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Sep. 26, 2001

GW Xbox > Xbox Previews > Preview Page


Nascar Thunder 2002

Tiburon Studios

Electronic Arts



Left click to get the skinny on EA's left turner.

Nascar racing as a whole is a rather bland "sport" that feeds off brutal crashes and cautions for its flavor of "excitement". How 75,000 people can sit and watch cars go round and round for 400 laps has me baffled, but if so many follow, there must be some good in there, right? Right indeed, and EA Sports knows it.

You see, when you're actually in the cockpit (going this fast, it's not a driver's seat), battling for position, avoiding debris, and dashing through walls of smoke, it becomes much more than just left turns and pits stops. EA's Nascar Thunder 2002 looks to poised to capture this colossal mayhem in all its glory with the new, albeit convincingly real, 3D cockpit movement.

As simple as 3D cockpit movement sounds, it will truly change the way gamers play Nascar gamers forever. It lets you see everything a real Nascar driver sees, from a behind the wheel perspective - the dashboard, gadgetry, your drivers hands on the wheel, and thanks to the improved rendering capabilities of the games engine, a mind blowing number of cars on screen at once.

Under the hood, Thunder offers everything the official license entails - 23 real tracks such as Chicagoland Speedway and Kansas Speedway, all the drivers like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and all four car manufacturers including Dodge. Basically, if it was in the 2001 season, it's in the game.

The biggest appeal of Nascar Thunder 2002, of course, will be its vastly improved career mode. EA has gone out of their way here. You begin as a rookie who chooses a paint job for his car and a manufacturer. Then you can race for up to ten seasons while accumulating sponsors and decals to put on your car. With winnings, you'll upgrade handling, speed, and the like - even equipping crewmembers to enhance performance. As seasons pass, drivers will retire and others will join. EA seems to have overlooked the kitchen sink here, but I assume that's in the works for next years outing.

Beyond the career mode gamers will be able to take part in various solo and multi-play ventures such as qualifying, practice, and race day sessions. Multi-play supports up to four players via split-screen, and can be played with any of the solo modes of play - including career.

On a technical front, Thunder plays a mean game of Nascar racing. The boys from EA's Madden franchise have cooked up a special treat for Nascar aficionados. As far as ramming your ride into walls is concerned - the shell will dent and crumple, car parts will fly off and hit passer by's, oil-fires will burn, and paint scrapes and tire smoke will lend their services to this wonderful atmosphere. Just be careful if you have a really big TV.

While actually racing, gamers will notice the substantially improved artificial intelligence that has each driver in the game acting based on his real-life tendencies. They'll also want to try out EA's "Easy Play" system, which helps meld newbies into champions by assisting in braking, acceleration, and stability until they've got the hang of it themselves. It's kinda like riding a bike with training wheels - sans the embarrassment of it all.

Nascar Thunder 2002 will go head to head with Infogrames' Nascar Heat 2002 on launch day, and only time will tell which shall prevail. But with the new 3D cockpit movement and a kickin' career mode, Thunder looks hard to top at this point, and certainly appears to be left turners wet dream.

"Young Warrior" William Pulley
Scares his editor on a regular basis.

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