World of Outlaws Sprint Cars 2002 Review (PS2)
You’re tearing around Bristol Motor Speedway at 150 miles an hour. Your knuckles are white from following “The King” Steve Kinser for 22 laps. You’re down to your last tearoff, with 8 laps to go. You keep getting love taps from Slammin’ Sammy Swindell, and you continually fend off inside pass attempts by Lasoski doing his best impression of a bottom-dwelling catfish. All the while, you’re nursing a right rear tire that’s nearing the danger zone due to numerous run-ins with the wall coming out of turns 2 and 4 at breakneck speeds.
If you’ve ever followed sprint car racing, then that sounds like a dream to you. With the arrival of WoO for PS2, my dream became a reality. I hadn’t played a PS2 game in quite some time. In all honesty, I had sold my PS2 to a friend because I lost all interest in it, what with my Xbox and PC being much more powerful machines. I had already played the WoO beta extensively, so I didn’t think buying the game would be that big of a deal. I was so very, very wrong. I played the game at a friend’s house, and subsequently upset the wife because I had to go buy it, along with another PS2 to play it on at home. It’s that good. I’ve read numerous reviews on the game, giving it 60 to 70 scores. My main problem with these reviews is that they bash the content of the game, not the game itself. When you compare them to the reader reviews (which the majority are in the 9 range, coincidentally), you see a large disparity in what people think of the title. To fault a game for “making me dizzy” and “just racing around a bunch of ovals” is selling the game short due to a lack of vision. When the World of Outlaws are actually the second largest racing circuit in the country (behind NASCAR), they have a pretty large following already.
Now that I have my little bitch session out of the way, let me get to the game.
WoO has some good graphics as a whole. They have their high and low points, but they really do a good job of displaying what they’re supposed to, which are venues where you find people with shirts that say things like “If you ain’t got dirt in your beer, you ain’t racin!”. The atmosphere in the game is pretty good, with 6 time settings, from early afternoon to late evening progressing as the event goes on. That’s where you’ll notice one of the best parts about the game, at least in a graphical sense. Early on, you’ll see a track that really just looks like a bunch of mud…because it is. During practice sessions, the cars haven’t been out on the track long enough to cut a groove into it. As each session passes, the track undergoes a transformation…the groove dries out, and becomes as slick as a button. The cushion is a bunch of slop that piles up near the outside of the wall, and that is visually represented as well. Each time of day has a different look to the track, and all of them are very well done. You can pick and choose your lines visually, rather than by trial and error. You can actually see the darker patches of track where you’ll get more bite, and don’t have to randomly search for them. When I say moisture, I’m definitely not referring to the water reflecting off of the light portion of track, by the way. That is the part that will be as slick as gorilla snot. It has a nice sheen to it, but in real life (and the game), that part of the track is no man’s land. It’s hard as concrete, and as slick as ice. WoO accurately portrays that feeling as well.
The cars themselves look good, with accurately rendered torsion bars, frame and wing supports, and a first in a Ratbag game (PC or PS2)….ROUND TIRES!!! While that sounds silly to many of you, Ratbag is notorious for having hexagonal tires in their online PC games. This time, they have very round ones, with treads and letters on the sidewalls. It’s the little touches that prove to me how much effort our Australian friends put into this one. You won’t really notice the schemes on the cars for the most part during a race, simply because if you’re close enough to see them, they’ll be slinging mud on your screen. That’s right, in real sprint car racing, we have what are called tearoffs over our visors. You stack them up, one on top of the other, and loop it back through a button on the edge of your helmet. This way, as you tear one plastic sheet off, the next loop pops out, easy to grab with racing gloves on. They simulate this pretty well, as dirt hitting your screen can be cleared via a “tearoff” button. It adds another dimension to the realism, but sadly, you still have mud hitting your screen if you’re in external view. I guess it wouldn’t be fair to make those of us driving inside the cockpit have them, while chaps in the external don’t have to deal with it, eh?
