Review by Gruel

"Bandanas or Cowboy Hats? You decide! (2003#5)"

I’ve been an off and on fan of NASCAR. There are times where I’m enthralled about watching 500 lap races, and there are occasions where I get more enjoyment out of watching movies such as Cool as Ice or Leprechaun in the Hood. Nevertheless, I’ve always been a fan of the NASCAR games. EA’s NASCAR Thunder was my racing game of choice last year. I never got to try out Infogrames’ NASCAR Heat game last year, but it’s back again this year under a new moniker, Dirt to Daytona. DtD does have a few aspects going for it such as being the only NASCAR game ever to allow you to race on dirt tracks, and competing as trucks. Let’s see how it holds up.

This has got to be one of the first NASCAR games that don’t use a face button to accelerate. I was stunned that the developers opted for controls used in more “arcade” type games such as Crazy Taxi or Simpsons Road Rage where the shoulder buttons are used for gas and brake functions. This actually works quite well on the GCN controller. Handling the corners is easy to do, with the exception of losing control on dirt tracks. I’m guessing that’s my own fault since I always like to hug the corners, and that these vehicles don’t have the same amount of traction as an ATV.

One feature that intrigues me is how the vehicles can have “random breakdowns” from various possibilities like shock failure and what not. These also tend to be a pain if they happen to you, and thankfully you can turn off this option. The same rule goes in effect with vehicle damage. If you’re a wrecking machine and get in too many accidents your engine will blow out and you’ll retire from the race.

Believe it or not, there’s actually a little bit of a story in Dirt to Daytona. In the game’s main career mode, you start off as a rookie in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series. It is the equivalent of going to see a race at your local speedway. You get to customize your own NASCAR driver’s license and the paint job for your ride. All the tracks consist of dirt in this circuit, and your top speeds will only be about 75 to 85 mph.

You still have to go through the cumbersome experience of qualifying and then participating in “heats” (5 lap races to determine what position you start off in the final race). If you do poorly in the heats, then you wind up in the B main. By performing well in the heats, or finishing up in the top 3 of the B main race, then you are allowed to race with the best of the bunch in the A main. You can skip right to the mains if you desire to do so, but I recommend you don’t because you’ll start the race dead last if you don’t bother with qualifying.

After each race you get a list of sponsors interested in you from intimidating franchises such as “Senor Taco” and “Dave’s Quick Mart.” They’ll have goals for you to reach in your next race that’ll net you bonuses if you achieve them. You then blow your winnings on upgrades for your car so you can keep up with the rest of the pack. After enough top 5 finishes, you’ll be contacted by the next higher up NASCAR league. The NASCAR Featherlite Modified Series where you finally experience the joy of racing on asphalt. You do the same process to move on to NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and finally to racing with the big boys in the NASCAR Cup series.

There are plenty of other bells and whistles packed in Dirt to Daytona. There’s this one mode that I particularly like. It’s “Beat the Heat” where you’re placed in certain scenarios where you have to achieve a certain time, or pass 3 cars with only a few laps to go. At first I just thought the developers slapped these in there with not much effort, but I was quickly proven wrong. You get points depending on how well you do in these events so you can buy cheats in the popular “we’re too lazy to think of a way to unlock stuff so we’ll throw in a cheat shop” craze that’s been dominating games lately.

There are also several other modes to tinker around with like “Race the Pro” where you go one-on-one with a certain NASCAR standout. The championship series is also a nice feature. It’s similar to career mode, but you can start at any division and you don’t have to hassle with part upgrades or sponsors. Multi-player is also a blast with up to four people competing simultaneously. Clipping your friends from behind and driving them into the wall (as shameful as it is) is too hard to resist, and I had lots of great moments playing DtD with my friends.

Good job for the most part in the visuals category for DtD. All the vehicle models of the cream of the crop are detailed to the very best. You can easily make out their appropriate sponsors, and the progressive vehicle damage is outstanding! Those smoke effects from crashes are awesome, especially when you blow out a tire. It seems like you’re watching NASCAR whenever that event occurs as the smoke clutters up the pack and often distracts you. The frame rate stays fast throughout all the intense action, and the loading times are decent for the most part.

There is one flaw that detracts from this presentation, albeit a weird one. If you ever drift into the middle of the track where all the emergency and pit crews are just for the hell of it, you’ll notice that you can drive through anything. I thought I was going to ram right into a fire truck just for some chuckles, but instead I drove right through it and everything else in that area. I know it’s an odd flaw, but it’s creepy as hell!

Your pit chief will radio in tips to help you throughout the race. He’s not as effective as the one in Thunder, but this one does an ok job when it’s all said and done. I was starting to grow keen to the rock soundtracks featured in NASCAR Thunder 2003 and all the other EA games this season, and the country-themed songs in Dirt to Daytona were a throwback to me. But I guess they fit the NASCAR atmosphere more appropriately since most of the NASCAR fan-base is in the south. That and the fact when somebody mentions NASCAR all I keep envisioning is Richard Petty walking around in his cowboy hat with his disturbing smile.

RATINGS

Graphics: 8.8
Sound: 7.5
Game play: 9.2
Replay Value: 9.0

Overall: 8.6

Dirt to Daytona has a lot of good things going for it that it makes it a contender. The career mode provides an in-depth NASCAR experience that any fan will love. It’s the only NASCAR game that lets you participate on dirt tracks and race as trucks. The in-game racing is well done, however I slightly prefer the controls in Thunder because they’re a bit smoother. This game is right up there with Thunder as best NASCAR title this year, and it’s too hard to justify which game is better. My advice is to try out both of them before you choose which one. Or if you’re really a hardcore NASCAR fan, than do yourself a favor and pick up each game.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/21/02, Updated 12/21/02


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