Product: Nascar Racing 2003 Season Price: HK$230 Developer: Papyrus Pros: One of the most realistic driving simulations available Cons: Beginners will have to brace for many impacts Web: games.sierra.com/games/racing2003/ Half a century ago, people would go to a car dealer , buy a car and race it. The idea of racing stock-from-the-factory vehicles, cars that 'normal' people could buy, was promoted by the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (Nascar). This form of racing became very popular because most everyone could relate to it. However, in time some rules were bent as car manufacturers began offering special racing options for their 'stock' cars. Soon other rules were introduced, usually for safety reasons. With all the bending and introductions that took place, today's Nascar cars boast about 750 horsepower and are radically different from any car that 'normal' people can buy. Nascar Racing 2003 Season, from developer Papyrus, bills itself as one of the most realistic racing sims yet created. I am inclined to believe it. As a beginner to racing cars, my first surprise was the absence of a speedometer - the biggest dial on the dashboard is the tachometer, which measures engine speed. A Nascar racer uses the tachometer to help judge when to shift gears and can use it to estimate speed. The driving physics are the heart and soul of this driving simulator. It was in the tutorials that I learned how the weight of the car shifts as you accelerate, brake and turn. Weight distribution is the single biggest factor affecting your car at high speeds, more of a factor than your steering wheel. Commonly modelled effects in driving games such as car drafting are included in Nascar Racing 2003 Season, along with many small and unexpected details. For example, players can choose the amount of tape applied to the grill at the front of the car. The tape decreases drag on the car, but less air is let in to cool the engine. The racing is very intense as you attempt to execute laps with perfection. My computer can handle only about nine cars, but real Nascar races can have about 43 cars in a single event. Taking tight turns while in the middle of a dense pack of 750-horsepower beasts is a tense experience. Spin-outs can cost you the race, so there is little margin for error as each car jockeys for the most efficient driving line. Getting bumped and losing control is a common occurrence. Many of the real-life Nascar tracks are found in the game, such as Daytona and Homestead. The setting sun blinds you momentarily each lap if you race the Daytona track 'at night'. What I have learned from the game has definitely made me a better driver. I understand much more about what is happening with my own car when I drive around corners. We have all seen cars spin out and crash on television. The tutorial explains in very simple terms how this happens, in terms of the world of physics. The campaign mode is addictive as it drives you to perfect your skills. During the campaign season you must try to come near the top of the race to gain points. The racer who accumulates the most points in a season wins the cup. Skill and practice in the campaign are critical. You must try to memorise each track's turns, so you can anticipate the road ahead and shave off precious seconds from your lap times. Practice runs allow you to find the maximum speed to take through each corner without squealing the tires. As you master the game, you can go to the garage and customise your car. This is not an area for beginners. Racing car terminology abounds, with very little explanation provided. I suspect that if you do not understand the term then you probably should not be tinkering with it anyway. For people who are intimidated by the level of realism in the game, there is an arcade mode available for players who just want to go fast and furious. Multiplayer games with Nascar bring the realism home as you can race against real people. There are many servers online and quite a few races going on, so it is not hard to find opponents. I joined several races online and thoroughly enjoyed losing. Nascar is an addictive and exhilarating high-end racing sim that readily duplicates the excitement of racing. Nascar Racing 2003 Season can be played by people of all skill levels, but true driving fans will appreciate this sim the most. It is worth buying a driving-wheel controller just to play this game. Any questions or requests on games? E-mail Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org .