If you're familiar with Paradigm Entertainment, then you know it produced two completely different racing games prior to Indy Racing 2000. So where does that leave this third child? Is it simulation to the bone like F-1 World Grand Prix? Or an awesome arcade thriller like Beetle Adventure Racing? Thankfully, the company went light on real-world driving characteristics and heavy on arcade gameplay in Indy Racing 2000. Thank you, Paradigm. The last thing the N64 needs is another stuffy racing simulation.
Despite the game's formal appearance, it's not complicated in the least. Play modes include single race, championship, gold cup, and two-player. The meat of the title whisks you through an IRL (Indy Racing League) season, hitting just about every track in the circuit - including the ol' Brickyard. By the way, it's a big deal that Indy is included, as license conflicts have kept it unavailable for quite some time. The track itself is very long, making it perfect for maximum speeds. Other than that, it's no more or less exciting than the rest. Several other fantasy tracks are contained in the gold cup mode. This portion lets you rise through the ranks of a make-believe league with Midget, Sprint, and Formula 2000 cars. Starting with the Midget cars, you compete in several races earning points for first, second, and third place. At the end of the six event series, your tally is applied to your IRL standing. Accumulate the required amount, and it's on to the next class of vehicle. While the championship mode provides a fair amount of depth, this "bonus" mode really beefs up the game. The tracks are more like road courses (the IRL ovals can get a little boring) and the unique vehicles offer variety over the regular Indy cars.
For IRL fans, there are 20 real drivers plus the machines they pilot. Don't spend too much time pining over the abilities of each, however. Despite the variety of drivers and their ability rankings, they all perform about the same (a telltale sign of an arcade racer). Goodyear, Billy Boat (you gotta love the name), Al Unser Jr., and several others are represented.
At this point, you're probably thinking this game is just like all the other mind-numbingly boring racing sims for the N64. And yes, if you go by appearance and features alone, it does seem run-of-the-mill. But remember, Indy may look dull (especially to folks who shun the sim), but it plays like a true arcade superstar.
Indy 2000's forte is its exaggerated handling abilities; it strikes a great balance between control and chaos. For example, a prime directive of any racer is to run the corners as fast as possible without losing grip. Whereas other F-1/Indy games make you slow drastically before a curve, Indy 2000 lets you attack them at a high rate of speed. It's a thrill to push the tires to the edge of their ability to grip the road. The flip side is you also have to do a lot of powersliding. To the game's credit, it's possible to slide without jeopardizing your overall pace. The trick is to use both methods to your advantage. To aid in passing, a draft meter shows you the perfect time to slingshot around the next car. It's highly exaggerated, to say the least. The effect is more like a turbo boost than a subtle method to decrease wind resistance. It's a neat little feature, though, especially when you hear your crew chief urging you to "use the draft!"
Now, let's talk about the bad stuff. Yeah, it's not all roses, folks. The graphics are subpar at best. Many portions of the game's tracks are dark - really dark. A few of the tunnels are almost completely black. The only thing that keeps you on track is the faint shadow of the next car. The vehicles themselves lack detail and appear blurry. Many of the backgrounds look washed out as well. It's puzzling as to why such a large flaw made it into the final product. You'd think at some point someone would have stood back and said, "Man, it's dark and blurry. Let's fix that." I suspect the developer kept the detail low to maintain the game's respectable frame rate. In the end, the lack of detail doesn't hinder gameplay.
The game's control is tough to master. Move the stick a tiny bit and the car reacts. Move it a lot and you're swerving like a madman. It's disconcerting at first, and the impatient may give up altogether. But with time and practice, you'll appreciate the tight control. It's especially useful when dodging accidents which, by the way, happen a lot. The computer cars are constantly spinning out, crashing, and causing mayhem. Often they'll leave huge billowing smoke clouds for you to navigate through. Very few racing games incorporate this kind of action - it's a nice touch.
The bottom line? If you can overlook the muddy graphics, Indy Racing 2000 is surprisingly fun. It may not be as good as Beetle Adventure Racing, but it has several fine traits - mainly the sensation of speed and exciting gameplay. These things alone make up for the shortcomings. I have to give it a thumbs up for the great engine sound as well. It's very authentic and throaty. Some people may not like the fact that it looks like a sim but plays like an arcade game, but that's not a big deal. Given the moderate difficulty level, the game is ripe for a two-night rental.