World of Outlaws: Sprint Cars REVIEW

World of Outlaws: Sprint Cars Review (PC)

"The Greatest Show on Dirt" is the slogan for the sprint car World of Outlaws Series. The World of Outlaws has a decent following of fans. In 2003 they are celebrating their 25th anniversary for the series. It is still occasionally aired on television, currently on the SPEED Channel, and most of the events are sold out weeks in advance before they arrive. Having lived in Illinois most my life I wasn't very familiar with the series. However, after moving to Iowa a few years ago I found that this series has a huge following here. Racing ranks in Iowa right up there with football and baseball. Now living near Des Moines, Iowa I am less than 30 miles from the
Knoxville Raceway, in Knoxville, IA, which is also home to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum. The Knoxville Raceway hosts two separate World of Outlaws events during the year and also has other Sprint Car events every week for 6 straight months. I have even taken in a couple races much to my pleasure. Sprint car racing is fun, wild, and can get very reckless.

World of Outlaws (WoO): Sprint Cars is Ratbag's second sprint car game released for the PC, and if you follow console gaming you will realize this is the same name as the title released in 2002 for the Playstation 2. The two games are very common in almost all aspects, even in price. When publisher Infogrames released the PS2 version it was looked at as a potentially inferior product because it was released at less than the current standard of fifty bucks. A lot of people missed out on one of the best racers to grace the PS2 because of this, no fault to Infogrames or Ratbag. The PC version is being marketed at the same price as the PS2 version selling for $29.99 at most establishments, some even selling at a $20 price tag.

If you are familiar with the series the very first thing that will be noticed is the game promotes the Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series. As of January of 2003 Pennzoil dropped sponsorship of the WoO series. It is now known as the O'Reilly Auto Parts World of Outlaws Series. With the change coming so close the release and being an almost direct port of the PS2 version I imagine the time was not there to change this before release, as there would've had to be numerous changes not only to the packaging but also in the game itself.

SOUND The sound in WoO is a major part of the racing experience, specifically on the track. The sprint car sounds do their real life counterparts justice in the delivery and the execution in being very close to the real thing. Getting this close to authentic has to make the rabid fan feel very good, but it also gives a good feeling to the casual fan as well. The menu sounds are not obstructive or bothersome, and the occasional other sounds while maneuvering through the different areas also is done well in being very unobtrusive, but yet kind to the ears.

Outside of the sprint car and menu sounds you will not have much else presented to you in the audio department. You will hear the track announcer (which is always the same voice regardless of the track) say a quick comment about your lap time, if it is really good, during qualifying, as a race starts, and almost always as you are completing the last lap of a given race. If you were hoping for a lot of commentary while you are racing you better start talking to yourself while you race, because you will be sorely disappointed in this regard. Majority of people may actually welcome the sporadic spattering of the track announcer as I did, but alas some may not, however the racing sounds are done really well and the bottom line in the sound department is that on the track is where the concentration should lie anyways, since everything else is just plain old fluff.

If you are familiar with the PS2 version of the game, you wont be very surprised with the graphics. That's not to say that the graphics are bad though. The graphics on the PS2 version were pretty damn good to begin with, and they are even better using the PC architecture along with the elements the individual user can add. Even if you stick to the recommended system requirements, you are getting a better-looking game out of the PC version. The textures are a lot crisper, details are more prevalent, and if you have an average to excellent system you may actually have feelings that start to scream "impressive!" as you race around the track. When you break down the graphics a little closer you will find that the track textures are well represented. They do an excellent job of showing off the different types of dirt surfaces whether it be dry, mildly wet, or even muddier than what the average three year old boy likes to dive into, you will be able to easily differentiate the variety of textures easily while racing. The cars are also nicely detailed and accurate looking. As you progress through the game you will see sponsors stickers changing on your car, and there are plenty of different color schemes to choose from as well. This makes repetition of seeing the same thing all the time a little less common, especially since with the career mode you will have many opportunities to change cars (which I can almost guarantee you will not unless you cheat ahead of time).

