Around this time last year, I really got into video game car racing. In years past I never understood the concept: "You want me to drive around this same course how many times?" But then, one night, after I was done watching Days of Thunder, the urge to weave through cars at high speeds overtook me. And there I was, sitting at my television in the middle of the night, going around the same circle, repeatedly. Surprisingly, it didn't get old quickly, rather I actually was intrigued enough to play the game for a couple of hours before checking out other racing titles. Before I realized it, I was hooked. I've played a lot of racing games since then, but nothing has given me that fresh, overwhelming feeling since then - that is, until I played NASCAR 98 on the PlayStation.
If you like stock car racing, NASCAR 98 is the game for you. Everything in this game doesn't speak for itself - it practically screams. For starters, there is more to do now than ever; this year's graphical engine has been improved to give you more cars onscreen at once, which means there are more opponents to race against. And, because each track is relatively small, there are almost always cars to maneuver against - meaning that whether you are in first or last place, you will have someone to compete with. There is also a two-player split-screen mode, which allows for some intense competition (or cooperation) with a friend, and tweaked play control for smoother driving. The graphics in NASCAR 98 look fantastic, providing realistic and smooth 3D landscapes that compete with the fast-moving cars onscreen. Not only is NASCAR 98 the best-looking racer out there, but it's one of the better examples of how far PlayStation developers have come in such a short time since the system launched. The soundtrack also matches the game's visual presentation, offering an array of hard-rocking tracks guaranteed to keep your ears pumping as you race. Unfortunately though, the sound effects do not compete with the sonic bandwidth of the game's music, which easily overshadows almost every other sound in the game.
Not only does NASCAR 98 offer eleven real tracks and 24 drivers, but all the real team sponsors are here as well, giving you the exact feeling of watching the races on television. And with the amount of camera angles the game offers, chances are you will never get bored - not even on your umpteenth go round. The physics, however, could use some tweaking. While not many of us have actually driven in these situations, the gravity does seem off at times, and the car doesn't react as you think it would (ditto for the crashes, which lack any decent amount of carnage).
If you're sick of the unrealistic play style of games like Grand Tour Racing and Test Drive 4, NASCAR 98 offers a refreshing break from the normal city racing game. In fact, as far as racing games go, I can't imagine a better reality-based racing title. Give or take a few flaws, this might just be the best real-life racing game this year.