IndyCar Series 2005 Review (Xbox)
The racing genre on the Xbox is becoming a very crowded field recently. Not only has it been crowded, but the titles that have arrived on the scene of late have been garnering quite a bit of gamers attention and time. Titles such as “Project Gotham Racing 2”, “Sega GT Online”, “TOCA: Race Driver 2”, the “Colin McRae” series, and last years “IndyCar” Series all have fan followings and some even have cult-like followings. Codemasters has already had positive hits with the aforementioned “TOCA: Race Driver 2” and the “Colin McRae” rally series, but their “IndyCar” series from last year was met with some mild to negative reviews. The biggest thing that hurt last year’s version was the fact that a lot of console gamers were not ready for this realistic game to head to their console. These types of racers have mostly been reserved for the PC gaming crowd, until now. ”TOCA: Race Driver 2” brought realism to the forefront, and that pleased a lot of gamers. This has set the stage nicely for “IndyCar Series 2005” to have some momentum going into the racing genre gaming wars.
Two new things that stand out this year from “IndyCar Series 2005” in this year’s version; online racing with up to 12 people on Xbox Live and the $20 price tag. Two years ago, if this had been released at $20, it would have been shunned and slammed as being a sub par title. Thanks to Ratbag and the gamble they took, the stage has been set for lower price tags to be welcomed with open arms without being considered “budget” titles.
“IndyCar Series 2005” starts off with the mandatory Quick Race option, but then segues into a couple of different options. The first one is the option to jump right into the Indianapolis 500. Going with this option allows you to start off with the unique qualifying program that the Indy 500 offers. You’ll start with the 4 laps of qualifying, and then onto a special qualifying section, should you not make it into the race your first qualifying try. From there, you head into a wild 33-car race that will have you more and more tense with the longer amount of laps you run.
Masterclass is the next option that you have to choose from. If you want to learn the game the correct way, this is the option to check out. It will tell you most everything you need to know about the game, how to control your car, and what some of the special rules are in the Indy Racing League. Dan Wheldon, who is not only one of the top drivers in the Indy Racing League, but one of the newest as well, narrates the Masterclass mode.
Indy Series is the main mode of the game. This mode has you competing in an entire season of the Indy Racing League schedule over the available tracks in the game. I say the available tracks, as The Milwaukee Mile is not included in this game, but for good reason - as this year is the first time the series will have Milwaukee on its schedule. All the tracks that you do see are very good replicas of their real life counterparts. They showcase their actual bumps and those can and will affect you as you are racing. Getting back to the actual mode of play, you start out with the initial race at Homestead and work your way through the season long trek through the Indianapolis 500 and finalizing with one of my favorite tracks, the Texas Motor Speedway. Everything you will encounter here is of the oval variety, with varying lengths and curvatures. For those who are looking at this and thinking, “how much fun or hard can going in circles be”, just give it a shot. You’ll find out it is not as simple as it looks. Even those who are joystick jockeys from the NASCAR games are going to find out that “IndyCar Series 2005” opens up a new world of challenges, as well as a change in thought process when attacking an oval track.
Other options available to the user are a Player Profile screen, where you create your profile to use in the game, as well as on Xbox Live. This profile is active from the minute you start the game and shows you online as long as you are connected to your network source. I still enjoy this feature, because if I am just wanting to kill some time offline I can, and then be alerted when a buddy shows up online wanting to race. The Trading Card Album is accessed in this menu, as well. Here you can unlock different cards by accomplishing certain feats in the game. The easiest one - that you’ll complete right away - is when you finish a race in its entirety. From here, you’ll unlock the ability to create your own driver with its own unique name. Later on, as you complete more of the game, you will unlock different car skins and more items that are allowed to be changed for your newly created driver.
Most of the racing modes also are configurable in how long you can race, and can be set to ten, twenty, quarter race length, half length, or even a full race. Damage can be set to none, minimal, or realistic, and fuel and tire wear can be turned on or off. Skill level in certain situations is configurable also. In the Indy Series mode it is configured at the start for the entire series, whereas in the Quick Race mode is set before each race. Penalties can be set on or off, and your starting position can be either be set to be random, a certain section of the starting grid, or you can do it the most realistic way, and actually run the qualifying segment and earn your position to start the race.
The roar of the engines is the most notable sound and also the most prevalent sound you will hear. Depending on which camera view you use, the sound can and will be your best friend. Hearing cars coming up from behind is relatively simple and helpful, as it is much easier then looking back using one of the buttons, and not everyone will drive from the in-car camera. The crowd while racing cheers at times, and gets louder the closer as you near the start/finish line, but outside of that there is not much else in the way of the crowd that is going to grab your attention.
Musically there is very little in “IndyCar Series 2005”, as all you get is the intro music and a rock instrumental, and that’s it. There is no custom soundtrack option available. So if you need to have music, either crank up the stereo, or tune up your vocal cords. Honestly, I didn’t miss a soundtrack. There is enough going on that you should be listening to that a soundtrack would just get in the way.
As I said earlier, Dan Wheldon is your guide in learning the finer points of the game, but one the voice of racing, Bob Jenkins, is doing the intros for each track in the Indy Series mode. A name that used to be synonymous with NASCAR is now the voice of most other racing events, since NASCAR is no longer broadcast by ESPN. You also have a spotter that tells you everything from a location of another car (though not frequently enough at times), to how your laps are faring and position, and how much of the race is remaining.
