NASCAR Racing 3
NASCAR 3 is largely the same game the third time in a row.
For the longest time, the sim racing community has held its breath for the arrival of the next NASCAR sim from Papyrus. The series has long been in need of an overhaul, as each game was really a matter of minor tweaking over the last. The biggest news was that the newest version would include the incredibly sophisticated physics engine adapted from Grand Prix Legends, in addition to radically improved graphics. As it turns out, the physics and graphics engines aren’t the revolutionary improvements that some expected, but the game has been refined across the board.
Graphically the game is much better looking than before The cars themselves are especially nice and reflective, featuring higher polygon counts as well. The dashboards are great, adorned with very detailed gauges as well as warning lights for oil pressure and engine revs. The smoke effects are also finally worthy of the NASCAR title. Peeling out of the pits produces great quantities of smoke, and a couple spinning cars can mask your view of the track entirely. The circuits are really the blandest part of the game visually.
NASCAR Racing 3 unfortunately doesn’t have the spectacular Grand Prix Legends driving model. Instead, the physics model included is merely a refinement of the same system the company has been using for many years. Nevertheless, the improvements included are where players feel them the most, both burning rubber from hot starts, and right at the edge of traction. The development team deserves kudos for subtly, yet distinctly, improving the physics to help players “feel” their way around the track.
The AI always seems to be a sticking point in NASCAR simulations, and while NASCAR Racing 3 is definitely a step in the right direction, it still suffers some serious problems. Earlier incarnations were understandably limited. All the cars wanted to follow one line around the racetrack blindly. If your line didn’t accommodate the computer cars’ line, you were certain to bang doors or worse, get pinched right into the wall. The computer cars also wanted to drive single file as much as possible, which felt rather unreal early in the race or on shorter tracks.
In NASCAR 3, the AI handles this a lot better. The computer is willing and able to take a wide variety of lines around the track. Racing three wide isn’t uncommon at all now, especially at the superspeedways. Fighting for position is much more exciting, too. Since the computer is so flexible in its strategy, if you make a mistake, expect a hail of cars to pass you and a long trek back to regain your position. If you cut someone off, they may change lines, hit the brakes to avoid contact, or maybe they’ll just bang doors with you (depending on the driver’s individual aggressiveness). If you come up behind another car quickly enough and traffic is light, more often then not the driver will pull to the outside line and let you pass.
The biggest problem with the AI is that it’s terribly unpredictable. Not unpredictable in a human-like fashion either, but instead like a chicken trying to cross the road. Sometimes cars will take very nice, smooth lines all the way around the course. Other times, they’ll head straight right up to the corner, then jerk the wheel and turn very abruptly. The worst part about this behavior is that every once in awhile, the car will indeed commit to a new line and the driver will swerve very abruptly to take it. It’s sudden enough to defy inertia and traction and in the process it will make things very dangerous for you as a few thousand pounds of steel and aluminum suddenly swerve at you without warning. One last aspect about the computer AI that really needs to be addressed is the way the AI drivers deal with crashes. You can have a perfect race going when suddenly one bad bump causes an incredible chain reaction.
After all of the rumor and hype, NASCAR Racing 3 is a good example of Papyrus’ traditional strengths and weaknesses. The graphics are not cutting edge, yet they’re accurate and very functional. The AI is flawed, yet it does some cool stuff as well. The driving model is good but ain’t tops. It’s probably not the most influential NASCAR game but it’s a solid one nonetheless.
System Requirements: Pentium 133 MHz, 32 MB RAM, SVGA Video, Windows 95/98