reviews\ Sep 30, 2002 at 8:00 pm

NASCAR Thunder 2003 - XB - Review

Imagine if you will, sitting behind the wheel of a rumbling racing machine as the rumbling engine vibrates the interior like an enraged beast.  In front of you is a long row of brightly colored vehicles driven by men that will pass on in sports history as legends.  Now imagine the race has started and that you, like the others around you, push your way through the mass of cars to go for ultimate victory.  Grab your racing helmets, racing fans, NASCAR Thunder 2003 is racing simulation at its most authentic.


The game takes racing fans through five different playing modes complete with 175 cars--with a chance to create your own racer--seventy drivers (such as Jeff Gordon Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace) and sixty racing events.  Quick Race takes you straight to the race while Thunder License mode offers various different tracks and the actual race car driver’s detailed explanation of what to expect from that track.  Lightening Challenge--which will be a NASCAR fan favorite--allows gamers to change the outcome of a NASCAR season’s highlights.  Season mode takes you through a series of race in which you can also include your friend while Career mode allows you to create your own driver and racer to go through twenty consecutive seasons.


Gamers will love the arcade quality-feel of the controls that aren’t bogged down by intricate features.  The game does, though, go for an authentic feel as well and it is very impressive.  Racing cars can collide and take realistic damage and you have to keep a close eye on the fuel gauge.  It also pays to pay attention to your pit crew that is always in contact with you during the race.  And gamers will notice right away that the opponent AI can certainly prove to be highly intelligent.


A multiplayer option allows up to four players to race in Quick Race or even Season mode in split-screen fashion.  Quite satisfying is the fact that you can keep the race just between your friends or make things more challenging by including multiplayer AI cars.  And gamers will certainly appreciate the race stats at the end to see how well players stacked up against their friends.


As good-looking as its PC brethren, the Xbox version continues to showcase all the exquisite visual features such as nicely textured backgrounds and racing floors.  Each car is detailed to perfection and gamers will notice how the sun glints off its surface or how precise the damage detail can really be when you slam into another racer.  The animation in this game is just as perfect and thanks to a satisfactory frame rate, the game hardly every slows down with hiccups of any kind--even during a four player multiplayer race.


Unfortunately the sound is not as detailed as the graphics itself, although what is featured here is not at all poor.  The engines roar and rumble while you are racing and there are also the occasional screeching tires, but brutal car crashes could have sounded a lot more deliciously dreadful than what you hear in Thunder.  The other sounds bring gamers closer to realism such as the pit crew communicating with your racer or the television styled post race commentary.  As far as the soundtrack is concerned, four songs keep you company . . . although they’re not all that great. 


NASCAR Thunder 2003 comes close to being one of the most perfect NASCAR racing games available so far and much of that has to do with the realism factor this game pushes to its farthest limits.  While its heavy-on-the-realism feature can be too realistically demanding the game’s racing fun does not slow down very much.


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


 Gameplay: 8.0
Thankfully the controls are straightforward and simple to manage, in fact, they give the game an arcade-feel even thought it is a realistic racing simulator at heart. The basic control structure revolves around the same things you would find in any racer: brake, accelerate, reverse and steer.  There are also a number of views you can choose from such as a first-person view or a look inside the car view.


However, the arcade quality can quickly disappear and leave only a realistic simulator that demands too much from gamers.  Keeping the car from scraping the barriers when making sharp turns, for example, will seem really frustrating.  And there is fuel and other small things gamers must worry about during the middle of a great lap and interrupt the race.


Graphics: 8.1
As dazzling as the PC version, NASCAR Thunder 2003 is equally good-looking and is highly detailed when it comes to the racing cars and the tracks themselves.  With dozens of racing locations, gamers will be impressed how amazing the level of detail that can be found in a location’s surroundings.  Also impressive is the way in which dozens of race cars can be on the screen at once-- all of the colorful and filled with sponsor logos painted on them.


The crash sequences are also among the best with the smoke tires make when they slam on the breaks a little too late and pieces of the shattered car raining on the track while other drivers desperately attempt to swerve out of the way.  Gamers will notice that each racing car takes individual damage such as scrapes and huge dents. 


Sound: 7.9
Unfortunately the sound effects are not as detailed as the visuals and the real shame is that it would have complimented the touch of realism simulators strive for.  Car crashes are met with more of a whimper than a bang.  However, there are precious moments when you’ll find detailed sounds like a failing tire of the engine overheating after one too many collisions.  And there isn’t much of a soundtrack, but it is something of a delight hearing Steppenwolf’s 1968 classic “Magic Carpet Ride.”


There are some good things about the sound, though. Your pit crew communicates with you through the CB, letting you know how close another racer is to you or when you need to make a pit stop.  There’s also a television-styled commentary that sounds straight out of ESPN with plenty of in depth explanations.  Lightening Challenge mode also has some commentary by racing superstars.


Difficulty: Medium
While handling the car can be quite satisfying, the single player mode really does offer a real challenge even in the Rookie difficulty setting (there are three difficulty settings: Rookie, Veteran and Legend).  Gamers will find the opponent AI to be both clever and most able to counter your moves as you try to block their progress. You can also expect them to do their best from keeping your racer from getting ahead of them.  Yet the best thing about the challenging racer AI is that they are also prone to mistakes and cause collisions.   


Concept: 8.7
At last a NASCAR title with a healthy amount of playing modes, cars and even an option to create your own race car driver and racing car.  The little things such as hiring your own pit crew or choosing your own sponsors will impress racing simulation fans.  And you don’t have to be a fan of NASCAR racing to enjoy the chance to change the course of NASCAR racing history in Lightening Challenge mode.


There are also special features in the Features option, such as the Thunder Plates gamers will earn if they race well.  Thunder Plates pretty much unlock nearly a hundred goodies such as extra drivers, new cars and even more racetracks.


Multiplayer: 8.0
What’s a racing game without a multiplayer option?  This title allows up to four players to race against one another in Quick Race and Season mode--you can even choose to add computer-controlled racers as well.  Either way, this is a highly enjoyable way to prove your driving skills to your friends. Season mode between four players is highly recommended since in this mode a player’s hard work earns him or her a nice place in the racing stats and wins the championship cup.


Overall: 8.5
Racing fans looking for a truly realistic NASCAR racing simulator for the Xbox will find that NASCAR Thunder 2003 is the game they have been searching for.  Not only does it handle like a dream, but also there are enough playing modes and racing challenges to satisfy a gamers’ need for speed.  Pick this one up and strap on because this is racing at its finest.  


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