Daytona USA Network Racing Hands-On

Sega is bringing its popular arcade racing game to the Dreamcast, complete with an online mode and new tracks and cars.

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Though the arcade version of Daytona USA featured exceptional graphics and sound, realistic physics, and an incredibly accurate sense of speed, the game's biggest asset was its linked-cabinet multiplayer play. Up to four people could race against each other in the linked versus mode--a race that was simply a grudge match between four contestants. And though the series has made it to previous consoles, none of the home versions has been able to hold a candle to the arcade version of Sega's Daytona games. Now fans finally have something to write home about, as Daytona USA Network Racing is squeezing everything out of the arcade version and into the Dreamcast.

Daytona USA Network Racing is more than arcade perfect. The game has all the modes, cars, and tracks from each of the various arcade editions of Daytona USA. But the game's biggest draw is probably the online mode. While we've already taken the basics of the Dreamcast version of Daytona USA for a spin, we were only recently able to take a build of the game online and play against other people via the Dreamcast's 56k modem.

The game actually has a fairly confusing setup when you first try the online mode. To play online, you'll first have to connect to the Internet with your Dreamcast and visit the game's Web site. Once there, you can register for a racing account and download a special key file to your VMU. Once that's done, you can easily get to the online mode directly from the game. Once you connect to the online mode, you'll chose which server you'd like to hang out on, then spend your time in the lobbies setting up races. The lobbies are organized similarly to those in NFL 2K1, with a large chat area and a small side screen that shows the status of the lobby and the games that are currently running. Setting up a game is fairly easy--you select your car and its appropriate options, choose the course, and then wait for people to join your game. Once you're happy with the results, you can launch the game and start the action.

Actually playing online is quite a treat. The game runs extremely fast and supports up to four players in any one online game. All the speed and detail you'd expect from the single-player game are there in the online mode, and there didn't seem to be any horrible network breakup. Unfortunately, there were some instances of lag--sometimes cars would simply choke up for a second, then hop forward drastically. This had little effect on the actual driving of the game, as you never have to slow down to wait for someone to synch, and you never experience the direct effects of the lag. Still, watching other drivers jump around the track definitely hurts the gameplay. Additionally, it's unfortunate that the game will not support the Dreamcast broadband adapter, as the added bandwidth could have lent itself to bigger and faster games. Fortunately, Sega has plenty of time to tweak the network to help remedy the lag issues, and it could possibly add support for its underused network card.

Unfortunately, the Dreamcast version suffers from a few problems inherent in translating a game that relied on a huge realistic arcade cockpit for controls to the Dreamcast and its simple controller. Though the game does use analog controls, the steering is extremely sensitive and very tricky to get the hang of. Daytona USA Network Racing does let you tweak the analog settings extensively in the options menu, but even at the lowest sensitivity setting, the cars still had a tendency to oversteer and fishtail at the slightest movement of the analog stick. Additionally, the game adds no new buttons to the mix and uses only a few face buttons. While it's true that all the basic functions of the arcade control are covered with the analog stick, the triggers, and the two face buttons used to shift, it would have been nice to see Sega add a few extra buttons specific to the Dreamcast version of the game. A button to check your rearview would have been nice.

The graphics in Daytona USA Network Racing are looking very complete. The game successfully conveys the amazing sense of speed that the arcade version did--you simply feel like you're flying around each corner and tearing loose on the straightaways. Each of the cars is exquisitely detailed, from the complex polygonal frames to the textured skin and decals on each model. The game animates in a very realistic manner, and it accurately displays the Daytona physics. Cars will torque down when accelerating, suspensions will lean into a turn, and the collisions are amazing. All the tracks from the various versions of the game have made it to the Dreamcast, and each one looks much better on Sega's home machine than its arcade machine. The tracks are very detailed and feature plenty of background animation to keep things interesting. Additional visual effects such as rubber strips and smoke from exhaust pipes help make Daytona USA Network Racing one of the best-looking Dreamcast racers. Additionally, Daytona USA Network Racing has all the songs found in the arcade versions of the game, including the infamous Daytona theme. Strong sound effects help round out the audio department.

At this point, Daytona USA Network Racing looks like it could be the cat's meow for fans of stock car racing. More than just an arcade-perfect port, the game collects all the special cars and tracks from the various editions of Daytona, adds better-than-arcade graphics and sharp sound, and even introduces a completely new online mode. Daytona USA Network Racing is scheduled for release in the second week of March.

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