Published on April 10th, 2012 | by Nichomaxwell0
NASCAR 2001: All right EA Sports, I see ya trying!
Year: 2000 // System: PlayStation // Publisher: EA Sports // Developer: Black Box Games // Genre: Racing
>>>Poor NASCAR 2001 could not help but accidentally feature three drivers who would tragically lose their lives between the summer of 2000 (Kenny Irwin, Jr., and Adam Petty who were both removed as AI but kept as playable drivers) and February of 2001 (Dale Earnhardt, Sr.). Aside from being the last game to feature the legendary Earnhardt as a regular, full time driver, NASCAR 2001 was also keynote for establishing a formula that would work for both arcade racers and NASCAR enthusiasts alike.
Well, on the PlayStation anyway.
NASCAR 2001 was the first EA Sports racer to feature DAYTONA International Speedway as a playable track, along with every other NASCAR track featured on the 2000 circuit save Dover and New Hampshire. The latest entry into EA Sports’ NASCAR series at the time also featured five neat new road courses that contained Black Box’s trademark with their stylistic leanings towards the track layouts and scenery featured in Gran Turismo and Ridge Racer. You could race across the mountains of Colorado, through the neon-lit skyline of New York City, or past the beaches of Honolulu.
Racing features were expanded to offer different types of seasons for the player- or players- to race together: a full season, partial season, short track challenge, road course challenge (which New York City is strangely absent from), or a super-speedway shootout. Winning a championship under each type of format unlocked a new driver, track, or paint scheme. If the player didn’t feel like racing a whole season but wanted to choose his or her own tracks, then he or she could choose the 8-race custom season. Also, if the player wasn’t a fan of the wide array of drivers to select from, which featured heavy hitters on the circuit like Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Dale Jarret, then they could create their own car. I hated that they used triple digit numbers that never appeared in NASCAR, but the freedom to select your own color combo, logos, and number was a huge step-up from the more rudimentary driver creation mode in 2000 where you put in your name and chose a prescribed paint scheme.
Aside from the forward steps in surface changes, NASCAR 2001 managed to duly satisfy its customers (on the PlayStation) for two reasons: statistics and handling.
Stats gurus can easily fall in love with NASCAR because the auto sport serves up a platter of different statistics to track over the course of a 36-race season. You can follow who has the most wins, who wins the most poles, the average starting and finishing positions of each driver, and the total number of laps led throughout one whole year. NASCAR 2001 capitalized on the average racing fan’s love for statistics by offering 17 categories for seasonal stats that include number of poles and top 5 finishes, 12 categories for per race results like the number of lead changes and the margin of victory, and ten historical categories that keep track of who has the most wins (Richard Petty starts with 200), the most championships (Richard Petty starts with 7), the highest winning percentage, and so on. The simulation of in-depth statistics no doubt engrossed many a player, but it wasn’t alone in delivering a wholesome experience.
The real victory was found in the actual game play. Although the addition of street-friendly road courses gave N2001 more of an arcade atmosphere than preceding titles, the licensed NASCAR tracks themselves handled almost identically to their real-world counterparts. Bristol was a fast-moving dance with the wall, Martinsville was stop and go with its long straights and tight corners, Talladega allowed you to stay wide open on the throttle, the high banking of Atlanta and Texas allowed you to just ease off the gas through the corners while you absolutely needed to brake at the flatter courses like California and Indianapolis, and North Carolina was a nightmare with its lethal second corner which you throw you into the wall if you didn’t dive to the bottom of the corner. I do recall the AI drivers being too hard to spin out, and the wrecks sending the cars to the moon and back with their ridiculous aerial loops and barrel rolls, but the driving itself was the first true emulation of how racecars actually took to a NASCAR track. Scrapes with the wall also didn’t ruin your day, but much like the R.R. series and just like in NASCAR, one false move in a corner and you could find yourself facing backwards.
I still have yet to come across a NASCAR title that took the successful formula of this game and expanded upon it. NASCAR Dirt to DAYTONA had a depth of its own, but it did not feature interesting fantasy tracks like this game did, nor did it feature a better or even equal “create a driver” feature to the one found in this game. This amazing little PSX title unfortunately got lost amidst the negative criticism aimed at the PS2 version, but let it be known that, twelve years later, this one continues to remain near the top of the list for the best games made for NASCAR. It sits second place on my list, and even though the second place finisher doesn’t visit winner’s circle, he still makes a nice paycheck that pays more than third.
Challenge: 8/Great: There are three difficulty levels to choose from: Rookie, Veteran, and Legend. Even at Veteran, the AI becomes relentless and life-like. These settings, by the way, serve to reflect the challenge of the drivers themselves, and do nothing to affect the challenge of each racetrack. Some tracks, like Daytona and Talladega, will be easier for some, while others like Martinsville and Sears Points demand that you know how to navigate a sharp corner. My biggest complaints about the difficulty level was that some drivers could inexplicably break away and never be caught in spite of you bringing the best possible setup, and that Darlington Raceway, the track “Too Tough to Tame,” was made too easy.
Handling: 9/Outstanding: The speeds for handling each racetrack weren’t spot-on, but they certainly came close. The controls for the racecar were basic to learn, while the tracks themselves required their own unique strategies, even the cookie cutter ovals like Texas, Atlanta, and Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Also noteworthy of mentioning is how the stock cars took to the road courses like, well, 3,000 pound stock cars would on a constantly winding path! The stock cars felt heavy and clunky to steer, and although some would write this down as an issue, this panned out well for representing how a stock car would actually drive!
Innovation: 8/Great: 2001 used the same engine as its predecessor, but improved upon atmosphere, the range of statistics offered, the number of tracks featured and the depth of both the season mode and driver creation.There were some striking limitations like the number of single-player opponents (17), the number of two-player opponents (10), and the number of races you could use to build a season (8), but the fact that NASCAR 2001 was able to present certain features like the custom season mode served as a springboard that future NASCAR titles would, could have, and should have taken advantage of.
Core Experience: 8/Great: Harkening back to the wide range of statistics, as well as the playing experience itself, no NASCAR title could match the depth of this racer until 2002, and even so, it would remain unique for giving the player arcade-like tracks while actually bringing NASCAR to the in-game racing.
OVERALL: 8.3/Great: NASCAR 2001 was by no means the perfect conception of a NASCAR game- I still wonder if you can unlock the Mars course just by having your car fly high enough off of the track- but it really gave EA Sports some staying power as “the” NASCAR game-maker. Although I’d probably say the success of this game was more of Black Box’s doing, NASCAR 2001′s success (on the PSX) reflected the time and money invested in NASCAR which had reached THE peak of its popularity in 2000. Like the series itself, NASCAR games themselves would decline in both sales and quality until EA Sports finally pulled out, but at this point in time, this was a crucial game that parodied the current mentality of NASCAR that the sky was the limit.