reviews\ Sep 28, 2003 at 8:00 pm

NASCAR Thunder 2004 - PC - Review

The popularity of NASCAR has been somewhat of a surprise to me.   I remember watching NASCAR years ago before the likes of Jeff Gordon, or other younger drivers came along.   NASCAR always had roots in the southern culture, since race tracks were a common site for certain towns.  It was possible to participate in a race with a $500.00 beat up car that you bought a few weeks ago on the weekend.  I imagined that NASCAR would stay a southern culture favorite that the majority of the population wouldn’t understand.  But now you can’t go anywhere without seeing a NASCAR bumper sticker, or t-shirt, or other NASCAR paraphernalia. 


With NASCAR 2004, EA Sports offers what it does with all of their other sports games, a complete package.  There are 5 different game modes available in NASCAR 2004; Testing, Race Now, Season, Career and Multiplayer.  The Race Now mode offers you the option to jump right into a race on any track with any driver.  The Season Mode allows you to compete in a regular NASCAR season, but you can select at which tracks you wish to compete.  The Career Mode offers even more depth by allowing you to compete in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.  But you play the role of the driver and team manager.  You have to drive the car and still find a sponsor for the team.  Multiplayer allows you to race against other players over the internet.


For the impatient NASCAR fans the best place to start would be the Race Now mode.  This mode allows you to jump in right away and race against 41 other drivers in a race.  You select the driver and the track where you wish to race.  Just like a regular NASCAR race, you can qualify for the race to determine your starting pole position.  But you can skip past the qualifying section and jump right into the race.   For the NASCAR newbie, the place to begin is the Testing Mode.  This allows you to race on any of the tracks, while changing the different settings of your car.  This is a great place to start, since you can get used to the controls and how the cars handle, while testing out the different tracks.


Both the Season Mode and Career Mode offer a quasi simulation gameplay experience.  In both modes you have certain settings you can adjust; the number of cars to compete against, whether tire wear is a factor, the length of the races, and other settings.  The big difference between the Season Mode and Career Mode is you have more control over the different racing options in the Career Mode.  In Season Mode you select which driver to control and then which tracks you want to race.   If you don’t want to race at Daytona, then you can skip Daytona races. 


The Career Mode offers more control over your racing Team then what’s available in Season Mode.  You need to select the car you’ll race in, sponsors for your car, and which projects you need to research for your Team.  Think of the research projects as your experience points for the different type of race tracks.  You have five different skill levels for the 4 different race tracks (Short Track, Speedway, Super Speedway, and Road Track).  But there is a limit in how you can raise the skill levels.  You start off the Career mode with a limited amount of money to spend on your car and your Team.  To complete a skill level, you have to spend money to perform research for the skill level.  But in order to earn more money in Career Mode, you have to be successful.  In order to be successful in the Career Mode you must have patience.  You won’t win a race right away.  It will take hours upon hours, and you will need to complete the different races to be successful in Career Mode.  Unfortunately the odds of you becoming the new overnight sensation in NASCAR are slim to none. 


NASCAR 2004 offers a deep and enjoyable racing experience.  The amount of tracks, the different drivers, and the Season/Career mode should please all racing fans.  The average racing fan should be able to jump in right away with the Race Now Mode and the Season Mode.  The Career Mode and Multiplayer Mode offers you more bang for your buck.  EA Sports proves once again that if it’s in the game, then it’s in NASCAR 2004. 



Gameplay 8.5 

NASCAR 2004 offers an enjoyable and solid racing experience. There are several different options that should please all gamers.  I was expecting the game to be very jerky with the number of cars that compete on the track at one time.  But I was pleasantly surprised that the majority of the racing was very smooth.   If there was a huge wreck on the track, the game would slowdown slightly.  


Graphics 8.5 

The graphics for the car modules are very detailed and smooth.  Even with all 42 cars on the screen at once, the frame rate stays consistent.  There will be an occasional drop in the frame rate when the action gets hot and heavy, especially during wrecks.  The tracks are accurate to their real life counterparts, and are very detailed.  However the graphics for the spectators seem pasted on and lack animation.  The animation and graphics of your Pit Crew are jerky & lack the detail of the car modules.        


Sound 8.0 

The sound effects for the cars are realistic and come across clear during the game.  The game includes the voices of your Pit Crew encouraging you and offering advice during the race.  At first the voices are helpful, but soon they do get repetitive.  The Pit Crew is often lagging behind in the action on the track.  They give you advice that a car is next to your, either on your left or right side, but you’ve already passed the car. 


Difficulty Medium 

The difficulty varies depending on which mode you’re playing.  The Career Mode can be very difficult because you’re starting from the bottom.   At the beginning of Career Mode your car is now where near the level of the other cars.  So you’ll be racing at the back of the field hoping some of the other cars drop out of the race.  It seem unfair that you don’t have a chance in Career Mode, but patience pays offs in the long run.  After playing the Career Mode, and racing at the back of the pack, the other modes seem much easier.


Concept 8.5 

The concept of NASCAR 2004 is well done, especially with the Career Mode.  By giving you an owner’s mode that offers a ton of options, this isn’t just another racing game. Even though the Career mode is essentially an owner’s mode, there is still room for growth.  I would have enjoyed an option to control multiple racing teams, instead of just one team.  This isn’t the same type of owner’s mode as Madden 2004.   The racing itself is very well done and hard core racing fans will enjoy.  . 


Multiplayer 8.5 

NASCAR 2004 offers you the opportunity to race against other players online.  You can either join an existing race or host your own race for others to join.  The online experience is flawless with little to no lag while playing.  The game would pause briefly whenever someone would join or leave the game, but it wasn’t enough to take away from the online experience.  The online servers are powered by Gamespy.


Overall 8.4 

For the gamers looking for a complete racing game, NASCAR 2004 will please.  The different game modes should keep gamers entertained for a long time.  The excellent graphics and smooth gameplay will also please racing fans.  The controls can take a while to get used to at first.  Your car has a tendency to drift to the left since your racing on oval tracks the majority of the time.  The controls are designed especially for a steering wheel controller.  The sound effects from the Pit Crew can get repetitive after a while.  But even with these flaws, NASCAR 2004 is a great racing game that will please NASCAR and other racing fans.


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