And, 2004 is no different offering NASCAR fans their dream game, Chase for the Cup.
The new version, while not a brand new game, is still the best NASCAR game out there, boasting forty cars on the tracks with special effects, a fairly smooth framerate, and a robust Career mode that outdoes any NASCAR game’s previous efforts.
Gameplay – This year’s game is loaded with play modes, tracks, drivers, paint livery, and on the PS2 and Xbox, online play to boot. There are 25 official tracks as well as 13 fantasy courses. The driver roster tops 130, and there are paint schemes, sponsorships, and a plethora of race events that’ll last any NASCAR hardcore a very long time.
The heart of the game is the Fight to the Top mode, which allows you to choose from the bottom of the heap and work your way up. Throughout, you’ll be racing in the Featherlite Modifieds, Craftsmen Truck Series, Busch Series (not called the Busch Series in the game, of course), and obviously, the NexTel Cup. Players have a fair amount of freedom as to what championship they race in. They could just keep plugging away to make it to the Cup, or they can stay in a smaller series, but become more prolific in it, getting better cars, sponsorships, and teams. If you earn enough dough, you can also try your hand at owning and operating a team, which gives you multiple options at managing your racing team. Things such as choosing a driver and crew, designing your car’s livery, and even setting the price for your team’s merchandise are all included, and do a lot to add depth to the game.
There are simpler modes included, like being able to go straight into a race, and Chase for the Cup, which allows you to jump to the near-end of the season. In addition, there are online modes available for up to four players. While certainly nice (especially on Xbox Live, with all its built-in features), it would’ve been nice to include 16 or more players racing through a season, or at least a few races, along with a 43 car field. While you do get a 40 car field of AI drivers, having only four human drivers available in a race is rather tame, especially with more and more online games adopting the 16-player standard.
Graphics – Graphically, while not the cutting edge of what the current consoles are capable of, Chase for the Cup doesn’t disappoint overall. Looking at it though, is a bit underwhelming until you’re playing the game for awhile. Though kind of drab, and looking more 2001 than 2004, the fact that you’re still seeing 40 cars on the field is an impressive sight. Realistic sparks fly when the cars make impact to the walls or each other, and other effects like smoke compliment the detailed car models.
The Xbox version of the game chugs along at a smoother framerate than the other two, though all three versions contain some mild slowdown in spots. The Xbox version also contains the fewest jagged edges, but it’s actually the PS2 and GameCube versions that produce better color output. Overall, there isn’t much difference between all three versions, and the few differences there is are more a matter of personal preference. All three versions support 480p Progressive Scan display
Sound – Everything that should be here is: realistic car sounds and effects, the crowd, the announcers, and everything else. It’s done very well too, except your crew chief could have a bit more clarity. The soundtrack is impressive too, offering up some very hard-rocking tunes that fit the atmosphere perfectly. The Xbox version is the only one that supports 5.1 Dolby Digital (the PS2 and GameCube versions support Pro Logic II), so from an audio standpoint, the Xbox version would be the one to get if you’ve got the setup.
Bottom Line - What makes NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup such a great addition to the NASCAR fan’s library, is the sheer amount of content the game provides. This game could last a hardcore fan ages; well into the next year and beyond. The Career modes are simply staggering, allowing for more customization for car-heads, as well as easily-accessible gameplay for casual fans who don’t want to delve too deeply into the game. The online play is a nice addition for PS2 and Xbox owners, but it would’ve been even better if a fuller field of human players was included. Overall though, this is the NASCAR game to get.