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Genre

Racing

 

Platform

PlayStation 2

 

Publisher

Electronic Arts

 

Developer

EA Sports

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q3 2003

 

 

- Doesn’t try to hard too hard to be realistic

- Online Play, but….

- Graphics

- Audio package is good

- EA Sports Bio

 

 

- Dial up players may not have an enjoyable game experience online

- Game can expect too much at times

- AI opponents may not play fair all the time

 

 

Review: ATV Quad Power Racing 2 (PS2)

Review: NASCAR Thunder 2003 (PS2)

Review: Smuggler's Run 2: Hostile Territory (PS2)

 

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NASCAR Thunder 2004

Score: 8.4 / 10

 

NASCAR has always been a peculiar sport to me. I never quite fully understood the excitement in watching cars driving around a circular track a few hundred times. After playing NASCAR Thunder 2004 (NT), my perception of the sport has changed.

 

In this day and age it seems sports games have become more and more complex. NT is a perfect example. The team at EA Sports over the past few years have been trying to attract not only hardcore fans of NASCAR, but casual gamers as well. Even though NASCAR Thunder has all the NASCAR authenticity, it also has a number of features, which are sure to raise the eyebrows of a few casual gamers.

 

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NT doesn’t strive to be a pure simulation. There are arcade elements so gamers of all levels can join in the fun. The control is tight and precise, and the car physics are accurately modeled – car damage can have a drastic effect on the control of your car. For example: If you blow a tire, your vehicle will be much harder to handle. NT requires some strategy as well. During long races you have to systematically choose when it’s safe to do a pit stop and try your best to avoid penalties.

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There are seven modes of play, including Speedzone, Lightning Challenge, Career and Online play. In Speedzone (essentially a tutorial mode) you’re assigned to improve your skills in four primary areas: drafting, passing, time trials, and blocking. The Lightning Challenge is an interesting mode. Before you enter a race there is a short video clip showing an interviews of a certain NASCAR racer and what event they raced in. The Lightning Challenge allows you to re-enact that same race. There are a number of given objectives that must be completed. Completing the races help you earn Thunder Plates and unlock more challenges.

 

The Career mode allows you to play up to twenty consecutive years. In the career mode you design your own car and start from scratch, right on up to hiring the pit crew. As you get further in your career you can get sponsorship deals and have corporate logos or trademarks on your vehicle. Sponsors also have a say in your career as well. If you race poorly, your sponsors may get worried and stop supporting you.

 

The most notable addition is the new alliances and grudge system. Your performance dictates how difficult or easy a race can be for you. If you race like a maniac and hit your opponents and knock them off the track you’ll end up making enemies. During, or at the end of each race a red or green icon appears above certain racers who either have a grudge or have an alliance with you – green represents alliance, red represents a grudge. Both grudges and alliances are also represented by percentages, Naturally the higher the percentage, the greater the grudge or alliance. Having an alliance with another racer can cause him to allow you to pass or share a draft quite frequently. Having a grudge will cause your opponent to give you a bump at every opportune moment, which can cause you to lose the race. The best part of the grudge and alliance system is that it lasts throughout your career or season mode.

 

This year’s addition of NT features online play (both dial-up nd broadband) exclusively for the Playstation 2. Like the rest of EA Sports online games, you can also use a USB headset for voice chat. You can play with up to two human characters online and about forty AI controlled opponents. If you own another EA Sports title from the 2004 season then you can use the same online name and settings online for NT. Your friends list also transfers over to NT and you can keep track of what other games your friends are playing online. There is a decent sized community online, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding any opponents. The racing is smooth for the most part, but there is some lag at times, especially when playing against someone with dial up. The voice chat is pretty clear, but you’ll hear the occasional echo. The online play certainly boosts the replay value of NT.

 

NT also features a four-player split screen mode. The offline multiplayer is quite enjoyable, considering the frame rate does take a noticeable hit.

 

The graphics aren’t ground breaking, but they are good. The car detail is excellent and car damage is evident and easily noticeable. There are a few cut scenes inserted here and there and you’ll also get a glimpse of your animated pit crew when stopping in the pit. And the racetrack shows skid marks, cracks and you’ll occasionally see thick clouds of smoke.

 

The sound is done well for the most part, but don’t expect to hear any two-man commentating team during the race. Although you will hear radio messages from your pit crew giving you advice and updates and you‘ll hear an overly energetic PA announcer. At the beginning of each race the commentators critique each track and then focus on individual drivers.

 

The EA Sports Bio is a new addition to the EA Sports games this season. The EA Sports Bio rewards players for playing other EA games. When I first put NT into my PS2 and loaded up the game, I immediately got a few free Thunder Plates for the game reading NBA Street Volume 2 and Tiger Woods 2004 saved game data on my memory card. Some may see it as a gimmick, but I see it as an excellent addition, which truly rewards gamers.

 

NASCAR Thunder 2004 is a well-done racing title that strikes a good balance between realism and accessibility. NT is sure to please NASCAR enthusiasts everywhere. NT is a game that will be enjoyed by casual gamers.

 

- Siddharth Masand

(November 26, 2003)

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