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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

Xbox One X
Nintendo Switch
PlayStation 4

Game Profile
PlayStation 2
Monster Games
GENRE: Racing
PLAYERS:   1-4
November 11, 2002
NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona

NASCAR Heat 2002

 Written by Adam Woolcott  on January 23, 2003

Review: And you thought the test track in Gran Turismo 3 was boring?

For reasons unbeknownst to me, the racing league called NASCAR is one of the most popular forms of organized sports in America. NASCAR is, on the surface, just a wrestling league with cars, since the emphasis isn't on the drawn-out racing, but the personalities that race the cars (just like wrestling isn't about the drawn-out matches, but the personalities who fight them), because who'd admit that watching 40 or so cars racing around a circular track for hours is interesting? The small supply of road races aren't enough to eliminate the stigma that stock car racing of the NASCAR variety gets quite boring and tedious to watch. But it is popular, and thus we're here today with this review.

As with all sports, a video game version of NASCAR has been released in many forms by many different publishers, in many good video games. Infogrames has dabbled in NASCAR games before, with NASCAR Heat on PlayStation, PS2, and Xbox; and this newest edition to the family, NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona. For hardcore fans, this probably will be a huge hit ? but racing video game fans in general, it just doesn't work? Why, because like NASCAR itself ? it's boring. When the entire point of the game is to race around in a circle for laps upon laps, what do you expect? Props must be given to Infogrames and developer Monster Games for creating a very cool Career mode to go from ?dirt to Daytona?, but the simple fact is, without some interesting tracks to race on, and some variety in those tracks, Dirt to Daytona is a dull dud.

To DtD's credit, it does come with quite a feature list. Nearly all the tracks on the main NASCAR circuit are included, along with many of the lesser-known tracks that are used for some of NASCAR's other circuits (the minor leagues, I suppose). There's plenty of race modes for single and multiplayer (including support for 4 players through the multitap), so anyone wanting to just get a quick race in or compete against friends will satisfy those needs.

For the really hardcore though, there's the career mode. The career is exactly what it sounds like ? you put yourself (or a friend, enemy, or perhaps an old NASCAR driver who's quit or hit too many walls & has expired) into the NASCAR circuit and go from the minor leagues to the big time. You start off with no sponsors and a poor performing car, and hit the Weekly Series, which is nothing but racing on dirt (hence the Dirt to Daytona tag). As you progress through the different races (which all involve, naturally, racing around a circular track), you'll move up the point standings, make money to make your car better, faster, more ? and earn sponsorships that make you some more cash. During the season you can keep an eye on leader stats for all 4 NASCAR leagues included, and keep an almanac of your own career for reference. Once the season is over, you start over, with a chance of earning a new, big paying sponsor, or a chance to go up to the open-wheeled races. From there you repeat the process while moving to the Truck Series, and eventually the big circuit of NASCAR. It's like Mike Tyson's Punch Out, only without Bald Bull and King Hippo blocking your path.

The career mode is definitely the strongest asset, but there's one small issue ? as good as the process is, the simple fact is ? it's boring! Given that all the tracks are just a big circle, you repeat the same process over and over and over again, ad nauseam. There's no strategy outside of ?pass this guy, don't let him get in front of you?, and no difference between the circles outside of some different angles. I like to think I know my racing games, and I'd rather sit down and play Gran Turismo 3, Need for Speed, or even Burnout 2 instead of DtD, simply because the track design is top notch and challenging (and there's only one freaking circle track in the entirety of those 3 games). There's nothing challenging about the NASCAR tracks, since you can just keep your finger on the trigger and go around and around like a redneck merry-go-round. The road tracks are fine, but there's just not enough of them.

There's really nothing ?wrong? with the game besides the exhausting tedium of actually playing it. The cars do control quite well and feel very different when you upgrade engines, aerodynamics, and such. The computer AI is fierce, making up for the ease of racing the tracks by making it a challenge to actually win a race consistently. I can't see why a NASCAR fan wouldn't enjoy it (after all, they can stomach watching the stuff for 3 hours), but from someone who'd rather watch F1 or WRC races, it just doesn't cut it. The concept is good and worthy of a racing game, but please Infogrames, apply it to a game that's just slightly more exciting next time.

The graphics of Dirt to Daytona are fine, though some sacrifices did have to be made to put 40 some odd cars into a big NASCAR race. The whole thing is very gritty, lacking gloss of other PS2 racers, with cars collecting tons of dirt in the dirt track races, visible damage taken after some hard hits (though it's kinda lame), and an overall rough feel to it. The tracks are loaded with accessory detail, like hordes of fans and outside backdrops, but nothing really stands out. The technical feat of having 40 cars on one track is a sight to see though, given most racers only have perhaps 10 at the most on the track at once. The only thing that slightly hurts the graphics is a slow sense of speed, though it gets better as you upgrade your car. But given the cars go over 200 MPH most of the time, the lack of speed hurts, though is understandable with all the action on the track in a big race.

There isn't all that much to NASCAR's sound, however. There's only a couple music themes that play on menu screens, which is a very NASCAR-ish?ahem?southern sound to it. On the track you don't have any music; instead you have your pit crew guy barking out tidbits of information and generally sounding like he'd rather be watching the NFL or something. Other effects like the sounds of engines roaring and cheering crowds are nice, but canned and sound the same for every car. There's really nothing quite spectacular about it, but it's not completely horrible either.

Bottom Line
At the end of the day, NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona isn't a horrible game ? it's just that the great concept is ruined by boring auto racing. The bottom line is, a game has to be fun first, and this game really isn't all that fun. It's slightly enjoyable at first when you start off, imagining getting to the big leagues, but after a handful of races and doing the exact same thing over and over, it loses it's appeal. Without some track variety, DtD is destined to be a tedious exercise in boredom. NASCAR fans probably will eat it up, but everyone else should just go and spend $20 on Gran Turismo 3 ? it has the challenge, as well as tracks that don't involve going around and around a circle for hours on end.

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