Rounding out graphical touches are the excellent career mode screens…the office, the locker room, and the inside of the trailer. A little known fact about the trailer is it’s actually a rendition of Karl Kinser’s hauler (crew chief of Steve Kinser for many years, now crew chiefing for Steve’s cousin Mark Kinser). It’s kind of neat to know the trailer is basically a shot of the inside of Karl’s. Just more realism, I suppose. The driver and track cards are also a nice touch, where you get a short rundown of the circuit (for tracks), and a brief interview with a driver about his career (for drivers). I could go on and on about little graphical touches, as they abound, but I need to keep this review somewhat (a mission I’m already failing miserably, judging by the length already).
Sound is a tough one to call for me. Inside a sprint car, during a race, you hear a lot of noise. Rocks hitting the skirt under your feet, mud hitting your visor, little metal braided wires slapping against the cage, everything. In WoO, you just hear the motor for the most part. It sounds good enough, but it is missing that “you are there” effect that having the little sounds would add to it. Even as I write this, I am chuckling a bit because my biggest beef with the game is something that most people won’t give a second thought to. It’s just so damn good, that I want everything to be correct. You can hear the announcer yapping over the PA system faintly as you drive by the bleachers, which is pretty cool…it sounds almost identical to what you hear in reality. You can’t understand a damn thing he’s saying, but you can hear the buzz of his little voice crackling from the speakers. Other cars will alert you to their presence as well…mostly from their engines screaming in your ear. The in-game play by play guy is a bit out of place, calling out the “half way home” and “last lap” lines. To me, it seems like having voices in your head. Thankfully, you can turn him down and immerse yourself in the game even more. The sound gets the job done, but it’s certainly not my favorite part of the game. That menu music needs to have more than one track, as well…
This is where the fun really begins. It would take me fifteen paragraphs to sum up all I’ve discovered playing this game to death, which I won’t even begin to do. I’ll try and hit the important parts and leave it at that.
Arcade mode: This is where a good portion of your time is spent unlocking drivers and tracks. With three difficulty levels, and each one offering a different track to unlock by winning a championship season, there is a lot of racing to be done here. Don’t be put off by the word “arcade”, either. I think on Outlaw difficulty (the hardest), it’s more realistic than racing the World of Outlaws in career mode. The Maxim chassis in career (by the way, a real chassis manufacturer) still has a nominal level of steering assist to it, whereas you get none in Outlaw/Arcade. You’ll be able to choose from Time Trials, Single Race, and Championship modes. In time trials, it’s you against the clock, attempting to beat your best times. Pretty basic. Single race will give you an entire event, from practice to the A Feature. Championship mode strings together 24 single events, and tracks points. Nothing overly complicated here. The crown jewel of arcade mode is, without a doubt, two player championship racing. You and a friend can both enter a championship season on arcade, choose your cars, and duel it out over the course of the season. You’ll alternate practice and qualifying runs, but you’ll both race the whole event. If you’re both in Heat 1, it will go to split screen. If you’re in Heat 1 and he’s in Heat 2, you’ll alternate. For 24 races, you’ll duke it out and see who comes out ahead of whom at the end of the year. It’s a wonderfully done mode, and by far the most fun I’ve had with the game so far. After you win all three championships and win a race on every single track, you’ll have unlocked the entire game. It took me quite some time, let me tell you! I usually never touch the “arcade” portion of a game, but this one absolutely rules.
Career mode: the heart of the game itself. Start out with $12,000 and no car. You must purchase a car (one of which is the “Creek” chassis, a friend of mine here in Indianapolis. Ratbag went to great lengths to assure realism, as Greg Creek has been designing sprint car and racing chassis for many years. You’ll also notice the H & H Chassis, a spinoff of the J & J, and the Hawk…which is like an Eagle for those of you familiar to the sport), and enter events that you can hit locally. As you win more money, you’ll be able to travel to tracks that are further away, as well as buy better equipment and cars. If you bend up your car too badly, you’ll have to spend the money fixing it before you try to race again. By the time you win the World of Outlaws series, you’ll be a racing pro at WoO. I promise you.
