seem like a small matter on paper, it has a great impact onscreen. Essentially, it makes each and every movement of the car seem absolutely credible in both appearance and "feel." Factor in Z-axis motion, and the resulting driving model is dead on.
This excellent driving model is further complemented by a fully functional garage that sets a new standard in racing simulations. Not only are the cars now fully customizable down to the smallest detail, but novice drivers can actually have the computer do all the hard work for them. By answering a series of simple, multiple-choice questions about the car's performance on the track, the computer will actually tweak most of the car's major settings for you. More advanced users will be happy to learn that CART Precision offers a plethora of gears and gadgets to play with, and, if you get a bit confused, a handy voice-over describes the function of each and every rivet at the click of a button.
As if the driving model and garage features were not enough, Microsoft has upped the ante again by incorporating superlative multiplayer capabilities. While most simulations provide some form of LAN and modem support, CART Precision goes one step further by offering unlimited free Internet play for up to eight players via Microsoft's own Internet Gaming Zone.
Of course, all of this attention to detail means nothing without a strong graphics engine to convey a sense of speed. Fortunately, CART precision once again takes the checkered flag. The cars, stadiums, and tracks all appear almost identical to their real-life counterparts and (with a 3Dfx card) move at a very convincing frame rate - even with all effects switched on. In fact, the only hint of slowdown occurs when several cars appear onscreen at once, but this is a minor annoyance.
This is not to say that CART Precision is perfect. For example, Microsoft has insisted that every game it produces maintain a Windows 95 look and feel - regardless of its practicality. What this means for gamers is that every screen has a standard Windows 95 pull-down menu for quick and easy access to most program options. Unfortunately, every time this menu bar is accessed, full-screen 3D accelerators switch off, causing the screen to go black for a few seconds. At 230mph, a few seconds is all it takes to transform your new IndyCar into a greasy smear on the barrier wall. While these menu bars are very helpful for spreadsheets and word processors, they have little practical use within a computer game. Fortunately, the remaining quirks do not truly interfere with gameplay, and can thus be easily dismissed. CART Precision Racing raises the bar for serious racing simulations. While this rather sweeping pronouncement may anger many fans of Papyrus Software's NASCAR and IndyCar sims, there can be little doubt that Microsoft has managed to at least match the complexity and accuracy of the Papyrus offerings, while surpassing them in presentation. If you are a fan of hard-core racing simulations, you must take this CART for a spin.