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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Sierra Sports


Fast, fun NASCAR sim with lots of options. Updated graphics and physics model.

Online play is still a little spotty.

System Reqs:
Pentium 166, 32 MB RAM, 2x CD-ROM,


You’ve got to hand it to Sierra Sports; when their mainstream FrontPage football and baseball games started losing ground to an increasingly crowded field, they reevaluated, changed their tack, and in a brilliant stroke became the preeminent purveyors of good ol’ boy computer sports games.  Forget football, baseball and hockey—Sierra Sports now cranks out games about bass fishing, deer hunting, and stock car racing. These, of course, would be the featured events if anyone ever wanted to tailor a triathlon for the male population of Anywhere, Deep South, U.S.A.  And you’ve got to give Sierra credit for not condescending to this market. I mean, they could have produced poorly-made hunting and fishing sims and flooded the Wal-Mart market, but Sierra Sports’ games have been consistently excellent. From Trophy Buck to Trophy Bass Fishing, their games have been good-lookin’, fun, and pretty realistic.  NASCAR Racing 3, the latest in Papyrus’ stock car racers, follows in that tradition. It’s a hell of game that’s both enjoyable enough for the casual fan and realistic enough for the hardcore NASCAR aficionado

And it’s also a big improvement on NASCAR 2, no slouch of a game itself. While first reports out of Sierra had NASCAR 3 using the CPU-intensive Grand Prix Legends engine, the powers that be wisely decided that a mass-market NASCAR game probably shouldn’t demand a cutting edge machine, so Papyrus ratcheted up the tried-and-true NASCAR 2 engine. The results are more than satisfying.

First, NASCAR Racing 3’s graphics are much better than NASCAR 2’s. You can crank your screen resolution up to 1024x768, and at that res the game looks very, very, nice. It’s still not the most beautiful racing game on the market, but it runs smoothly at high res, and the Papyrus team has done an excellent balancing act between performance and appearance. Cars look great as they whiz by, and the 28 tracks are especially impressive. From Indy to Talladega to Las Vegas, each of the tracks is painstakingly rendered. They’re more than just oval tracks; while driving at Talladega, you can see the rolling hills of Alabama in the distance, in Las Vegas, it’s the desert.

The sound has been improved as well—now it’s 3D, and it’s a real treat to hear directional engine sounds as you blow by cars. Force feedback has also been added, though not very forcefully.

The game’s physics engine has also been tweaked. Though you can still have a blast playing on arcade setting, real NASCAR geeks will want to turn the realism up to 11, and at that level you’ll find NASCAR 3 to be a very challenging and realistic sim. You’ll also find that you’ll need to fiddle with your car’s settings to remain competitive, and NASCAR 3 has a great garage feature that allows you to turn your sluggish ride into one nimble racer. Once you’re into the garage, you’ll be able to adjust your car’s tire pressure, spoilers, suspension, fuel level, weight bias, gear ratios, wheel lock—even grille tape. If all of this sounds uncompromisingly arcane, not to worry—NASCAR 3’s manual does a superb job of explaining what all of this means and why it’s important, and also includes a guide to each of the 28 tracks, along with suggested setups for each one.

Though the game features 45 Winston Cup and Busch Grand National drivers and cars, if you want to customize your car even more you can always access NASCAR 3’s paintshop feature. It’s quite easy to use, and it’s nice to have a car in one’s own distinctive colors.

Once you’ve set up your car, it’s off to whatever track you choose to race on. If you play in arcade mode, you’ll only be able to race. But if you play in realistic mode, you’ll be able to run practice laps until you’re ready to qualify, after which you’ll be able to take some warm up laps until you’re set to race. Especially at the higher difficulty levels, it’s a very good idea to get the lay of the tracks and a solid racing strategy down, because once the race starts things start to happen very, very, fast.  Driver AI is mostly very good and often unpredictable—the bad guys will race four wide, and can be very aggressive, so you’ve got to watch out for the other guy once you hit the track, and while a little bumping and grinding is part of NASCAR, too much will find you spinning out. Even at easy difficulty settings, a short race can be difficult to finish without cracking up Nevertheless, most races tend to be tense, fender-to-fender high speed fun.

NASCAR 3 also supports multiplayer online play on WON, and when it works, it’s a great deal of fun. Unfortunately, with a 56.6 connection you’ll find yourself spending a great deal of time searching for a game without latency problems.

Bottom line: NASCAR 3 is the best NASCAR racing game out there. With improved graphics, sound, and physics—and a suite of options that allows a wide range of players—from the least promising of beginners to the next Jeff Gordon—to enjoy the game, this game’s the one to beat.  

-Rick Fehrenbacher