AI in both arcade and career is top notch. They’ll go high, go low, and go pretty much anywhere they can fit through the course of a race. If you’re continually blocking low, you might get away with it for a couple laps, but eventually you’re going to get punted as the car behind you grows impatient. You’ll see cars going at it extremely hard right in front of you, and watch one of them get taken out and slam into the wall. It’s a real joy to watch fake drivers act so realistically, I assure you. I can’t even begin to convey the nervousness I had at Knoxville with Mark Kinser breathing down my neck, or Bloomington with cousin Steve right in front of me. One mistake in either place, and I was dogmeat. The AI even spreads itself out rapidly, as it does in real life. In any given race, you’ll have the fast guys and the backmarkers. This game represents it faithfully. You’ll have some cars out there on the track that look like they’re out for a Sunday drive, going abysmally slow. You’ll lap half the field on some occasions, which is exactly how it happens in real life. At the same time, there will be nights when one of the AI guys seems to have everything right: the car, the groove, the attitude. He’ll just drive away from you, and you’ll love every minute of it. It’s not until you’ve spent a great deal of time with the game that you’ll become a true dominator across the boards. My only beef with the AI is the way they act at short tracks sometimes. You’ll see them fly off the track, jump back on, and do some crazy things. They get a bit too wild, and will take you out more than you’d prefer to think about. Granted, some strange stuff happens at the bullrings, but never quite like this.
Rounding out the gameplay tidbits I’ll hit on are the smaller things. Driving the car is much tougher than it is in its PC counterpart. In the PC version, you can pretty much stand on the gas and go fast. Try that in this one, and your front wheels will pick up, making it impossible to steer. Finally having to battle with the awesome power a sprint car has in a video game is wonderful. You don’t just stomp the gas in a straight, stomp the brake in a corner, repeat. These cars take some real finesse to drive. For instance, most sprint cars only have brakes on the left front wheel (or the majority of the stopping power on the left front). When you hit the brakes, only the left front stops, which pitches the car for the corner. Try mashing the brakes in the game…you’ll spin out, just as you should. It’s beautiful. Another thing is starting the car…see, sprint cars don’t have clutches. You have to get pushed off by a pushtruck. You leave the car in neutral, and then pop it in gear when you’ve attained enough speed to start it. This, obviously, creates a problem if you spin out or try to stop during a race…you can’t start again. Finally, Ratbag has corrected a flaw from their PC version of Sprint Cars, and forced you to stall if you spin out or stop the car. This in turn creates a yellow flag, with you at the tail end, starting the previous lap over again. Just another bit of realism. Speaking of yellow flags, it seems to take them a while to fly when you have a car wrecked on the track. In the beta build, a lot of times they didn’t fly at all, so it’s a step in the right direction, but passing the same car on its roof for 3 laps before a yellow comes out due to “Track Hazard” is pretty amusing. This minor quibble is really nothing compared to the rest of the game, however.
I also might add that it has full support for Logitech’s Force Feedback wheel for the PS2, and that I also plugged my Logitech MOMO Force wheel for the PC into my Playstation 2, and it performed identically. If you’re the type of guy who has to have a wheel, you’re in good shape with this title. Force effects were somewhat weak, but definitely helped the driving experience. You can feel when the car is hooked or just sliding haphazardly, and being able to use a wheel on both PS2 and PC is a bonus. The MOMO force is the best of the bunch, carrying a $200 price tag with it. If you’ve got the greenbacks, grab WoO and MOMO at the same time, and be in sprint car racing heaven.
When all is said and done, WoO is by far the best racing game I’ve ever played on a console. Sure, it’s a lot of turning left, but with millions of people involved in it every weekend across the country, there’s definitely a market for it. If you can get past the shortsightedness of what’s IN the game, and see what IS the game, you’ll be in for a treat. I haven’t played a racing game on a console this much in my entire life, and there are no signs of stopping anytime soon. I’ve already unlocked everything, won everything in career mode, and just started over with a new driver. As somebody on our forums once said, I can forgive every bad racing game ever made for PS2, because Ratbag has created WoO.