The backgrounds and surroundings of the tracks are of the fixed variety where it will be the same every time you are at a certain track, however this doesn't detract at least for a while, because the backgrounds do look good, and add to the local county track atmosphere that you would expect from a title of this nature. The Knoxville track is about 95% accurate from what I could tell. I noticed a couple of minor items that didn't seem completely correct, but then I am also up there in years and my memory isn't completely what it used to be as it has been about 9 months since I was last at the track. Lastly, when I talked about the sound above I mentioned you would occasionally hear the track announcer speak. Well that is all that happens; the one major thing that is lacking here is there are no flags waving from anywhere. Just the lights on the track are all that change, going from red, to green, and occasionally yellow for a caution. This is the one atmosphere item that could have added that much more to the experience, and is sorely missed.

Once you are ready to dive into the gameplay you will begin to see what WoO has to offer. As far as modes of play go you can choose from the following main selections: Arcade, Career, and Multiplayer. Multiplayer allows you to race head to head with racers via the GameSpy network, or via a direct IP connection. Multiplayer is one area I did not spend much time in due to the fact that it was rare to find more than a couple players at any given time during the times I checked. So with that I cannot offer much in the way of comments on the multiplayer aspect of the game. Arcade consists of three different types of racing, which include: Single race using any unlocked car and any unlocked track in one race, Time Trials which has you trying to beat your best time on the track with the above restrictions, and Championship which also uses the above restrictions, but with a different twist. As you progress through an Arcade Championship you can unlock new drivers, which then become usable in the other two modes. The difference between the Arcade Championship mode and the Career mode that I will speak about shortly, is that in the Arcade Championship you will receive damage during the race, but it will automatically repair at the end of each segment with no cost involved. So if you are looking for the best experience with WoO you will be looking forward to the last gameplay option, Career mode.

In the Career mode you start off as a new sprint driver with no car and $12,000. To start off with you need to purchase a car. With the $12,000 you have your choice of two different styles and difficulties of cars, one for $9,000 and the other for $10,000. Later on in your career you may have the ability to purchase one of the other four, more expensive, sprint cars. Once purchased you then can upgrade some of the performance parts on the car or start working on where you want to race at first. Take into consideration that if you spend all your money on upgrades you will not have any money to repair your sprint car during the events, and for a while you will definitely need repair money available. There are two main areas you will spend your time at when not racing. One is an office where you set your racing schedule, view your standings, see where you are able to travel too, and also view any trophies you have earned during your career. The other area is your racing trailer where you can buy and sell cars, make repairs, and also add new upgraded parts. Both areas also have a spot that allows you to go straight to the next race you have selected on your schedule.

Speaking of schedule, your sprint car 'year' consists of 32 weeks of racing. Initially when you start your career you are a local sprint car racer that only has the ability to race on two different tracks, this is done this way to make it feel like you are working your way up the ranks. As you earn so much in winnings you will extend farther beyond your local area, which also gives you more tracks to race on. Each race is designated as a 1-4 star race. You are comparative to a 1 star racer when you begin so it makes logical sense to concentrate on the 1-2 star races as those you can be very competitive in, where as if you tried to jump into a 4 star race immediately you will be slaughtered and probably lapped at least 2-3 times before the race is half over due to the differences in the sprint cars. Normally each week there are 3 events that can be chosen if you have all the areas unlocked. You are only allowed to choose one of these events, and each one has a different star rating from the other. So you must choose whether you want to continue pursuing your championship quest or jump up a level and go for the larger monetary payoffs.

Once your schedule is setup it is on to the race. When you started your career you had the choice of a brief or long format. Brief just consists of qualifying and racing. The long format has you qualifying, racing the heat races, which qualify you for the final money races, and also the trophy dash when necessary. Depending on how well you qualify determines either your starting order in the brief format or where you are placed in the heat races on the long format. If you finish in the top 6 in your heat race you automatically receive a spot in the A Main race, which is the only way to receive a major payout for the race. If you don't initially finish your heat in the top 6 you go to the B Main where you have one last shot at the larger dollars. If you finish 5th or below in the B Main your night is done, you will receive a small amount of money its on to the next race. Finish in the top 4 and you are on to the A Main. Downside of racing the B Main is that if you take on a lot of damage you earn no money before going to the A Main, so the best bet is to do well in the heat races. One side note on going from the Heat race straight to the A Main is you have the opportunity to race with 11 other cars in a Trophy Dash which sets the starting position for the first 12 cars in the A Main. If you skip this you will start in 12th. The B Main top 4 does not receive an opportunity to race in the Trophy Dash as they start in 13th- 16th position depending on their finish in the B Main. Before each segment of racing you have the ability to adjust certain areas of your sprint car to try and make yourself faster, these include gearing ratio changes, shocks types, pitch and position of the wings, ride height, weight distribution as well as a couple others. The manual does a good job of telling you what the effects of each change may be. You also can repair damage before the race, but beware, you are only allowed to fix so much of the damage each segment, with roughly about 10% max damage being fixable during segments.

