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.
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
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
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
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.