For NASCAR fans who found NASCAR Racing's realistic physics just a little too frustrating, NASCAR Revolution would seem to be the perfect game. It's got 17 licensed tracks (no Daytona, though), 31 real-life drivers (37 if you count six "hidden" legends like Richard Petty and Benny Parsons), mind-blowing car graphics, and was developed by Stormfront Studios - the same team that made IndyCar competition accessible with the light-on-realism-but-heavy-on-fun Andretti Racing.
And NASCAR Revolution is perfect - perfectly wretched, that is. From start to finish, the experience is so unsatisfying - no, make that infuriating - that the only reasonable conclusion you can come away with is that it was booted out of the testing labs and onto store shelves so it'd be available before the Winston Cup season began. Since NASCAR Revolution first appeared on console systems last Thanksgiving it's tempting to call this a sloppy port job, but usually that just means there's no mouse support or that the save-game functions are screwy. This goes far beyond that, however: it is, to put it bluntly, all but unplayable.
Looming mightily over NASCAR Revolution's aggravating array of flaws is the game's abysmal performance on even the fastest systems out there. On my rig (a Celeron running at 375MHz with 64MB RAM and a Voodoo 2) NASCAR Revolution ran smooth as silk during practice and qualifying sessions - provided I used the chase view or front-bumper view, that is. But the frame rate fell off noticeably when I switched to a cockpit view (which is a rather dull and ugly one at that) - certainly enough to affect the way I was driving the car.
And things go from bad to worse when you actually get into a race. It's not so much a matter of choppy animation, although that's definitely a problem: The fact is that the action literally slows down. How bad is it? Well, judging from the way the ads on the walls crawl by on straightaways, you'd think you were driving through the infield lake at Daytona. You can switch to the chase or front-bumper views to improve the frame rate, but that robs the game of any claims to realism it might have - and things still move in slow motion.
It's absolutely horrible on short tracks like Martinsville and Bristol, but even on super ovals it turns what should be a thrilling ride into a frustrating nightmare. True, I had all the visuals turned on, and the car graphics are admittedly eye-popping - but I was running at only 640 x 480, and my system's got more than enough power to handle all that stuff and still deliver a great frame rate. And even if you can deal with the slow movement, there's another issue involved: There's zero relationship between what you see and feel when you're practicing and qualifying and what you see and feel when you're racing. You might as well skip it and start at the back of the pack - at least then you'd know what to expect as you pass cars that look as if they're going about 45 per.
At the heart of this problem is the game's 3D support. In an amazing stroke of programming ineptitude, Stormfront Studios managed to create the first game ever to run faster - much faster - in Direct3D mode than in Glide. All my problems listed above occurred in Direct3D mode. When I tried to play the Glide version, it ran so poorly that I spent a good two or three hours downloading new drivers - and after all that I finally realized that it wasn't my drivers but the game that was causing all the heartache. (In an interesting side note, the requirements say you need Glide 3.02, but there is no version 3.02 for Voodoo 2, Voodoo Banshee, or Voodoo Rush cards.)
NASCAR Revolution's console roots shine throughout the game, and they aren't the sort of things to make PC racing fans happy. Cars default to automatic transmission before every race (at least you can save car setups with manual transmission for each track), so at least 17 times you'll have to go into setup and switch it to manual. All track sessions start with a ridiculous external view - and because the computer takes control of your car for the first ten seconds or so, you must fumble around cycling through views when you should be focused on getting off to a good start. Almost as maddening as the game's bad performance is what you have to endure when retiring from a race: staring at the screen for 20 or 25 seconds as your car drives all the way around the track. And yes, that applies during practice runs, when good drivers are constantly heading to the garage to change settings.
After all this, I couldn't endure the idea of playing NASCAR Revolution online, but this is one case where I got lucky: The game's multiplayer support is so thin I wouldn't have found an opponent anyway. Support for only IPX networks play pretty much rules out action over the Internet (unless you use Kali, and when I checked I didn't see anybody playing it), and even if you found someone to play modem-to-modem you'd be shocked to learn that the manual recommends a total of a mere four cars in head-to-head games (even with a serial connection).
You've really got to hand it to Stormfront for the graphics work they did on the cars - but you've got to lambaste them for not figuring out that pretty pictures aren't worth squat if you can't make 'em move on the screen. As we say down here where NASCAR racing got started, this dog don't hunt - and if you buy it after reading this then I've got some infield tickets for next year's Daytona 500 you might be interested in.