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NASCAR Thunder 2002 (PSX) Review

Background Info
The sport of auto racing has been taking its knocks in the past years. People say the sport is not only boring and repetitive, but also very dangerous. The deaths of a few marquee drivers certainly did not help that image. Fortunately, the decline in popularity has not affected the frequency of racing video games.

I did not play Nascar 2001, but I am a proud owner of Gran Turismo and GT 2 on the PSX and I watch Nascar racing on television. I also have been enjoying the Need For Speed series for three or four years, so I know what a smooth racing experience feels like. I also rented Nascar Heat for the PS2, but I can't say my experiences were enough to deem me an expert in EA racing games. Nonetheless, I am an eager racing fan wanting to see how Thunder 2002 will stack up with the competition. Thunder 2002 aspires to be the most authentic racing title out on the market. Let's see if the game accomplishes that goal or is burnt rubber.

Presentation/Graphics : 90
Although EA is notorious for putting a heavy emphasis on jaw dropping graphics, the PSOne is on its last legs and I wasn't expecting much from this game in the department of eye candy. What I saw on my television when I started playing the game was amazing. An EA title demonstrated a certain level of savvy in piecing together a very nice looking PSX game.

For starters, the cars are very detailed. The many logos of sponsors and companies will make their way on to your favorite racer's car. I was surprised to not encounter too many of the "jaggies" that us PSOne gamers have become accustomed to. The car models are very similar to those of the Gran Turismo PSX series (p.s. that is damn good).

The tracks are also very good. You are immersed into the slab of pavement from the moment you take that first practice lap around the track. EA did a nice job of putting the right amount of detail in the tracks and its environment. Rest assured, there are no ugly looking sprites ruining your race atmosphere. The tracks take on a new level when Race Day comes around and the stands are filled with hoards of fans. The hollow, vast stadium turns into a cozy, intimate frenzy. My adrenaline was pumping.

During a race you will see sparks fly when you bump into other cars and you'll see the burnouts on the road. I guess if I had to choose one word to describe the graphic of Nascar Thunder, that word would be smooth. I believe that is the greatest compliment you can give a game in terms of graphics.

Presentation/Audio : 62
Average at best. The normal racing game sounds are rehashed and even = though the atmosphere of driving a race is cozy and intimate, the sounds = are not. When a car bumps into a wall or peels out, the crowd will give = a very subtle "ooh" or "ahh". The crowd shows very little emotion and = that is unfortunate because Nascar fans are as crazy as they come in the = sports world.

Interface : 80
Overall, you have a nice selection of gameplay options in Thunder. There are only two game modes, single race and season mode, but both are very in-depth. The EA mystique of having an outstanding season mode, full of options and stats, is definitely upheld by Thunder.

As soon as you choose Season Mode, you are immediately hit with a number of variety of options for the season. Although it sounds like one gameplay mode, season mode splits off into different types of seasons. For example, there are eight different types of seasons you can race with: Road Course Challenge, Superspeedway Shootout, Short-Track Challenge, Full Season, Full Season w/ Fantasy, Half Season, Half Season w/ Fantasy, and Custom. Each type of season touches base with each type of Nascar racing.

After selecting what type of season you want to venture into, there are three difficulty levels you can choose from: Rookie, Veteran, and Legend. You can also choose the level of car damage in a race, the frequency of engine breakdown, race length, and pit scaling.

Once you have made your gameplay options and season mode choices, you will find that there is a plethora of stats being tracked in your season mode. There are player stats, season standings, and user records.

There are Thunder Cards that you can attain by winning races and completing various tasks in the game. The cards can be used for car enhancements and can unlock tracks. There is also a Hall of Fame that you can be inducted into and the Track Records are tallied from each difficulty level.

