Review - classic arcade racing with added netplay
Any racing game, however esteemed its lineage, is going to have a tough time breaking onto the Dreamcast. The genre is stiff with competition from the likes of Metropolis Street Racer and F355 Challenge, leaving little room for intrusion. However Daytona USA 2001 managed it, we'll never know. Although I had my doubts about Sega's supposedly seminal arcade racer coming to Dreamcast, I've been reassured by the sheer number of things on offer. For instance, the game has eight tracks right from the start, including the three original arcade tracks, two tracks from Daytona CCE on the ill-fated Saturn, and three totally original tracks. As with the original, these can be played as you like - straight up, reverse, mirror, mirror reverse - with season, Single Race, Time Attack and two player VS Battle modes. What's more, every race can be saved to your VMU for analysis or showboating later on. One of the biggest changes for Daytona USA 2001 is its online play, although it does suffer due to poor guestimation on the Dreamcast's part. Using something approaching Quake's pushlatency variable, it predicts where your opponent is driving if the connection is too slow to give exact data in time. However, by its very nature Daytona is unpredictable, and the game gets it wrong more often than not. In a way this removes a lot of the excitement from proceedings - most of the fun in Daytona is cool, calculated overtaking manoeuvres through oversteer into corners, something rendered almost impossible by the positional inconsistencies. Thankfully the framerate remains constant, as with the rest of the game, and the graphics likewise, but the niggling latency issue mars an otherwise excellent attempt to introduce an online racing mode.
The increase in framerate is nice, and the lack of pop-up is, although we took it somewhat for granted, a relief. Reflective effects have been added all over the shop to stress the Dreamcast's PowerVR-based graphics chip, and even though you suffer a minor drop in detail for split-screen two player, things still look marvellous. It's not just your car that's detailed either; even with four of the blighters blazing into a corner in your right wing mirror, the level of detail is stunning, with virtually no slowdown evident. The graphics are one thing though, but the gameplay is where it's at. It's good news then, that Daytona delivers fast-paced, exciting action that makes NASCAR look like driving school, taking real life race tactics and physics into account. Drafting, for example - the technique whereby a driver hovers in another's slipstream to become more aerodynamic and manoeuvrable. Nevertheless, the game relies on the unrealistic to provide a lot of its stimulation. There's definitely something to be said for power sliding at 100mph into a corner and exiting at 110, although diehard simulation fans will rightfully spit on it. Then again this isn't really for them now, is it? As a remake, the controls could have been tweaked a little to prevent the delicacy of the analogue stick causing such violent pileups, but this can actually be tweaked in the options menu, so there is little to complain about here either.
Daytona USA 2001 is a very enjoyable game, but what it really needs is for Sega's online programmers to take on the server side of things with a heavy hand, and try and eliminate some of the lag. Nothing has changed since the American release over a month ago unfortunately, and the teleporting cars issue is infuriating to the point of distraction. The rest of the game just about makes up for it, but Daytona USA 2001 was originally dubbed Network Edition, and I wanted it for the online play more than anything. Perhaps it's on account of the problems that this moniker was dropped - it's certainly prevented me from recommending Daytona to any higher degree. While I'm on the warpath, I might as well focus your attention on the sound effects. Now, I like the sound effects for the most part, but that damned menu sound is so repetitive and draining that I really have to give it a sentence all of its own. This single sound effect tarnishes an otherwise excellent menu system. Would you even think that possible? It's absurd. Ultimately, Daytona looks thoroughly presentable, features some stunning graphics and plays like a dream. The sporadic issues with network play, though, are enough to make me think twice about recommending it. There's a lot to unlock and fiddle with through the single player options, and yes it's possible to play split-screen two player anyway, but the network play options, however evolutionary, are too frustrating in their current form.