Until the release of Bethesda Softworks' Burnout last year, I had no idea just how challenging it can be to guide a car traveling in excess of 300mph down a quarter-mile track. Now Mind Magic Productions has entered the drag-racing fray with NHRA Drag Racing, and it too proves just how challenging something that seems so simple on the surface can really be - but in this case the challenge is getting the game to run in the first place.
The troubles begin during the installation process, where you're asked to choose between low-, medium-, or high-resolution textures (there's also an option for AGP textures). Unsure of which I should pick, I consulted the manual only to find it infuriatingly silent on the subject. Turns out that bit of info is in a HELP.TXT file that's only available after the installation process is finished (unless you have a Cab viewer, which I didn't).
After numerous video problems, I finally got the game running about three weeks after booting it up for the first time. The kicker is that once I finally got into the game, I found it really wasn't worth all the trouble. Yes, it's licensed by the NHRA, and it features 22 real-life events on 19 tracks against real-life drag-racing superstars like Cory McClenathan and Kenny Bernstein. It's also got better graphics than those in Burnout, at least when it comes to the cars themselves. But because NHRA Drag Racing only allows you to race nitro-burning dragsters (rails) or funny cars, the action gets repetitive almost as quickly as a qualifying run.
In Burnout, you were able to tweak just about any aspect of your car because it simulated all types of drag racing: You could choose fuel, chassis type, tires, and so forth before you squared off against your opponent - and it allowed you to pit all types of vehicles against each other, just like you can at a local drag strip (I know, I've been to one here in North Carolina). But here the chassis are all pretty much the same except for logos, so the only thing left for you to do besides punch it when the Christmas tree lights up is to adjust the various car parameters (clutches, blower overdriver, cylinder pressure, advance spark, nitro content, and nose weight). It might be realistic, but it's not very engaging.
And that feeling of ennui isn't helped any by the fact that you don't even have the option to watch the other competitors qualify or race. When races only last six or seven seconds, you should at least get to watch a whole bunch of 'em, right? To top it off, there's no way to exit once you're in the driver's seat: The only way to get out of a race (aside from rebooting) is to wait 30 seconds or so until you're disqualified. Excusable? I think not.
In its favor, NHRA Drag Racing does a pretty good job of re-creating the sensation of incredibly high speed involved in top-fuel drag racing. But it's a short-lived thrill, and the samey-samey feel of every event only makes you wish that you were either at a real drag race or watching one on television - especially when you consider there's absolutely no option for multiplayer racing. And when an interactive product makes you wish you were a passive observer, you know it hasn't done its job.