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Jun 1, 2001

GW Xbox > Xbox Previews > Preview Page


Artic Thunder




Fall 2001


The latest in Midway's Thunder line of racing games is headed to the Xbox this fall. Snow-filled fun or an arctic disaster? Find out inside.

Up until this year, Midway had always been a huge supporter of the arcade industry. A couple of years ago the company decided to up the ante on extreme racing games and leave the competition in the dust. To do so, it created a new series of racing games with the "Thunder" suffix.

Starting with Hydro Thunder back in 1999, Midway unleashed a fast and furious boat racer that made a huge splash in arcades. Filled with plenty of speed bursts and a good framerate, during each race the action never seemed to end. Hydro Thunder captured the true essence of boat racing and quickly became one of my favorite racers of the year. It was later ported to Sega's Dreamcast console and received much critical acclaim, being voted as one of the top five must-have launch titles by most major magazines.

A year later, Midway released an off-road follow-up to Hydro Thunder, appropriately titled Off-Road Thunder. Trading in the speedboat for a 4X4 vehicle seemed like a pretty good idea in theory, but in actuality wasn't a very good idea at all. While fun at times, Off-Road Thunder lacked the speedy thrills of its predecessor. This made gamers begin to wonder if Midway had lost its "thunder." Critics and jaded consumers alike should be very pleased to hear that Arctic Thunder has the potential to not only live up to Hydro Thunder, but surpasses it in every conceivable way.

Arctic Thunder isn't quite as much of a sequel as it is a new game. All of the water has been frozen and each course is covered in snow. Obviously, boats can't race on ice, so Midway replaced the boats with amazingly fast snowmobiles. Since you're now riding on top of the vehicle instead of inside it, your racer is no longer confined and you may attack your opponents by kicking them. Kick them until their energy bar runs out and they'll fall off their sled, slowing them down for at least a few seconds, giving you a chance to take the lead.

Arctic Thunder features six characters and six sleds. The characters vary in style, while the sleds vary in performance. After you've chosen a character, select one of six tracks and prepare yourself for a truly awesome experience. If the E3 trade show stands for "Electronic Entertainment Expo", then Arctic Thunder is the E3 game -- Extremely Exciting and very Entertaining.

Each course is filled with plenty of appealing sights that are sure to satisfy the eye candy needs of anyone wanting more movie-type action (in a fully-playable form that actually exists in the game, not just a cut scene). At times, Arctic Thunder is just that. Burning trees fill the screen with many polygons in a dark forest; enormous spiders creep and crawl toward you as you race under them in one course; large buildings tower over everything else in sight (including you and your opponents); etc.

Power-ups include the usual amount of speed bursts, a force field that protects you from being attacked for a limited time and a super bomb that blows up all opponents (i.e., knocks them off of their sleds) within range. Throw in the said, Road Rash-inspired foot-to-foot combat and you've got yourself one of the most exciting rides you'll ever have in a winter wonderland.

A game with so much action going on at once couldn't possibly be any fun if the framerate dropped every now and then. No need to worry about that problem though; in Arctic Thunder, slowdown is nonexistent. Everything moves at a lightning-fast pace, never slowing down to keep up with the rest of the action going on in the background.

Midway has not announced any extras for the Xbox version of Arctic Thunder, however, Microsoft has a very strict policy when it comes to porting games from other consoles or PC titles to the Xbox, so it would be save to assume that Microsoft has a similar attitude towards arcade games.

I'd love to see Arctic Thunder packed with a ton of additional tracks, characters and maybe a few new features, but no matter what, I am still looking forward to its release on Xbox this fall. It is an excellent game and I can't wait to see how it fares on Xbox. If you can't wait until fall, then don't--head to the nearest arcade and play Midway's arcade swan song. But if you're one of the few gamers out there that remembers the good old days of Midway and still enjoy their products, bring a few tissues--because as great as AT is, it'll make you really sad.

Louis Bedigian
Added Midway's decision to exit the arcade scene to his "Top Biggest Industry Mistakes" list.

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