Gameplay : 85
Nascar Thunder aspires to be the most authentic racing title on the market and there is no doubt that it accomplishes that goal. The first thing that I noticed was the road physics. I completed my first race at Daytona Beach and there are patches of sand coinciding with the track. The moment that my car touched those sand patches, the friction of the car immediately changed spinning me out of control. I also noticed the difference of racing on a track that had that "bowl" shaped track. Once you got up on those edges you could feel the balance of your car change. I know that my observations may seem elementary and corny, but I have played many racing games where it feels like you are cruising on the Interstate for the entire race.

The gameplay rating would drop to about 15 if it were not for my Analog capabilities on my PSX controller. I know that there is not many controllers left out there that don't have analog capabilities, but if for some reason you don't have analog, I would suggest not buying this game. Steering with the D-Pad is damn near impossible. Unless you have a steering wheel, analog is must-have. This is probably my main gripe with the gameplay of Thunder. For some reason I was never able to get comfortable steering with the analog sticks. It seemed like I was never able to make a good, hard turn when I had to because the analog stick was too liberal in its movements. I have never made a turn in a car going 175 m.p.h. and maybe the turn is impossible, but I can make my estimate on how proficient that turn should be and I think the turn should be tighter than what it is.

The racing purists will probably complain about my above statement, but I will stand by what I said. Some turns were just near impossible without slowing to a speed that "Grandpa and Grandma in the Lincoln Continental" would leave you in the dust. If you can take a corner with efficiency, however, you will be able to use your momentum and pass other cars.

The A.I. for the opposing racing cars is very good. On rookie mode you will find that no one will really try to pass you or maneuver around you. But as you make your way up the difficulty levels, the cars become smarter and smarter. If you don't nestle around that corner just perfectly, you can bet that three or four cars will slingshot right around you. You will have to take full advantage of the camera angles and your rear-view mirror to ensure that you know where the cars are coming from. Also, the cars are much more aggressive in the upper difficulty levels. Jeff Gordon on Legend Mode will make sure to give you that extra "love tap" as you try to pass him.

Where the game scores major authenticity points is in the Race Weekend. The Race Weekend is your prep for the week's race and is a six-step process. The first thing you do is head to the garage and tweak your car for the track. You can select between a manual and automatic transmission, adjust the tire pressure, shocks, down force, wedge, left and right bias, wheel lock, fuel load, and gear ratio. By tweaking this and that, you can optimize your chance of success. After leaving the garage you get to take some practice laps around the track by yourself before going to qualifying. After qualifying you go to Happy Hour and then you start the race.

The races are quite entertaining and on the right track, the experience is very pleasurable, but the races do tend to get repetitive. Aside from seeing the same course for 30 or 40 laps at one sitting, your thumbs get cramped from holding down the X button for 15 or 20 minutes! I guess there is no logical way to get around this, but I wish there was some way to counteract this exhausting process. You are given the option to race five percent, 10%, 25%, 50%, or 100% of a given race. I have no clue how you could race a full 400 laps of a race. I normally chose the five percent or 10% length and I was usually ready to quit by time the race was over.

On the whole gameplay is a pleasurable experience. I can only gauge how authentic the experience is from what I have seen on television due to the fact that I have never raced in a Nascar race, but I think that EA did an admirable job of portraying the sport.

Replay Value : 90
If you are a fan of Nascar racing, this game will keep you entertained and busy for a few weeks. I have been reviewing this game for about two weeks now and I haven't even scratched the surface of completing any of the season modes. There are over 40 tracks and over 30 Nascar Stars. The number of things you can tweak is amazing and is Gran Turismo-esque. If you can stand mashing the X button for 20 minutes at a time for a race, this title is a no-brainer.

Overall : 84
Although the game is lacking in the audio department, the game's depth is what makes it special. For die-hard Nascar fans, I would give two thumbs up in buying this title. This is assuming that the changes are more than subtle from Nascar 2001. Although the game gets tedious at times, I think the high number of tracks and options will keep you refreshed.

By: Tim Martin 12/11/01

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