Originally created 09/23/04

'NASCAR 2005' is on right track with challenging innovations



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

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

NASCAR 2005 ($49; 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, where 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 and trucks before graduating to stock cars and eventually 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 Ally and Intimidator features.

If you get close enough to another car, you can intimidate the driver and force him to make mistakes, or you can 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 also is 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 compare well with other games that focus strictly on street racing, such as EA's own 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 enjoy the online mode if they want some human competition.

SEGA IS PUSHING ahead with its plan to beat Electronic Arts' sports franchises on price.

The recently released ESPN NHL 2K5 and ESPN NFL 2K5 clocked in at $19 each, as will ESPN NBA 2K5 when it ships later this year.

So far, EA isn't taking the bait - and probably doesn't need to since Madden 2005 has been riding high on the sales and rental charts.

Sega executives have said in interviews that they're hoping that while hard-core gamers gorge on EA's full-priced titles, casual gamers and gift buyers will graze on the less expensive Sega games.