NASCAR Thunder 2002 (PS2) Review
Last year EA gave us the utterly disgusting NASCAR 2001 on the PlayStation 2. The
horrid graphics with its dodgy frame antics completely destroyed any gameplay
associated with the title. One year later and with loads of development under
their belts, EA puts a much better product out on the street this time around.
NASCAR Thunder 2002, with its 43 car races, is a more enjoyable title than its
predecessor. All the things left out in the 2001 version are here in full force
for 2002. To add more incentive to purchase, EA gives us every track on the
Winston Cup circuit.
Presentation/Graphics : 90
The first thing to mention about the graphics is that unlike 2001, the rearview
mirror in 2002 doesn't cause the game to freak out and go into a graphical
tailspin. Miraculously, EA did this even with 43 cars on the track at one time
and better looking cars and tracks. Kudos to the developers for finally
unleashing some PS2 power.
While there are 43 cars on track, diehard NASCAR fans may get bent out of shape
by the lack of tobacco and alcohol sponsors in the game. Since kids can buy
this title, law states no ciggy ads. To be honest, I don't miss the Winston
or Miller logos in the game; I'm too busy concentrating on the racing. The
cars that are there, however, look fantastic. Aside from the offending
advertisers, the cars look picture perfect. Dale Jarrett's UPS car is spot
on as is the Jeff Gordon's DuPont number 24. In addition, some cars have
additional sticker schemes should you tire of the status quo.
The graphical amazement doesn't end with the decals. At times you'll notice
some backfire flames coming from the exhaust of the cars. And when you smoke
the tires, a fairly realistic smoke cloud forms and slowly dissipates. All
the while the scorched tires leave a permanent mark on the track. Should a
car spin and start going backwards, the required speed brake pops up on top
of the car and keeps the car stable. Damage is visible, and if you scrape
the wall enough, you find the side of your car is scratched up as you enter
the pits. Finally, if you bang your car or one of an AI opponents hard
enough, you can cause enough damage to start a fire with realistic looking
The action is viewed from one of many vantage points. There are two third-person views and three first-person views. A bumper camera is available as
well as a roof camera which gives you a sliver of the hood. For cockpit
fans, the in-car view complete with a functional steering wheel and dash
is present. In all views you can pop the rear view mirror up as well as
various status indicators. Things like damage readouts, tracks maps, and
timing information are laid out well on the screen.
Presentation/Audio : 75
There's not much to say about the sound in the game. The engine sounds
are credible, tire squeal is realistic, and so on. Even bumping up against
the wall or rear-ending another car seems accurate. About the only suspect
sound is that of two cars scraping together - think of dragging a fork
across a metal object. It's high-pitched and rather annoying.
One area where the sound affects gameplay is with the spotter's calls.
While the spotter does a pretty good job, there have numerous occasions
where he fails to mention a car behind you. I've been bumped many times
on a rear quarter panel by an overzealous driver that doesn't show up in
my rearview mirror. Like the Winston Cup drivers, I depend on my spotter
to let me know where the field is, and unfortunately he tends to be asleep
Interface : 90
Remember how everyone accused EA of holding back on their initial releases
of PS2 games? Their second efforts have been feature packed, and Thunder
is no exception. While you get the traditional racing modes of single
races and seasons, an exhaustive and entertaining career mode has been
added. The career mode allows you to race across multiple seasons and
pick up sponsorship money and buy upgrades for your car and pit crew.
You can even custom design your sticker and paint scheme for your car.
During the season detailed stats are tracked. Stats include the
appropriate Winston Cup scoring system (including bonus points for leading
a lap and leading the most laps in a race), money earned, and positional
In addition to the game modes, there are options to adjust the sound,
controller mappings, video, and gameplay. Gameplay options include the
use of yellow flags, driver aids, race length, and AI strength. All the
options are easy to get to through the menus. The only problem I
encountered with the menus is that some settings would reset after a
qualifying session and you would have to modify them again once in a race.
When I first started playing Thunder, I wasn't too pleased with the control
when using the Dual Shock 2 controller. I tried the game with the Logitech
Force Feedback wheel and was pleasantly surprised that it was supported.
The first thing I noticed was the control was much better, and using a wheel
is recommended. Unfortunately, the wheel's force feedback is not implemented
as well as with NASCAR Heat 2002, which has the best integration with the
wheel of any game on the market.
Gameplay : 80
Before delving into the gameplay, I have to say that racing is my favorite
genre of games. While I love a deep-rooted sim racer, I appreciate a fine
arcade racer. I consider games like GT, F355, Colin McRae, Need for Speed 3,
Moto GP, NASCAR Heat, TXR, and more to be some of the best ever made. Some
of those games approach true simulations, others are totally arcade racers,
and some are a mix of the two extremes. If you were to classify NASCAR
Thunder 2002, you can't use either extreme. It's not a sim in the sense
of F355 nor is it an arcade title like the Dreamcast's Daytona. The mixture
of sim and arcade elements in Thunder was no doubt intentional. EA was
trying to make a game accessible to a wider market. Hey, it's a business.