Controlling the cars can be done via many different methods including wheels, gamepads, joysticks, and even a keyboard if you are so inclined. I don't recommend a keyboard for racing, but it can be done. I raced using a Nostromo n45 Gamepad and also a Microsoft Force Feedback Wheel and both were easy to set up and use while racing. Response time using the controls is excellent and only takes a few seconds to configure them to your liking. Once on the track you will find how well the cars behave and react, the gameplay is top notch racing, even at the initial levels you can get a good feel for the type of power a sprint car possesses. The sprints are not about mashing the gas and flying around the track. You will definitely need to learn how to use quite a bit of finesse as you are progressing through the ranks. The more powerful the car the tougher the racing becomes, but the speeds you go are a nice trade-off as competing at the WoO level is an exhilarating experience. The AI also does a very good job of faithfully reproducing sprint car racing, as you will have the dominators and the slackers. In the main event races you will do just as much dodging the slow sprints as you do trying to pass to advance your position. To go along with that the AI is very unpredictable. They will try and sneak by for your spot, change lines as the race progresses, and even tangle with each other on the track causing cars to be flipping and sliding everywhere to avoid the mess. The crashes in WoO are not overdone by any means and maybe even possibly a little underdone, but you are almost certain to have the need to dodge a wreck or calamity sometime during each event in at least one of the segments of racing. Cautions if turned may come out around a crashing type incident, however it normally takes having a car stopped on the track to bring out a caution versus the actual wreck happening. With sprint cars, they have to be pushed started once stopped, since there is no clutch on them. So as long as you can keep the wheels moving during a wreck you can get back on your wheels and take off. If you stop and try to get yourself re- focused on which way to go and wait for traffic you will 9 times out of 10 bring out a caution and re-start the lap from the rear of the field.

As you race you have the ability to change your wing position which can help you go faster on the track at a price of reduced handling or move it the other way for better handling and reduced top speed. It is possible to win with the default setups later on in your career, but if you have the time and patience run some laps making changes to your setup and you can really see some massive differences as you dial the sprint car into a finely tuned racing machine. It is very feasible to take the $10,000 sprint car, a couple upgrades, and a decent setup and win a 3 star race with some excellent driving mixed in. Trust me though, it took a lot of tweaking and effort to get there, but I thought it was well worth it.

Once you start winning in career mode you will start receiving sponsorship offers, and for putting their decal on your car you will get an 'appearance' fee at the end of each event. This helps in building up your bank roll as well as allowing you to get competitive much faster through upgrades and new sprint cars. This in turn is the easier way to progress versus my attempts at setup perfection. The first year of your career you can at best end in a respectable manner, but once year two begins you can really start to make a name for yourself. If you enter an event in every week using the long format you are easily looking at 5-6 hours of gameplay to finish a season. Which gives you a ton of replay value, since the majority of players won't be at the WoO stage until at least their third year.

World of Outlaws: Sprint Car Racing is a game that can appeal to many segments of gamers. If you already own the PS2 version of World of Outlaws you probably do not even need to give the PC version much of a look unless you are desperate for multiplayer. Those that have not played the PS2 version do not look at this as a game where you are only going around in circles, because it is much more than that. WoO: SC is an excellent racing game period. If you happen to be a sprint car fan you would be doing yourself a supreme injustice by not checking this out. The same goes for the person who likes many different genres of racing games. The casual racing gamer who is more a fan of the arcade type racers like Need for Speed or Burnout should also be able to find considerable amount of enjoyment out of this title as well. Even if you have in the past declared going in circles is not your thing.

The racing here is fun, challenging, and there is definitely quite a bit of longevity here if you give it the time. Ratbag has delivered another excellent product that also for the price gives you a ton of bang for your buck. Hopefully enough gamers out there give this a shot as Ratbag while maybe not state of the art in delivery, has a proven track record for giving the end user a well done and enjoyable title, and this one does not deviate one bit.

World of Outlaws: Sprint Cars Score
out of 10