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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: December 9, 1998
When Bethesda Softworks introduced the original Burnout Championship Drag Racing earlier this year, it was the first major drag racing simultation for the PC (of course, there was the unforgettable Dragster game from ancient Atari days). As a result, it attracted considerable attention from car racing fans. Then a few months ago RMC Interactive introduced NHRA Drag Racing, and the competition really heated up. While Burnout Championship Drag Racing was sponsored by Hot Rod Magazine, NHRA Drag Racing could accurately claim that it was the only racing simulation sponsored by the National Hot Road Association. So it is not surprising that Bethesda would want to leapfrog over the competition by quickly introducing a sequel.
Drag racing games confront a challenge that no other kind of racing game faces: since the time of the actual races are less than 10 seconds (with the drag racing distance being a quarter-mile or an eighth-mile), how do you pack addictive gameplay into that tiny span of time? Having played a lot of car racing games where it takes over 5 minutes just to take a single spin around the track, I know that part of what makes racing games exciting is the varied scenery and differing twists and turns of the courses. Moreover, drag races are inherently two-vehicle contests, while most computer racing of other types involves several vehicles racing at once; thus the excitement of overcoming multiple competitors is noticeably absent.
In my earlier review of NHRA Drag Racing, I was highly critical of the game in part because of its rather dated graphics engine that had no support for 3Dfx hardware acceleration. Burnout Championship Drag Racing remedies that problem, as it has specific 3Dfx video support, but incredibly its designers chose to make it an archaic DOS game. I have to sit back in utter amazement to ponder why a prominent game company like Bethesda Softworks would release a DOS game in 1998, at a time when many computers contain sound cards that will not run DOS sound and have gamepads, joysticks, and steering wheels attached that do not work with DOS games. At first I simply refused to believe that this was really a DOS game, but when I ran a “setsound” utility with a selection of sound cards listed from about 5 years ago, I knew I was back in the unpleasant world of DOS with its always conflicting DMAs and IRQs and its narrow memory restrictions.
Nonetheless, this game provides a field day for tweakers. Within the 60 customizable components for you to mess around with, you may adjust aerodynamics, tires, suspension, and of course the engine itself. You may get down and dirty with pistons, camshafts, ignitions, and wings, and you may use telemetry data to optimize performance. You can even customize the placement of the speedometer, tachometer, and oil pressure gauge on the dashboard. You are able to build cars with over 2500 horsepower that can race at 250 miles per hour if you wish (controlling such speed demons is a real bear). While novices can play the game after just a little practice, it takes real savvy to know exactly how to adjust the many settings in an efficient way.
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