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A warmer reception.

The Age of Ports vehemently presses on as we here at GR take up the pen, er keyboard, once again to play the part of scribe. This time crossing the platform divide is Midway's Arctic Thunder for the Xbox. We already beat the stuffing out of this same title for PS2. Let's see if the "X" makes a difference.

This version of the snowmobile race-and-battle game has hit store shelves and the GR mailbox. And as the resident GR snowmobiler, it's up to me to see if it captures the magic of (or is at least more entertaining than) it's PS2 cousin.

Obviously, it's a little too arcadey to simulate true snowmobiling. But after spending some time with this rendition, I'm proud to say that things are looking up for Arctic Thunder.

The arcade version was a success due to a big dorky snowmobile controller and an equally dorky fan that blows cold air in your face while you play. Sadly, the home versions contains neither gimmick.

Oddly, Arctic Thunder has not a hint of a story anywhere in the game, on the package or in the instruction manual. On one hand, this is great - you know they're not trying to fool you into believing someone intentionally let a group of young teenage speed freaks loose with a bunch of modified snowmobiles equipped with missiles, grappling hooks, and invisibility devices.

But on the other hand, WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON? I mean, give me something to work with. Exactly why am I supposed to shoot this Atomic Snowball at the cute female rider instead of, say, asking her out for a cup of hot chocolate or something? Sure, it isn't Velvet Jones Kart Racer or anything, but I don't see why I have to be so violent to the ladies. There's just no background at all, and it makes for a kind of weird experience.

Boys and girls, Arctic Thunder isn't winning any beauty contests, trust me on that. However, it's a lot more pleasing on the eye than the PS2 version. All the graphics and textures are much cleaner with increased detail, making it easier to see what is actually going on in this frantic racer. But the lines carved in the snow still can't hold a candle to those in SSX, and while the character models look better, they aren't as rounded or as defined as I would expect from such a powerhouse like the Xbox..

But what the game lacks in eye-candy it makes up for in sheer speed. The levels literally blaze by, and thanks to the cleaner graphics it's now much easier to see where the road bends for finding those sharp turns. There's no noticeable slowdown, plus the framerate is solid and smooth.

In addition, everything will feel very comfortable and familiar. You race around tracks with about 7 other riders picking up power-ups and generally trying to blow the other guy off the track.

The control is fine. Weapons are easy to use. The snowmobiles are responsive and handle very well. Plus, you get to upgrade your snowmobile and rider as you progress. They don't really make much of a difference and a friend can't load his upgraded snowmobile for the 2-player mode, but it does add to the depth a bit.

Upgrades are purchased with points you earn from placing 1st, 2nd or 3rd on one or more of the courses. You can also earn points by doing different tricks (performed by hitting different button combos) or knocking riders off their snowmobiles.

The PS2 Arctic Thunder's graphics are so bad that that it's really hard see a character fall and eat snow. Again, thanks to the graphical touch-up, this Xbox version doesn't suffer from that at all. And if you haven't picked up any power-ups, you're left with your puny fists of fury. This can be hilarious - you can actually see your victim go flying from his snowmobile. It's pretty cool.

Unfortunately, the arctic motif is often lost. More often than it should be, you'll find yourself racing in heavy industrial areas. You'll race on snow, metal girders, catwalks and other odd terrain. Even across platforms, the level design remains disjointed and bizarre.

Thankfully, multiplayer is also improved by the enhanced graphics. It's a good thing, too, because the Xbox Arctic Thunder allows three other friends to join in this high speed frigid fracas. The four-way split is not that bad. Of course, a two-way split is much more tolerable.

Xbox Arctic Thunder is simply better than the PS2 version. It's smoother, looks a lot better and the gameplay has made a successful transition from frustrating to decent fun. You'll still find more arctic thunder around an outhouse in Antarctica than you will in this entire game. But it's worth a look and combat racing fans could easily do worse.





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