NASCAR: Dirt to DAYTONA Review (NGC)
Nascar games seem to pop up every few months nowadays. I remember back when your only choice at home was “Bill Elliott’s Nascar Challenge” on the NES…a niche title back then, as the sport of good ol’ boys across the country hadn’t reached the mass appeal that it has now. Flash forward about 10 or 15 years, and now you’ll see a completely different sport. The average Nascar primary sponsor pays in the neighborhood of $15 to $30 Million dollars a year, just to get their product logo on the hood of a car turning left for 500 miles every Sunday. If that doesn’t tell you how serious Nascar racing has become, then stop reading. There’s no point in continuing any further, because no matter what I’m going to say, you’ll still believe that games based on “go fast, turn left” can’t be fun. If you enter in with the mindset that Dirt to Daytona (DtD) really strives to be a pretty good simulation with arcade elements, then you’ll have a blast. Just don’t bash it for being what it is.
The graphics in Dirt to Daytona really surprised me. I haven’t been impressed with much on the Gamecube, but DtD repeatedly had me going “wow that was a nice effect”, or “impressive car model”, etc. The dirt effects aren’t bad, as you’ll be trailing clouds of dust quite often early on in your career. As you progress, and move up to the modifieds, Craftsman Trucks, and finally the Winston Cup cars, you’ll really begin to appreciate the look of each vehicle. You’ll see them plenty of times, as it will take you a good season or two on each of the pavement series before you can become competitive. The cockpit view really gives you an appreciation for what a race car driver feels, as it feels very confined most of the time. The replays are especially pretty, albeit with some noticeable slowdown with all cars on screen. They give you three TV camera views, and a plethora of onboard or “chase” cameras from various angles as well. As you play through the game, you’ll find yourself saying on more than a few occasions “that’s nice looking”, but you won’t ever just flip your melon over what your peepers are seeing.
The sound, however, is spot on. The Nascar Heat team has always been good at delivering on the sound aspect of their games, and they continue the trend with DtD. Each motor sounds a bit different for each car. The hobby stocks really have that “beatermobile” sound to them, whereas the modifieds sound like screaming bees flying around the track. By the time you move up to the Cup cars, you’ll enjoy their throaty sound more than anything else in the game. Your spotter offers pretty consistent advice (his car high information is vital, considering that if you’re in cockpit view, there’s no look left/right function), and doesn’t seem to be blatantly off much. The crash sounds round out a nice audio package, as you can practically hear the metal bending and tearing if you really rip your car up in a wreck. All in all, it’s a very nice aural presentation.
This is where DtD earns its playtime…by the truckload. If you actually sit through and play every mode of this game (Beat the Heat, Pro Trainer, Season, and Career mode), you will have probably spent 6 months of your life on a single game. Beat the Heat has become a pretty well known idea, and replicated in other titles since its appearance on the PC version a few years ago. Race the Pro will throw you on the track against your selected Cup driver, and Season mode will let you race through a full season from your selected series (without the worries of money or advancing as in career mode). All of these modes have been done in Nascar games for years now, so nothing revolutionary in DtD, right? Wrong.
The last things I’ll have to detail are the paintshop and setup options. Both are very good for a console game, with the ability to pick from a myriad of templates and almost any color in the spectrum (for the paintshop), and everything from gearing to rebound and compression and tire pressure (in the garage). If you spend a lot of time in their setup area, you will progressively get faster, and begin to see that the changes actually make a difference. However, with a fully upgraded ride, you can win at any level, even without setup tweaks.
If you’re looking for an incredibly deep Nascar game, look no further. The sheer number of ways to play will keep any racing fan busy for months. EA’s Nascar Thunder 2003 has a different type of career mode, and you can’t go wrong with either one. However, the driving model in DtD easily beats out Thunder in my humble opinion, and I enjoyed Dirt to Daytona much more than any Nascar game I’ve played on a console recently. Of course, with the beta copy of Nascar Racing 2003 Season on its way to me shortly for PC, all of them will probably take a backseat.