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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.
Designed to give you the big picture while also providing the details, Monster Games' From Dirt to Daytona offers a good, workmanlike visual experience. For instance, the racetrack is littered with details. The crowds are various and the stands and polygonal structures also change from race to race. The roads are textured with a great variety of color and patterning. Lucky spectators stand inside the track behind their SUVs and trucks watching the race, and loads of team trailers and all kinds of equipment fill in the rest. Nothing stands out as spectacular, but they're all solid, contextual details.
Ultimately, Dirt to Daytona is a sound NASCAR simulation with one of the most robust career modes of any driving game to date. Its relative lack of licensed drivers and overly forgiving damage model might put off some of the more hard-core followers of this sport, but it shouldn't. Its career mode more than makes up for any perceived shortcomings by offering endless hours of play. Even if you bought last year's NASCAR Heat 2002, you owe it to yourself to check out Dirt to Daytona.
But these little issues don't really get in the way of a great racing experience. Every NASCAR game really only needs three things to succeed, and "NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona" has them all. The thrill of careening around turns surrounded by dozens of competitors? Check. A great simulation of the long road to victory? Check. Spectacularly destructive wipeouts? Check, just no fire. Race fans looking for a deep simulation of NASCAR action should definitely pick this one up.
Hardcore NASCAR followers and simulation freaks will be well advised to rent or give serious purchase consideration to “Dirt to Daytona.” Infogrames’ title lacks a few licensed riders and doesn’t have EA-caliber production values. The game more than compensates for those shortcomings with an authentic feel for what its like to advance from the sport’s grueling rags (the Weekly Racing series) to its elite riches (the Winston Cup series). A close call, but in the end yours truly would rather park his limited NASCAR interest in Tiburon’s garage than Monster Games’.
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.