Players:1 - 2
Developer: Pipeworks Software
A budget-priced racing game always looks like a leery option for gamers. The questions arise about the quality of gaming; the amount of vehicles to race; the racing physics; the graphics, etc. Budget price usually means that everything is up for questioning. And in this case, such precautions are met with a game that actually manages to encapsulate brief moments of fun.
I’m not going to beat around a bush here; this is a very bare-bones racer. There’s a tutorial mode, a quick race mode, a career mode and an event race option. The meat and potatoes of the game (if there is such a thing) resides in NHRA’s career mode. Gamers can pick a car class (i.e., Dragster, Funny, Pro-Stock and Motorcycles) and then work their way up through the ranks by qualifying for tournaments and earning cash to compete. Money plays a semi-important part in maintaining one's career status, as crashes, dents, bumps and unnecessary damages to the car will result in expenses having to be paid out. Players can also modify and adjust a good deal of their vehicle, including fuel, tire pressure, gears and much more. There’s also an almost meaningless option to hire a pit crew chief, which supposedly helps the player’s stats. But good racing tactics and a well-adjusted vehicle out-weighs a pit crew chief in NHRA any day of the week.
One thing to note, though, is that before doing anything in this game I can’t stress how essential the tutorial is for each racing class. The learning curve is about half-an-hour if you're a quick learner, but it'll probably take the average gamer up to an hour to truly understand the racing (and pre-racing) mechanics in NHRA Drag Racing. This is not Burnout, Forza Motorsport, Gran Turismo or THQ’s own Moto GP. The gameplay mechanics are very different from a lot of other racing titles currently on the market. In fact, NHRA has a rather complex drag racing mechanic that involves more than just holding down the accelerator.
For the dragsters and funny cars the pre-race warm-up includes burning out to warm up the tires, and then slowly adjusting the car to the starting line. This is not a snooze-fest, by the way. Every race for the dragsters and funny cars starts and ends with methodical precision on the player’s part...if the player wants to win. The motorcycles and pro-stock cars require a slightly different approach to drag racing in NHRA. Unlike the dragsters, motorcycles and pro-stock cars require a very timely and detailed pre-race procedure for burning out and warming up. Since this is a review and not a game guide, you can play the game for yourself to get the full, detailed effect of the pre-race procedures. But I will say that drag racing fans will definitely enjoy a game like this given its in-depth drag racing functionality.
Graphically the game doesn’t look fantastic, but it certainly doesn’t look like cow dung either. I think it’s safe to say that for $14.95, NHRA Drag Racing: Countdown to The Championship looks equivalent to the amount of money you pay for it. Again, though, if you’re into drag racing and you love the gear-head aspects of tinkering with a drag racing vehicle, then the graphics for this game won’t bother you much. At least the model files are designed competently and the texture mapping is well aligned. The stadiums, crowds and drag racing atmosphere also have a competent enough feel to their presence, so it doesn’t entirely look like players are trapped in a polygonal box.
It was disappointing that the audio wasn’t quite on par with the graphics. While the vehicles sounded great in the game and offered up a lot of realism in the power they presented on the track; the thunderous roar of the cars are impeccable on this game. However, a lot of the audio is dampened by the repetitive and annoying commentary voice-overs. The commentator keeps saying the same things over and over and over again. There’s also a lacking supply of audio tracks to compliment the game. It’s not terribly important to have a lot of audio tracks in a game like this, but the same ones playing repeatedly can become irritating after a while.
In regards to the replay values of the game, I can’t say that there’s a lot to keep non-drag racing fans coming back for any reason. There’s 20 tracks to race on, but they’re drag strips. So all the tracks look a like, save for a minor difference in the placement of the stands. Even the two-player split-screen mode is shallow and simplistic. However, if you’re the kind of player who enjoys watching drag racing and are a fan of the sport, then this game will easily have you hooked with its stretched out career mode that spans the likes of four different car classes.
Overall, NHRA Drag Racing: Countdown to the Championship is a game that lives up to its low price. You can’t expect the world from a game that costs $14.95, but you can expect to have some rubber-burning fun for the weekend.