Reviewed: April 5, 2001
Released: March 13, 2001
Many people consider Daytona USA to be the best arcade racing game ever. Just walk into any GameWorks or Dave-n-Busters and you will always find at least a dozen of these games, usually networked together for competitive racing and usually with a line of people waiting their turn in the driver's seat. There is just something very appealing about the friendly driving model where crashes send you bouncing around the track before you land on your wheels ready to recapture the lead.
Sega has been the exclusive holder of the coveted Daytona license for some time now, much to the chagrin of PC NASCAR racing fans who have been forced to play hacked versions of Talladega for nearly a decade. While Sega has kept the Daytona games mainly in the arcades there have been a few home versions of the title on the now-defunct Saturn.
Most people would never dream of Daytona ever coming to the Dreamcast, especially the same month as Sega officially stopped creating the hardware to run it. But it has arrived and its better than any of the previous or current versions you can play at home or in the arcades. Featuring nine tracks including the six from the original Saturn games, four starting cars and six more you can unlock, the Dreamcast version of Daytona USA dazzles you with its 60fps blistering graphics, even with a full field of 40 cars.
Daytona plays just about like every other racing game out there. You have your single race mode where you learn the tracks and the cars then when you are ready you enter the Championship mode and try to place in the top rankings to earn points to win the series. Winning the championship earns you bonus cars. Then there is Time Attack and the always favorite, split-screen VS Battle.
The nine tracks are all available at the start and can be reversed and mirrored, or both increasing your track count to 36. You can also tweak settings such as the number of laps not to mention all sorts of car adjustments like transmission type, tires, and even your paint job.
Daytona USA screams for a steering wheel controller. Out of the box the game is nearly impossible to control without first adjusting the analog sensitivity. Other than that one small quirk the game is flawless. Tracks whiz by with a great sense of speed and the opponent AI seems to have been turned up a notch.
One of the most innovative features I have seen to date in a racing game is the mapping of the gears to the four buttons on the controller. This almost simulates an H-shifter and allows you to go from 4th to 2nd or whatever gear you want at the touch of a single button. The gas and brake are mapped to analog shifters giving you moderate control over speed and braking, but again, you really need a wheel/pedal combo to do this game justice.
Just keep in mind that this is not a NASCAR sim. This is arcade racing pure and simple. If you smack the wall doing 180mph you will probably flip, roll, and crash, then land on your wheels and keep on going. Even with the forgiving crash model, you will still need to run a near perfect race if you ever want to place in the top positions and earn the big points.
Daytona USA has never looked better. The graphics are decisively better than even the latest arcade version with a fluid 60fps that doesn't waiver, even with a full field on the screen. There is never a hint of pop-up or draw-in and the car details are amazing featuring colorful decals and paint jobs with some cool reflection maps thrown in for added realism. Even when you split the screen for VS Battle the frame rate never chokes, although the car detail is reduced to maintain the 60fps you've come to expect from the solo game.
The tracks are all very well designed and feature plenty of details that are almost too distracting. The various camera angles capture the replays in a cinematic style worthy of ESPN.
The sound in Daytona USA is amazing. There is an upbeat soundtrack throughout the entire game and plenty of subtle touches like "Gentlemen...Start your engines!" and the famous "Rollliiinggg Staaart..." and plenty of in-race pit crew chatter like "Stay high in the turn" and "Final lap...floor it!"
Each car has its own unique engine sound and when you are in the middle of a pack the sound can be deafening. The crashing noises are really good and there are the expected reverb effects when going through tunnels.
There is a lot to do in Daytona USA from just the single player side of things. There are various levels of difficulty to increase the challenge as you become a better driver and with over 36 possible track combinations, 8 circuits, and 6 secret cars to unlock, you will have plenty to keep you busy indefinitely.
To everyone's surprise and delight, Daytona USA has full support for the DC's modem and SegaNet. Strangely disappointing is the lack of any support for the recently released broadband adapter. Since there are some severe latency issues with Daytona online you would think the higher bandwidth connections would have been supported.
Go online and enter the lobby to hook-up with other racers and compete in 4-player action with drivers from all over the country. Once you begin the race you are still treated to blistering frame rates, however any lags in the connection of your competitors will result in teleporting cars making for some "interesting" races.
Daytona USA has always set the proverbial bar for all other arcade racers, and Dreamcast owners have been waiting quietly for their favorite racer to appear on the Sega's console. Now that it is here one can only wonder what amazing things Sega will be able to pull off now that they are dedicating all their focus and efforts to software.
Daytona USA is the definitive arcade racer, and aside from a few minor control glitches the game is a perfect home console conversion. There are enough added features and improved graphics that you can probably save your quarters the next time you visit the arcade.