The tracks are the showcase of “IndyCar Series 2005”. They are so good that the Indy Racing League website uses the game to show off the track to potential ticket buyers. However, while racing on them, you will notice there are very few shadows from the car, and the draw distance is very poor. There is a lot of draw-in while racing. On the positive side, there are no frame rate drops while racing. Everything flows extremely fast even when you have a ton of cars in front of you. Outside of the track itself, the graphics are not going to take your breath away – they’re average to say the least. This does not mean that average is bad, because the graphics are good enough to keep the feel of racing going as well as conveying the feel of an IndyCar race. The cars are close replicas of their real life counterparts, with the exception of the Marlboro car, which is missing the Marlboro logo. I still think it’s idiotic that the gaming companies cannot replicate the cars accurately. I would be very surprised if a kid smokes or drinks because of the logo on a car. It’s the stupidity of the government to think that way, but that’s enough of me on my soapbox for this review. During the race introductions, you will see a little bit of info about each driver pop up, but no sound accompanies it.
The damage model is handled very well. You’ll see pieces of your car and other cars flying through the air, as well as minor damage showing your tries wobbling after tapping the wall. There are several camera views to use while racing. You have a choice of two different far views, and a closer behind the car camera, a front bumper camera, and a cockpit camera. The cockpit camera is the only one that makes use of an actual mirror, which actually uses the two outside mirrors of the car itself, and does so very well. The views that do not have a mirror gives the user the ability to look behind you with a press of the A button. I wouldn’t look behind too long though, as things can change in front of you in a hurry and spell doom in an instant. Perhaps next year the arrows that have been featured in other Codemasters titles that show you the location and proximity of other cars.
This is where “IndyCar Series 2005” really shines. The gameplay is the meat and potatoes of this game and then some. The controls in this title are for a lack of a better word, tight. The cars control extremely well and do what they should do in most all situations. Flying around Indy with the throttle all the way down can be accomplished with the right driving line. One miss, however, and you and the wall are going to become very well acquainted. The same is true for a track like Phoenix, where the tight turns will make mincemeat out of your car in a hurry if you don’t practice precise throttle control. That said, this is definitely not a pick-up-and-play game. It does take some skill to master driving these cars. I guarantee that if you do happen to master the AI, you will not have the same success on Xbox Live. This is where the title shines even brighter. Racing with up to twelve human opponents is a wonderful thing. That is not to say that if you don’t have Xbox Live that you’ll be disappointed, because you won’t be. It’s just that Xbox Live adds a whole new dimension to the experience, and you’ll be shortchanging your expectations if you don’t try it out. However, there are some problems with Xbox Live. There are some bugs online that can be worked out, but only if you have the entire field cooperating. When you are playing with the real rules on, there are instances of prolonged yellow flags that will only stop being a problem when everyone starts following the rules of the sport.
Yup, I said it - rules of the sport. The one thing that really impresses me about “IndyCar Series 2005” is the duplication of the real rules of the game, and their persistence in making sure they are followed. This eliminates some “cheesing” and getting stuck with the “wreckers”, as they were termed back in my “NASCAR Racing” PC days. So the best thing that you can do for yourself before hopping online is to check out the Masterclass training and educate yourself on the rules of the sport. Doing this will help you out immensely and will help you to have a very enjoyable experience.
The AI in “IndyCar Series 2005” is a very formidable opponent for the offline racer. They race very tough, even on the easiest of settings, and they will crash into each other. This is a good feature, as it keeps you on your toes while racing. If you don’t stay awake you are going to get smoked, and since anything more than a tap on the wall, or a brush of the wheels can ruin your race in a second, you will definitely want to watch what you are doing.
The controls are very easy to master as well. Shifting is easily done using the Y and the X button and subtle changes to your car can be made with the right thumbstick while on the track. Throttle control is probably the hardest thing to master, but the tightness of the Xbox controller triggers makes this an easy task to master over time.
Setting up the car can be problematic. There are only a couple opportunities to do so and one is during the initial practice before the race. Online, it’s ever so much more difficult, since a lot of times you don’t get a lot of opportunity to mess with your setups. Once you go into the qualifying session, all editing of setups stops. You can only tweak a couple items during your pit sequences, so it leaves you stuck with your qualifying and race setup that you last had active from your practice session, or the last session you raced in. Luckily, all setups save when you exit, but there is no option to save the setup as something different, leaving you high and dry if you go overboard with your changes. My suggestion here is to get as many of your setups set right offline before you ever hop online. That way, you stand a better chance of getting your setups in and correct before an online race. Minor tweaks to your setup offline can make the difference between a back runner and a race winner rather quickly. Ne can win with a stock setup, but the odds will decrease as time goes on in an online game, as the serious users tweak to perfection. I still recommend getting used to the feel of the car in the Masterclass training before tweaking the setups. It is easier to learn the car then work on setups rather then jumping right into a new setup and racing.
“IndyCar Series 2005” is a game that anyone can try and it won’t cost you a ton to do so. Any oval racing fan will find enjoyment out of this game; the amount of enjoyment is going to be determined by how much you give back to the game. If you just hop in and play, you may be disappointed, but if you give this title some time, you will find a lot to enjoy.