But Does It Get the Chicks?

Sure. Racing over the Internet or a LAN is one way to get to know her -- first you meet, then you compete, then you see who gets beat. The dating game in a nutshell.

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Nascar Heat also features two game options that are really training tutorials. In "Beat the Heat," you're presented with a series of challenges, such as crossing the finish line in under a set time, that are devised to improve your handling skills. "Race the Pro" drops you into a race against the ghost image of one of the Nascar pros' cars and asks you to beat a time he clocked while playing the game.

The car and racetrack graphics are nearly photorealistic. I tested Nascar Heat on an AMD Athlon 700MHz PC with 128MB RAM, with the graphic details and screen resolution at the highest settings, and the game managed to hold a steady 40 to 50 frames per second. There wasn't much of a slowdown in the frame rate when I increased the number of competing racecars. (You can race against up to 43 computer-controlled stock cars.)

Sound is adequate, nothing more. The rumble of the engines and the squeal of the tires do the job, though the crowd remains oddly silent until you cross the finish line. Forget the music, though. It's a boring, generic racing tune that quickly grows monotonous. Turn it off and immediately improve your gaming experience.

Nascar Heat is a balanced package that successfully merges together the basics of racing simulations and arcade racers. You can play it as either type, or customize a version with features from both styles. Have it your way, and you won't feel like you're going around in circles.  

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Howard Wen is a frequent contributor to Playboy.com.

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