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Posted: May 30, 1990 @ 06:55 am GMT-0600
Updated: Feb 16, 2023 @ 02:38 pm GMT-0600
Sorting Tags: Article Review, Article Software, Articles, Indy 500: The Simulation, News – Papyrus Racing Games,

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This review was published in Computer Gaming World in May, 1990. Read more.

Computer Gaming World regulars may be wondering why I am writing this review instead of just dictating “expert” quotes to my friend, Charles Ardai [Ed: As he did in “Once Around the Block,” CGW #57, p. 451. The explanation is simple. Indianapolis 500 is billed not as a game but, rather ominously, as Indianapolis 500: The Simulation. Readers will recall that Charles has refused to get into an actual race car and may not be surprised that at the sight of such a realistic simulation, he panicked. Let’s just say his therapist is working overtime.

I’m happy with the way things worked out, however. It takes a true motorsports enthusiast, at least, to appreciate the intricacy of this program. The game is not only a hyper-realistic simulation but a valuable educational tool for any aspiring racecar driver.

A Month At the Races

The amount of research that went into the game is obvious as soon as one cracks the surprisingly detailed instruction manual. Not content with spelling out the mechanics of the game, it offers a wealth of information on the entire spectacle and history of racing’s most celebrated event. All facets of the race are covered, from a driver’s month-long schedule of pre-race activities to the layout of the speedway complex, including bathroom locations. There is even a section of photographs of Indy winners throughout history which doubles as a clever anti-piracy device. Welcome as this vast store of information is, however, most of it is non-essential to the simulation. What is important is the detailed and lengthy explanation provided of suspension configuration and how its modification affects a car’s handling. This is a game for those who take racing seriously.

The suspension elements that players can adjust include: shock absorbers, wheel stagger, camber, anti-roll bars, tire pressure and rubber compound; also adjustable are the car’s downforce-generating wings and transmission gearset.

Remarkably, not only do all these settings noticeably affect the car’s handling, but they interact so thoroughly that one has to remain constantly aware of their potential for cancelling effects on one another.

To allow players to experiment with various car set-ups, the simulation provides a practice session in which one can alter any of the car’s characteristics at any point on the track (Note: In the Qualifying and Race sessions, only a few such modifications are possible once the race is underway and these can only be made in the pits). In fact, the settings can be so intricate that players will want to start with the default settings the first few times out.

On the Right Track

Since racing games typically offer a variety of unusual track shapes, one might expect a game limited to a plain oval to be tedious. In Indianapolis 500, this is not the case. The realities of handling a car at more than 220 mph are so well-represented as to make even the straightaways a challenge. When one takes into account additionally the interaction with fellow racers and the constant attention one must pay to wear on the vehicle’s various components, it becomes obvious that this simulation is anything but boring. It also becomes obvious that this is a game for those who take auto racing seriously. Gamers looking for immediate gratification should stick to Out Run.

Even with all its technical sophistication, the game is highly entertaining. The graphics (in VGA mode, at least) are astounding. Although individual objects (the cars, the track walls, etc.) are not particularly well detailed, the changes in perspective that occur as one moves around the track leads one to believe that the entire world of the speedway is effectively contained within the computer. Adding to this illusion of reality are the six camera angles available for instant replay, which can be called up at anytime: driver’s view, behind the car, track mounted, grandstand, helicopter, and leader/crash. (The last shows important events which the driver might not have been able to see from his car.)

The only disappointment in the game is the PC soundtrack. Every sound the game makes with the internal speaker is annoying, at best, and unbearable at worst. One loses something if one plays with the sound turned off, however, because some sounds (especially the squealing of tires) are important indicators of the car’s performance. [Ed: Of course, those who have Ad Lib and Roland sound boards will not have this problem. The soundtrack is outstanding with these boards.]

The controls are very responsive. While utilizing the keyboard effectively takes a lot of practice, it is quite functional once one gets used to it. If one should happen to have access to a joystick, however, control is natural and transparent. Steering is highly responsive, a pleasant surprise after so many recent sluggish driving games.

Checkered Flag

Any serious attempt to master Indy 500 will require a great deal of practice—perhaps, also a little madness. Each suspension change requires many laps of testing and each complete set-up means hours of (re-)learning how to drive smoothly. Only the most dedicated and determined players will ever win a race (Of course, this is the way it is in real life,too . . . ) This means that Indy 500 is not for everyone. (Charles, you can come out now!) For gamers who might actually be interested in racing some day, it offers in-valuable experience; for die-hard simulation nuts, it offers a truly in-depth portrait of its subject; but for casual gamers it can offer headaches and heartache and hair-pulling frustration. Keep this in mind, readers—you know who you are. CGW 5/90

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