Review by Eternal_Frost

"Life in the fastlane."

NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona is the sequel to Infogrames popular multi-platform NASCAR Heat and one of the last NASCAR games released before Electronic Arts got exclusive rights to NASCAR properties for video game purposes. It's a shame because Infogrames had a real good thing going with their NASCAR games and Dirt to Daytona is not only the best NASCAR game that I have played, but it is one of the best racing games I have ever played, period.

First off, you will not just be racing NASCAR cup cars, but will also be able to race dirt cars, modifieds, and Craftsman trucks. At the time when this game was released, this was indeed a rarity for a NASCAR game. Each of these vehicles handle drastically different, thus adding a greater challenge to mastering the game. All of those choices can be experienced in six different modes of play.

Single Race is the first mode and is just what it sounds like. Pick the type of vehicle you wish to run, pick a driver (or create your own), and then pick your track and set the options to your liking. These options include: computer AI levels, race length, type of damage, etc. Here, I will take a moment to point out two small shortcomings in the game. While there are over 30 real life drivers available and many different tracks available as well, there are certain omissions. The game includes Ryan Newman, but not Jimmie Johnson, who battled each other for rookie of the year. Thankfully, the game includes other top drivers at the time such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Also, the game has nearly every track run on the NASCAR circuit in 2002, but does not contain Indianapolis, Chicagoland, or Pocono. The absence of Indy is particularly disappointing due to the track's historic nature.

Continuing with the play modes, Multiplayer is essentially Single Race for two or more players. The only real difference here is that in single player you would race against a field of 43 cars, but due to limitations (maybe with the Gamecube?) two players will only race against a field of 10 cars. This is somewhat disappointing considering that the XBOX version of NASCAR Heat let you compete against 23 cars in multiplayer. My guess would be that the extra cars were excised to keep the frame rate smooth. Nonetheless, Multiplayer mode is still very fun and actually adds a bit of a challenge on tracks with an emphasis on drafting because there are fewer cars to work with.

Two other interesting game modes are Beat the Heat and Pro Trainer. Both of these are designed to school the player on the intricacies of NASCAR racing and help their learning curve. Beat the Heat places you at a track under certain circumstances and challenges you to meet a goal. For example, you might be placed in a modified with extremely worn tires and have to hold the lead for the final three laps. For these type of scenarios you can earn gold, silver, or bronze points, which go towards unlockables. Pro Trainer places you in similar circumstances, but directly squaring off with another driver. Before each stage there is video of that driver telling you their personal strategies to conquering a track and then you are challenged to beat them at their own game. The same type of points can also be earned here for unlockables as well. Granted, points for unlockables can be earned in any game mode, but these two are certainly the hardest in which to gain points.

The final two game modes are Championship and Career, the real draw of the game. Championship lets you pick any of the four series and drive one season to go for the points championship. If you want to jump in a car and compete right away, then this is definitely the mode for you. Career is a extension of Championship mode and is most similar to dynasty mode in other sports games. You start career mode at the Weekly Racing Series running late model stock cars on dirt tracks and have to work your way up. Each week as you place higher you will catch the eye of sponsors, which will enable you to meet certain goals and earn more money. Then you can upgrade the parts on your car and become gradually more dominant. You work your way to Featherlite Modifieds next and then the Craftsman Truck series. Once you make it to the Cup level, you will even have to upgrade some of your pit crew, and even though that option is not extremely deep, it still is a very realistic touch.

Graphically, Dirt to Daytona will not win any awards. EA's NASCAR games this generation easily outshine this game, except for the earliest PS2 games. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if this was a near direct port of its PS2 counterpart, with very little optimization for the Gamecube. Seeing as those are the only two systems that Dirt to Daytona was released for, Infogrames might have cut a few corners. Still, the graphics are by no means ugly. In particular, the smoke effects and crash animations are realistic and look good. Pop up is never a problem and frame rate stutters are few and far between. Unless you are having a multiplayer crash fest, you should see very little of either, and even then it is certainly acceptable.

Sound wise, Dirt to Daytona is above average, but not spectacular. The on-track sounds in single player are very nice. Your crew chief notifies you of things that are happening with you car and your spotter alerts you to what is happening on the track. Seeing as it would have been cumbersome, those two things are dropped from multiplayer. The cars make the usual noises when slamming and brushing into things, and the engine roar is subdued but noticeable.

The areas that elevate Dirt to Daytona to greatness are its control and car physics. The Gamecube controller has been much maligned, but to me the stiffness of the analog stick works perfectly in this game. Outside of Metroid Prime or Wind Waker, you won't find more responsive controls on the Gamecube, and this is a third-party game no less. Slight taps can be used for fine adjustments or you can hold the stick to hold a certain line (considering your car is set up decent). A major asset here is the ability to just pick up and play the game, so to speak. I've seen people who have no experience with NASCAR games whatsoever just run a few laps to get the controls down and then two hours later they are still playing. The default difficulty is very generous, but you have the option of practicing and setting up your car to run even better. On the default setup, you should be able to handle the computer from 85-90%, but that difficulty goes all the way up to 105% for hardcore players.

So, if you have tired of the Burnouts or Mario Karts of the world and want a more simulation style racing game, then this is definitely for you. If you are a NASCAR fan, then this should be a no-brainer, especially considering for how inexpensive this game is usually priced. Any way you cut it, this is a solid Gamecube game that has gotten largely overlooked. That's my review and thanks for reading.

Numerical Breakdown

Graphics -- 7/10
Sound -- 7/10
Control -- 10/10
Game Play -- 9/10

Overall -- 9/10 (not an average)

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/02/05

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