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NASCAR Dirt to Daytona

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Infogrames
Developer: Monster Games
Media: GCD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Racing

Graphics & Sound:

Hicks and gamers collide, with generally favorable results in both camps. Not to disparage NASCAR or suggest that it's just a hick thing, because there's some mighty fine racin' to be had in NASCAR Dirt to Daytona. In fact, I think most any racing game could learn a thing or two from the presentation made here, the attention to detail and the amount of racing and tweaking fun there is to be had.

Fans will freak out at the level of realism in Dirt to Daytona. All the cars, the sponsors, the drivers...just acknowledging all the trademark information takes 2 pages in the manual! Drivers and announcers come on in full-motion video to talk about upcoming tracks or summarize performance. It's very cool. The music goes all the way to videos and movies you can watch, and the replays might as well be simulcast on your local ESPN affiliate. Yeah, it looks real. Plus, during replays you can move the camera around like crazy to get just the right effect or see a particular crash from a different angle. Each track is recreated perfectly, and with over 30 to play on you'll have ample opportunity to test your skills. The only thing I really hate is the fact that I can't see this thing running under Progressive Scan mode, because all the good stuff would only look better.


Gameplay:

I'm dating myself terribly, but I can remember playing some Talladega game on Commodore 64, and either driving as Richard Petty or always shaking my fist at the screen when he would beat me. Either way, I learned to love NASCAR through videogames way before I ever saw the sport on television, and way before it became the live spectacle it is today. And, I have to say I probably still enjoy the NASCAR experience more as a participant, virtually, than a trackside spectator. Dirt to Daytona is the real deal, no matter how you appreciate the sport. It's the game NASCAR fans would play just because they'll probably never get in a real car or drive on a sloped track once in their lives, but love the idea of mixing it up with Jeff Gordon and the other high profile racers. Beginning the game, you get to create a profile that takes everything into account from your birthday to birthplace. As you build your reputation through the game, you'll get offers from sponsors and if you can meet their finishing conditions during each race you'll earn cool hard cash. The Garage Mode in Dirt to Daytona gives you a chance to shop for parts, customize the paint job on your prize vehicle and learn one hell of a lot about NASCAR racing along the way. The manual is written better than almost any I've seen, and not only speaks in plain language about the way your modifications will affect the car, but also relates the way things work to 'why' they work. You learn a lot about the history of the sport, in other words. It's good reading, but feeling the difference is the best part.

Racing games are quickly turning into the equivalent of RPGs as far as replay and time spent playing goes. Dirt to Daytona isn't messing around in this regard, and you'll find an obscene number of modes playable in both Single Player and with up to 4 simultaneous drivers. You can enter a quick race, filed under 'Fast Action,' and compete in one of four modes. The best of these, apart from the usual timed race and championship, is called 'Race the Pro.' Here, you get a brief tutorial on how a driver approaches his favorite track before going out and racing against a ghost car to see if you can pare your time down to beat the pro. Sounds easier than it is... Beat the Heat Mode is also a very interesting addition, similar to 'scenario' modes in other games. This mode alone has over 30 different unique scenarios to race, and it's just one of the four choices in Fast Action! The Career part of Dirt to Daytona can take all your time, as you progress through a full calendar of events, build sponsors, decorate your car, and learn the nuances of racing. Oh, and if you thought this was just the standard NASCAR Classic event, wait until you get a load of all the categories you can compete in! The NASCAR Weekly Racing, Featherlite Modified, Craftsman Truck and NASCAR Cup Series are all playable through Career Mode, making for quadruple the fun. I didn't even realize there was a truck division of NASCAR, since it is the newest of the NASCAR entries. Everything that's here to do makes Dirt to Daytona the richest NASCAR experience on the planet, and one of the deepest racing experiences you can have on a console. The catch to all this is that the racing style is fairly limited, being that you're constantly doing 'turn left' driving. Rally, F1 and 'in the cracks' type racing games like Test Drive and Midnight Club will always have a special appeal for the variety they offer, but they could still learn a thing or two about depth from Dirt to Daytona.


Difficulty:

Learning to handle your car or truck out of the box is made easier by plenty of warm-up and practice runs before Main Event races. Still, it will pay to try different settings in the Garage and read the manual to get some idea of how changes to your car's setup might help or hurt your chances on the track. I think it is hard to get a real feeling for the handling sometimes because of the lack of hairpin turns, switchbacks and down- or uphill stretches. But you can certainly feel the pull of centrifugal force on your car when the slope is extreme for a particular track and if you get cocky about turning and stepping on the gas you'll find yourself in a nice spin, just like the ones you see on television. Driving aids can help, but you'll want to turn these off as you learn more about the way cars handle.

Game Mechanics:

No detail was overlooked here, and in every stage of the game we saw lots of love. There is plenty of real-life sponsorship going on here, and no racing game has probably been as 'branded' as Dirt to Daytona, but that's the nature of the sport. Luckily, the importance of maintaining a good look doesn't take the place of a solid racing engine. And, the events during each race such as flags, pitting, damage and the announcers' commentary are delivered smoothly. There sure is a lot more in the mix since my days on the C64 playing Talladega. Drafting, AI customization and building your own race machine...everything you could want is here. With all that the developers threw into Dirt to Daytona, you might think it would be hard to navigate, but simple screens with user-friendly menus and tips to help you understand the choice you're making keep things on the straight and narrow.

Folks who may not think of themselves as die-hard NASCAR fans should still consider a rental or purchase of Dirt to Daytona for the amount of fun racing to be had in the game. Fans will find this game alone might justify a Gamecube purchase.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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