Puts players on track for a thrill ride

'NASCAR '05'

Game Room

September 30, 2004|By Victor Godinez | Victor Godinez,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry once reportedly said, "Who among us does not love NASCAR?"

Well, if you take Electronic Arts' new NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup for a spin, there's a good chance you'll develop at least a mild crush on auto racing.

NASCAR 2005 ($50; suitable for all ages) is hitting Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube; I revved up the Xbox version.

There are a lot of changes from EA's previous NASCAR titles, the biggest being the Fight to the Top mode, in which you start as a rookie driver in a minor-league circuit and work your way up to NASCAR champion.

This career mode is a blast, and you get to race funky featherlite cars as well as trucks before graduating to stock cars and eventually to regular muscle cars.

If you don't have the patience for the career mode, you can jump into an instant race in any vehicle category.

On the track, there are all sorts of cool innovations, especially the Intimidator and Ally features.

If you get close enough to another car, you can intimidate the driver and force him to make mistakes, or you can be friendly and share your wind draft.

Both paths have benefits and pitfalls. Intimidation gets you to the front of the pack the fastest, but other drivers will hound you mercilessly. Allies, on the other hand, won't ram you off the road, but you need to be a skilled driver to avoid collisions while passing.

You also can collect prestige points to graduate faster to high-level racing series and gain fans, who will buy more of your merchandise so you can upgrade your car.

There is also a great collection of racetracks, both real world and imaginary.

You can race the traditional ovals if you prefer realism or engage in street racing in New York City and other major metropolitan areas.

Unfortunately, in terms of graphics, these street races don't measure up to those of other games that focus strictly on street racing, such as EA's Need for Speed: Underground.

Still, NASCAR 2005 has a ton of great game play and solid graphics under the hood.

Xbox and PS2 gamers can also enjoy the online mode if they want some human competition.

NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup

Price: $50

Rating: Rated E for everyone

Platforms: Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube

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