Developer: Monster Games Inc
Release Date: 11/28/2002
I wasn’t looking forward to reviewing this game. Truth be told, I’ve been holding off on doing just that for weeks. You see, I am not what you would call a fan of the “simulation driving” genre, my car gets excellent gas-mileage and is readily available anytime I want to “relive the wonders of driving.” My old motto: if it ain’t Gran Turismo it ain’t worth my time. But upon popping the innocuous DVD disc into my PS2 I was greeted with an experience that was almost-instantly captivating, with so much depth and so many things to do that I instinctively came to the realization that I should have checked the game out much sooner. Turns out NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona is quite simply one of the best stock car racing games currently out for the PS2, or any other home console system for that matter. It brings to the table a genuinely interesting “points” system usually only found in arcade racers, an excellent sense of power and size, and probably the most fleshed-out alternative modes of play of any driving game to date (with the possible exception of Burnout 2). But make no mistake, Infogrames didn’t have to resort to unrealistic physics, wacky jumps, or other gimmicks to make Dirt to Daytona fun, and that is what is most surprising, because, which I seem to be overly-stressing, I usually loathe “racing-sims.”
As the name of the game implies, your NASCAR career will take you from the lowly triple-digit cash-prize offerings of local dirt races to the million dollar rewards of NASCAR’s most prestigious leagues. But getting from point A to point B won’t be easy. You’ll need to prove yourself time and again by being the first past the checkered flag through a multitude of races spanning a total of 30 seasons, 31 unique real-world racetracks, and up to 43 vying racers nipping at the back bumper of your ride, in order to claim ultimate racing victory. And that’s just the career mode of the game.
As you work your way through the ranks you’ll receive multiple sponsorship deals, each proposition for sponsorship will differ in amount they are willing to pay and criteria they expect you to meet. You’ll start out only being able to compete in the Weekly Racing league, the amount companies are willing to pay up should you meet their requirements range from a couple hundred to around a thousand bucks. Once you manage to come out on top in the dirt-racing league you’ll be given access to NASCAR’s Featherlite Modified series, possibly the most well-rounded league in the game, and here the stakes will be raised significantly. Having a few sponsorship deals under your belt and coming in first at any given Featherlite competition will net you an average of around $20,000, compared to the Weekly Racing league which tops out at around a few grand. Moving right along we have the NASCAR Craftsmen Truck series with cash-prizes sometimes exceeding the half-million dollar mark. And last on the list is the NASCAR Cup series, where only the cream of the crop even get a chance to compete, this is where you want to eventually end up.
The progression system in Dirt to Daytona revolves largely around the amount of money your team pulls in since purchasing new parts is key to improving your ranking. And these parts aren’t cheap, a superior engine for example costs anywhere from the thousands in the lower leagues all the way up to over a half-million dollars for the best of the best in the Cup series. You’ll also want to set aside a chunk of change to hire the best pit-crew once you hit the Craftsmen Truck league, the more talented your crew the faster they’ll be able to fix you up and get you on your way. The level of hardware customization found in Dirt to Daytona is advanced enough to appeal to racing enthusiasts yet so conveniently categorized and presented that even a newcomer to the genre will feel right at home after a short time. The most important thing you’ll need to do to succeed is simply save up enough cash to buy the best parts, but for those who want more control over their rig’s performance there are options for tweaking the gear ratio, tire inflation, wheel camber, shock speed, and more.
Each of the four cars that you’ll eventually get behind the wheel of all control significantly different, the dirt-cars will slip and slide all over the place should you hit the grass or lose control. The Featherlite cars are super-sensitive, responding with absolute precision to your every whim, though they lack bumpers and are easily damaged. The Craftsmen Truck vehicles offer up some real speed, in excess of 160MPH, and their hard-shell body allows for a considerable amount of aggressive strategy. But the adrenaline rush really kicks in once you hit the NASCAR Cup series where speeds of 200+ miles per are commonplace and an absolute understanding of the precise coordination required to succeed is vital.
The cars physics are certainly grounded in reality, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a professional racecar driver to be proficient at controlling them in Dirt to Daytona. In fact, I only used the D-pad and the X button during 95% of my experience with the game. The control scheme is simple to the point of absurdity, yet the realism of the sport is entirely intact. This is ultimately what makes Dirt to Daytona so fun to play. It’s all about staying within the lines and keeping the pedal to the metal – maliciously roughing up the competition at incredibly high speeds is optional, though highly-enjoyable. Speaking of which, you are given the option to tweak or turn off the damage system in the game, selecting light damage will allow you to take quite a bit of bruising before you are out of commission, where areas opting for heavy damage takes a more realistic approach wherein a couple hardcore crashes will spell disaster. Either way, overtaking the pole position by ramming the car in front of you and watching from the rearview as it spins out of control, hurling into the crowd of cars behind you is the stuff that dreams are made of.
All the additional modes of play from NASCAR Heat 2002 reappear in Dirt to Daytona including Championship mode, which allows you to pick from the four available leagues and play out a season without having to bother with working your way through the ranks. Beat the Heat pits you against NASCAR’s finest in around 30 different scenarios. Single Race is your basic set-up-and-go type mode where you choose a series, driver, track and compete against professional racers. Race the Pro is all about going head-to-head with professional racers on their favorite tracks. And no racing game would be complete without multiplayer support. You can even get four people in on the action if you have a multitap handy. As you progress through the single player modes you’ll rack up points. By accumulating enough points you can purchase a plethora of unlockable goodies.
Visually, Dirt to Daytona is one impressive piece of code. Seeing 43 fully detailed almost-photorealistic cars on the screen at one time is incredibly remarkable. You’d think that the sheer number of on-screen racers would relegate the graphics to mediocrity, but not so. The cars, backgrounds, tracks, pit areas, all that and everything in between looks downright spectacular. The developers even integrated a simple yet effective lighting and reflection system, giving the game that extra amount of polish it needs to compete with the likes of GT3. There are instances of minor slowdown on a few tracks but it is hardly noticeable and occurs very infrequently. Those with progressive scan capable sets will be glad to know that Dirt to Daytona takes advantage of that extra resolution.
The audio presentation adds significantly to the immersion of the experience with realistic dynamic engine roars that vary depending on your unique car type and hardware configuration. Every sound effect you hear in Dirt to Daytona seems to be perfect replications of the real life sport it portrays. Don’t expect a memorable soundtrack however, as this game is virtually devoid of any type of musical accompaniment whatsoever, save for the repeating tunes you’ll hear while navigating through menu screens.
NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona bowled me over with its addictive gameplay, lengthy and exciting career mode, and visceral sense of size and speed. I’m not an avid NASCAR enthusiast or anything but I’d be willing to bet that fans of the sport will find a lot to like about this one. There does seem to be a lack of featured professional racers, though all the big names are in attendance. But despite the franchise to which this game is attached it proves to be a simulation racing game that is not only worth playing but also deserving of our coveted Editor’s Choice award.
Score : 8.5/10