With "NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup," Electronic Arts has rolled out a video game that tries to capture the hardcore nuts and bolts of the sport while attracting the growing number of casual racing fans.
It has an impressive number of details and extras, with all the drivers, cars, events and tracks from the 2004 Nextel Cup Series, the Busch Series, the Craftsman Truck Series as well as a representation of the Featherlite Modified Series.
The new "Fight to the Top" mode lets you create a racing career that starts from the very bottom rather than jumping right into the Nextel Cup Series.
The aim is to win races and gain fans to help you climb the ladder from the Featherlite Series until you eventually land a ride in the coveted Nextel Cup Series.
Win enough races to earn a better contract or, if you choose, accrue enough cash to buy your own race team.
The struggle through the ranks and the building of a successful racing team presents an addicting, satisfying challenge.
"NASCAR 2005" accurately re-creates the handling of cars and trucks, and also realistically shows damage after wrecks.
Your driver can become a hero or a villain depending on how you drive. Race cleanly to earn hero points and allies on the track. Drive a competitor into the wall and you'll get villain points and a well-deserved intimidator reputation.
You can use both traits to your advantage on the track: team up with drivers in a shared draft or intimidate opponents into moving out of the way.
This $50, E-rated game is available for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and the GameCube. The PS2 and Xbox versions include online play.
Three stars out of four.
The Xbox has Microsoft's Halo, but Sony thinks it has an answer to that sci-fi shooter with Killzone. Its premise isn't too different from that of its better-known competitor: You play the leader of a small group of soldiers sent to expel an invading force from a colonized planet.
Killzone's first-person-shooter design keeps the action pretty straightforward -- your soldier, named Templar, walks around, explores and fights. To try to add a little variety, the game lets you control three other characters: Luger, the sniper; Rico, the heavy-weapons guy; and Hahka, an expert with the enemy's weapons. But none of Killzone's missions cater to any one character's strengths, leaving no compelling reason to switch between them. If you just want to win, you're better off playing as Templar, whose everyday run-and-gun skills can get the job done.
The same compliment can't be paid to the woefully stupid enemy, the Helghast -- exiled human soldiers who have mutated into heartless killing machines. The developers created some of the scariest-looking individuals in any video game short of Doom 3, but once the shooting starts they turn out to be dumber than a box of rocks. They'll stand around and look at the walls or walk right into your line of fire -- once, we came across two of these boneheads standing beside each other, shot one, then saw the survivor stand idly as if nothing had happened. Not good.
Killzone also suffers from not enough actual combat. Its skirmishes are intense, but they're punctuated by too much downtime spent exploring and wandering. If your PS2 is set up with a broadband connection, however, a set of online multiplayer modes offers more interesting action, plus the chance to fight Helghast controlled by humans instead of inept programming.
What the game does offer is the best graphics we've seen on the PS2 to date, down to the shell casings that can be spotted flying out of your weapons. The orchestral score also earns some compliments with its range, including anthems and battle hymns you could march to yourself.