So the game will certainly suffer the wrath of serious sim fans, but really
there is plenty of good in the game to make the title enjoyable. First,
the racing is improved over previous NASCAR titles due in large part to the
larger field. Racing at Bristol with 42 opponents means you have to be on
your toes. Even on the super speedways there's enough traffic to keep
things interesting. A further indication of the intended target audience
is the limited setup parameters in the garage. You can adjust the overall
gear ratio, wedge, suspension, spoiler angle, and tire pressure, and each
change results in a change or vehicle response on a bar chart. While I
wouldn't call this car setup for dummies, it comes close. It's nowhere
as deep as Heat's garage where you can adjust camber or each gear ratio.
The wonderful implementation of Heat's tire temperatures isn't replicated here.
Yet another sign that the game isn't a sim is the driving model. The NASCAR
series has always been deficient in the area of speed bleed off when you let
off the throttle. When you let go of the gas, you expect a rapid decrease
in speed (just try it in your own car). Yet Thunder rolls along with little
speed loss. This makes braking a key feature of the game. For the most
part, the car setups are neutral or have too much push, or understeer.
Exiting a corner on short tracks or road courses offers no indication of
power-induced oversteer. In fact, the car almost seems to control itself
and whip into shape off a turn. This is also seen when you get loose from
a tap. The car fishtails violently but you never feel like you're going to
lose control. Speaking of taps, I have yet to cause an AI car to spin out.
No matter how hard you hit them, they don't want to spin. They'll fishtail
a bit, but they won't spin up towards the wall as they should.
The AI drivers are a mixed bag. On the one hand I like the constant motion
they exhibit on the track. Often you find cars two or three wide down the
straights, and at the super speedways you get long single or double pacelines
barreling down the track. The cars are constantly moving in and out of their
line trying to overtake and sometimes will even get tangled up, though AI
wrecks seem few and far between. What I don't like about the AI cars is the
lack of intelligence at times. When they want to pit there's nothing standing
in their way. If you are down near the apron and an AI car wants to pit, it
will dart towards the infield without regard to your position. Also, if you
can get a decent lead on some of the longer tracks, it often doesn't last.
The cars will increase in speed unrealistically and eventually catch up.
Again, they don't seem to care about your position. I had Jeff Gordon smack
me on the right rear as he came up behind me and simply held his line. If
you learn to live with the suspect AI, you'll find the title enjoyable.
Besides, people rave about Gran Turismo 3 and consider it the best racing
game of all time. GT3's AI is among the worst I've seen in a game. If
gamers can blindly look past the poor programming of GT3's AI, they can
certainly find Thunder acceptable. While annoying at times, Thunder's AI
is nowhere near as bad as GT3.
Thunder incorporates a damage model that only slightly affects your car's
performance. Tire wear is the sole contributor to adverse impacts on your
car's handling. Body damage has no apparent effect on the aerodynamics of
the car, and multiple hits into the wall doesn't cause a problem with your
suspension. But if you hit the front too much, the engine will smoke and
your day is done. If you head to the pits before too much damage accumulates,
you can repair your car. The pit time is a function of damage, though you
can toggle a parameter to skip the repairs on the pit stop. Likewise, you
have full control of how much gas to put in, which tires to change, and if
you want to adjust the wedge.
One aspect of the game I'm struggling with is the drafting model. Over the
years the NASCAR series has been criticized for an exaggerated drafting
model. The drafting has been toned down, but in the process it seems like
it got messed up. Due to pressure drag, a car alone on the track will
require more power to sustain the same speed as a car that is drafting.
Conversely, for the same power, the car in the drafting position can
accelerate while the lead car remains at a constant velocity. Now cars
also require air to form a fuel-air mixture for combustion. With no air
a fuel rich state exists where combustion and thus power isn't as
efficient. What I've found is that you can accelerate well when
positioned a decent distance from a car. But as you approach the car,
your car slows down. While I'd like to think that a new level of depth
has been achieved, I've seen enough NASCAR racing to know that the
drafting vehicle shouldn't be as severely crippled as it is in Thunder.
Winston Cup cars routinely drive inches apart from each other to create
a quick train. The strange drafting physics means you have to exploit
the traffic to your gain. Instead of drafting off a car in front of
you, look for one ahead of another car. More times than not you'll get
a better pull with the more distant vehicle.
Despite some of the AI problems NASCAR Thunder 2002 still provides a
good race. The huge field certainly enhances the gameplay and makes
passing a key aspect of the game. The limited garage options means I
don't have to spend extra time during practice finding the absolute
best setup. This is a pick up and play title. It's not a sim and
shouldn't be held in the same category as one. As a sim lover, I really
enjoy the challenge of a game like NASCAR Heat. Yet I'm also enjoying
NASCAR Thunder because of its instant accessibility.
Replay Value : 80
The racing is intense with plenty of passing and every Winston series
track is there. If that's not enough to keep you occupied, the cool
career mode is a blast. The only thing that adversely affects the replay
value is the AI which likes to bump you from behind. Even so, you learn
to block it out or improve your skills to avoid tricky situations.
Overall : 82
By: James Smith 10/30/01
Much like Madden 2002, NASCAR Thunder 2002 deserves a most improved award.
The 2001 version of the game was an abomination. The programming staff has
atoned for their gaming sins and delivered a fun racing game. The graphics
have improved while the field was nearly doubled, and the career mode is one
of the best you'll find in a racing game. Yes, there are a few AI issues, but
they aren't nearly as bad as what most PS2 owners consider the best racing
game on the PS2. The racing is better than most titles, and this leads to a
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