The Indianapolis 500 was once the pinacle of racing.  Although recently Indycar racing has dropped in popularity compared to its NASCAR bretheren, Codemasters looks to use the official license to bolster their reputation as a provider of inexpensive, high quality online racing games with the release of IndyCar Series 2005.  This reviewer, who confesses no prior knowledge nor interest in IndyCar racing, was asked to take the game for a few laps around the track to determine just how high the quality of this release is.  Buckle up and prepare to roll.

If asked to describe the visuals of IndyCar Series 2005 in one word, the word “clean” might come quickly to mind.  The tracks are pristine, the stands are immaculate, and the sky is a bright shade of blue that capably gives way to occasional cloudy weather.  It’s all very alluring, but there isn’t much to look at in this game.  Even though each of the authentic tracks of the actual Indy Car set are reproduced with as much focus on distinction as possible, the drivers in each car look identical, the cars themselves vary only in color, and the stands are a homogenous, lifeless affair at each stop of the tour.

The empty stands would be more of a detraction if you didn’t routinely cruise past said structures at over 200 miles per hour.  Most impressively, the game succeeds well in capturing the feel of traveling at such absurd speeds.  The effect is comparable to any racing game on the market, and is perhaps only matched by the insane velocities achieved in the Burnout series.  While crashes in Indycar Series 2005 are not as grotesquely beautiful as those in EA’s offering, they manage to convey the devastation associated with a delicate piece of machinery hitting an unforgiving stone wall at roughly four times the highway speed limit.

There are a number of camera options, including an external view from various distances and an inside-the-cockpit driver’s perspective. The driver’s view does not change regardless of the driver you select for your race, and is realistically more difficult than the external views that allow greater sense of what is happening around your car.  These perspectives can be changed with the touch of a button at any time during the race.

It is difficult to tell whether Codemasters kept costs down for this release by skimping in the sound department or whether the sound in IndyCar Series 2005 is the way it is because of a conscious design decision.  Supporting the first claim, other than the unintentionally hilarious rock song during the introductory cutscene, most of the sound in this game takes the form of overwhelming, dolby-exaggerated engine noises which do not seem to vary by car.  There may be subtle differences in the sounds of differenty tweaked engines, but if so these will only be detected by the most diehard motorheads. 

Making up for these deficiencies, there is a fair amount of random commentary offered by who I’m told are authentic IndyCar personalities.  Aside from the tutorial portion of the game, most of the commentary during actual races is not vital, and allowed me to turn the volume on my television all the way down without guilt.  Rarely has a game called out so strongly for a custom soundtrack option, but there is none here.

Controls cannot be customized, but they are intuitive and simple.  The triggers regulate acceleration and braking, and the face buttons handle gear shifting and changing the view.  If you only knew this, you would be in good shape to compete in the races and have some fun.  Past the basic controls, the right thumbstick controls fuel mixture with horizontal movements and weight jacking with vertical movements.  Both of these options were were met with glee by an IndyCar fan conscripted into providing guest insight for this review, but neither were satisfactorily explained to allow someone new to the sport full comfort in utilizing these advanced techniques.

While the game supports steering wheel controllers, none were available for testing in this review.

The score above is primarily directed toward IndyCar fans.  For you, Codemasters has provided the game of your dreams that allows you to spend as much time in the pit as it does on the famous tracks chasing glory.  Fans of sim-styled driving games in general may knock a few points off of that score, but will still enjoy what this has to offer.  Fans of arcade racers with no real tie to the world of Indy Car racing should cut that in about half.  An explanation of the features should help you determine what side of the spectrum you fall on.

Firing up IndyCar Series 2005 greets you with an easily navigated menu.  From here, you can choose to engage in a quick race, go to the garage, jump into a full season, or build your skills in the Master Classes.  The races are incredibly long (default is 50 laps for a quick race), and while they only involve making left turns, they are quite difficult.  One mistake and you will normally find yourself out of contention.  Two mistakes and you can be lapped pretty easily.  In keeping with realism, there is no map on the heads up display letting you know where your competition is currently placed, but the voices from your pit crew sometimes tell you if someone is making a move on you or the lead.  One very welcome touch: you can save your game mid race.  Considering that some races are as many as 500 laps, this is absolutely integral to enjoyment of the game without having to take a vacation from your life to play.

A newbie should not just jump into the races, though.  Despite a few difficulty settings meant to aid new drivers, the game is still deceptively hard.  To that end, a Master Class mode is featured.  This is like a tutorial that means to introduce the basics of the racing mechanics.  Even the Master Classes are astonishingly difficult, and the skill required to earn even the bronze ranking on each task was so far beyond what most games place in tutorials that I doubt any but hardcore Indy game veterans will have a chance at the gold and silver rankings.  Getting these rankings (and presumably, high finishes in races) earns trading cards, which similar to EA’s sports series allows the player to unlock enhanced customization features within the game.

Customization, coincidentally, is the name of the game.  In my playthrough, there was very little success gained racing the car fresh out of the garage.  Only when I was instructed by my real life IndyCar adviser to do such things as adjust the angle on my front wing did I start to gain higher positions.  Unfortunately, the game itself does very little in the way of explaining the customization options and what benefit they might serve, but if you already have a good knowledge of this field then you will likely only be restricted by your imagination.

IndyCar Series 2005 retails for approximately $20.00.  For that money, you get a deep single player mode that will likely take months to complete successfully, local multiplayer in the form of split screen or system link, and most impressively, Xbox Live functionality.  As many as 12 racers can go at it simultaneously, and there is a scoreboard option as well.  Lacking Xbox Live functionality, I am unable to report on the experience, but basic research indicates that the game runs competently over Live, and that races can be as pleasant or annoying as the users you might choose to race.

The only downside is that the game itself doesn’t offer a great deal of variety.  There are more varied racers on the market, and even more varied online racers in this price range.  It has been stated multiple times already, but if you are a fan of the subject matter, you will get more from this game than a non-fan might. Although given that the underlying mechanic is very simple, it may become tedious after a while regardless of your leanings.