(July 1998-July 1999)
We've reached the dog days of summer, and we're nearing another Holiday season. For those of us who are extremely addicted to PC entertainment (not that kind--I'm referring to games), that means a landslide of new titles will be vying for our attention. Great stuff, if you ask me, but I think that means I'll be giving annual awards for racing titles at the end of July, thus getting it done before I'm buried in new racing sims. On that note, I give you-
Best Racing Simulation
Absolutely a no-brainer. There has never been any racing sim as difficult, frustrating, rewarding, and just plain uncompromising as Grand Prix Legends. The combination of terrific physics, clean graphics, unique subject matter, and comprehensive multiplayer add up to GPL taking the checkered flag--without a competitor in sight.
Worst Racing Simulation
Once again, I didn't have to think too hard. If a complete lack of satisfaction for the dollar is the benchmark, NASCAR Revolution reaches it ahead of all comers. Sloppy control, terrible AI, slide-show framerates on all but the fastest systems, and a seemingly total lack of concern for the customer puts this one in the pits early.
Best Arcade Racer
There were some good ones out there--Need for Speed 3, Speedbusters, and the like--but Powerslide comes away with the trophy. The Ratbag Games title is a perfect mix of atmosphere, stunning graphics, blazing framerates, and pure fun. Throw in TCP/IP multiplayer and you have a new standard for the genre.
Worst Arcade Racer
Test Drive 5. I didn't spend that much time with it, but I spent enough to not like it. Barely average graphics, lousy sound, instability, and no believability in the driving model--need I say more?
Best Graphics (Overall)
Powerslide. I can't say enough about how incredible this game looks, especially at high resolutions with a 3D accelerator. Great texture on the terrain and cars, nice environments, and the aforementioned high frame rates make Powerslide the winner.
Runner up: Sports Car GT
Best sound (Overall)
Grand Prix Legends, with the varied engine notes, tire scrub sounds, and good collision effects is the best of the bunch at making you feel like you're really there.
Runner up: Speedbusters
Best Concept (Overall)
Sports Car GT. I love the idea of starting at the lower ranks and working your way to the top, and SCGT provides exactly that. The financial model, while not very realistic, adds to the overall experience, and puts SCGT over the top in this category. I also think we were way overdue for a good sports car racing sim, and ISI delivered in spades.
When I saw that Eidos was making another F1 title, I was prepared for the worst--Power F1 wasn't my cup of tea, and I expected little from Official Formula 1 Racing. What I got was a lot more than I had hoped for, and OF1R has a permanent home on my hard disk.
This one is a tie, for two very different reasons. As far as a hyped product not delivering anything near expectations, EA wins with NASCAR Revolution. For reasons, simply see my review (or anyone else's, for that matter), and it will become clear.
Another huge disappointment for me was the fact that no US publisher has picked up TOCA 2. I think the American gaming public is missing out on a lot of enjoyable racing, and some publisher is missing out on some profits. Somebody please step up to the plate and take this one.
Best New Technology
This one goes to something that will probably surprise a lot of you--the ForceRS and RS Engine system from ACT Labs. The ability to switch a high-quality controller from your PC to your console is a great idea, as is the upgrade to USB from the serial version. This type of system was long overdue.
Most Eagerly Awaited Title
For me, it's probably Can-Am Racing from Motorsports Simulations or Ratbag's Dirt Track Racer. For the sim community as a whole, I'd give the nod to NASCAR Racing 3 or Grand Prix 3.
Best Customer Support (Software)
Believe it or not, I didn't have to make one call to tech support this past year. I guess that makes me a minority, but I'll take it. The award, therefore, goes to the company that I have had the best response from in a professional capacity, and that is Sierra.
Best Customer Support (Hardware)
I've owned a Thrustmaster Formula T2 for a few years now, and have had the usual breakage of springs, worn out bungies, and other common gremlins. TM has always been there to provide the parts to make it right, even long after the warranty has expired, and that wins them this award hands down. I hope the new ownership continues this tradition of supporting the customer.
Well, there you have it, the picks and pans for the past year. Agree or disagree? Think I should add any categories? Let me know by dropping me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Scott Moore 8/9/99
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