Reviewed: July 12, 2004
Released: June 22, 2004
IndyCar Series 2005 has made a triumphant return on the Xbox after last year’s less-than-stellar debut. After about 20 thrilling and somewhat grueling hours behind the wheel I’m ready to blow the crankcase off this game. If you have read any of my other reviews you already know I am a racing fanatic. Growing up within earshot of the Texas Motor Speedway, I’ve been a track rat since I was 12. I’ve gone to racing school and driven both NASCAR and open wheel (IndyCar) machines so I know what’s real and what’s not.
While last year’s effort was more arcade than sim, despite Codemasters’ insistence that it really was a sim, this year they have listened to the real racing fans and suitably tweaked this racer into what is easily one of the most serious racing sims you can play on a console. The eagerly awaited addition of online multiplayer also shoots this title to the top of the genre.
New features for 2005 include:
IndyCar Series offers several gameplay modes including the traditional quick race, IndyCar Series, Indy 500, and Masterclass. The IndyCar Series is the equivalent of a championship mode that has you take your driver through an entire racing season earning points based on your finishing position. This series includes the famous Indy race or you have the luxury of racing this event as a standalone experience. I did appreciate this feature, as a lot of people will be buying this game just to race at the elusive Indy track.
Your entire game experience is based on the difficulty setting you choose in the options. Choosing easy takes the edge off and offers an arcade experience that will appeal to the console crowd; otherwise you can expect a very difficult and often tedious gameplay experience.
If you are looking for fancy scenery, exotic street racing locales, and a wild assortment of cars you should probably look elsewhere. IndyCar Series 2005 is a niche racing title aimed at a select few gamers who enjoy racing lap after lap, finely tuning their cars, and shaving precious seconds off their lap times.
Racing at Indy requires that you first qualify. This is usually an option but here you must do it and you must complete it. If you DQ or wreck you do it all over again, at least on the higher skill levels. Keep it on easy and you can go on to the next session. The Indy 500 mode simulates the entire week of racing with practice, qualifying, bump day, carb day, and the final Memorial Day Weekend race.
Masterclass is basically the driving school lead by IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon. This is probably the highpoint of the game for me, not so much because I needed the training, but simply because I can confirm that everything he is teaching is the same stuff they taught me at racing school. You’ll learn about car setup, drafting, fuel mixtures, track texture, and the medal system rewards you for mastering these skills.
IndyCar Series 2005 not only improves upon the flawed original, but it adds several key features like functional rearview mirrors (missing in last year’s game), in the cockpit view, one of four views to choose from. The presentation is much nicer this year with great opening narrations for the tracks and TV-style race coverage.
Physics, damage, and realism are highly subjective to the skill level you have chosen. On easy you don’t have to worry about “silly things” like fuel, tire wear or car damage. As you raise the difficulty these variables slowly start to become more important all the way up to Pro level where you will be micro-managing every aspect of your car setup.
You’ll eventually need to learn how to compensate for things like downforce and tire pressure and tweak those settings to turn record laps. I must confess the level of complexity behind the scenes is quite impressive and substantially more realistic than any other racer on the Xbox. Aspiring mechanics will probably have just as much fun tinkering with this part of the game as drivers will playing it.
The racer AI is greatly improved over last year’s effort and offers a solid challenge. The cars will follow traditional racing lines and avoid careless contact with other cars. To test this theory you can take a spin going the wrong way (you know you want to) and watch the cars swerve to avoid a crash.
Of course the big thing I have been waiting for since the last game was online racing and 2005 delivers the goods with split-screen, system link and Xbox Live connectivity for up to 12 racers. Even with a track full of racers the game plays smoothly with a great sensation of speed and little if any car warping.
Using Live it’s so easy to join a race with QuickMatch or OptiMatch or setup your own race with a variety of configurable options. The game also supports your friends list and maintains a leaderboard for the top racers. You can also chat using the headset, both in the lobby and during the race, so you can taunt you opponents as you blow by them at 230mph.
The tracks are all recreated under license and are highly authentic with much better scenery, both in quantity and quality. There are 15 famous tracks including the addition of Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi. I've driven both NASCAR and IndyCar vehicles at the Texas Motor Speedway and they’ve captured this venue perfectly.
The chase interface is functional but feels a bit detached from the car, partly due to the fake shadowing of the car on the track. The HUD displays speed and tire wear, and the cockpit view is extremely cool with a great sensation of speed. The addition of side mirrors is a great enhancement to this view. The pit interface is easy to use and the animated pit crew going to work on your car is quite impressive and even realistic.
The cars are all modeled very nicely with excellent paint jobs and authentic sponsor decals, etc. The damage model has been significantly enhanced with a lot more smoke and debris creating threatening obstacle on the track. Multi car pile-ups are truly a horrific spectacle, and with 33 cars on the track, the likelihood of a mishap is greater than ever.
There’s a good replay function that allows you to relive the excitement from all sorts of functional and exciting camera angles. You can follow any driver and cycle the available views around the chosen car. The rest of the presentation is minimal. There is an introduction to each track with some history and useful info.
There’s a hard rock opening song with a movie montage of race footage that seems slightly out of place for a serious sim, but once you get into the game it’s all about the sound effects. You’re going to want to turn the techno-racing-rock down or off, as it has no place in a racing game outside of the menus.
The sounds of an IndyCar engine have been nailed perfectly and the roar of the car is changed according to your racing view. If your game setup supports it you can hear this game in a wonderful Dolby Digital surround mix that does a great job of letting you hear cars sneaking up on your six. If you are forced to play in simple stereo you can get some additional help from your spotter calling in info about anyone trying to pass.
There are some bonus goodies you can unlock in this game by doing various challenges or achieving a career goal. When you complete a challenge you get a “card” (think Madden) that you can use to unlock a driver, a new car, or a special video documentary. These movies are rather lengthy and quite impressive offering a suitable incentive to at least attempt some of the challenges.
You can probably do everything this title has to offer in 20-30 hours. If you are running full length seasons and races then that figure will easily grow with practice laps, qualifying, and races that can last upwards of two hours. Once you have mastered your racing skills you can take the challenge online for countless hours of driving excitement.
The serious sim-like nature of the title might scare off the casual weekend racer, so if you aren’t the type who enjoys driving around in circles perfecting your lap times and car setups, you might want to steer clear of this title.
IndyCar Series 2005 does a remarkable job of simulating just about every aspect of the IndyCar season and the world famous Indianapolis 500. The car setup, the schedules, the teams, the racers, everything is perfect and you won’t find a more authentic presentation of IndyCar racing on the Xbox.