I'm so dizzy, my head is spinning...
Alright, enough with the roundabout jokes. I'm sure you NASCAR fans are just tired of it. So what do we have here? How about a nice little game by the name of NASCAR Thunder 2002? EA's latest in stock car racing brings some nifty features to the good ol' oval, resulting in a game that will add a little thunder to your NASCAR lovin' heart.
Compared to past NASCAR games, Thunder 2002 has improved by leaps and bounds. The maximum number of cars on the track has been bumped up to the full field of 43 with 23 tracks from the NASCAR Winston Cup. Some of the tracks even have, dare I say it" RIGHT TURNS! It must be my lucky day.
Thunder 2002 opens to the rhythms of Sweet Home Alabama, giving the game a touch of atmospheric country twang and setting the tone for the rest of the game. Get used to it, because it will be heard through most menu screens (though it can be replaced with an edgier and out of place rock beat in the Options). To say the least, Alabama was a much better choice than, say, Cotton Eyed Joe. Or even worse, what if they opted for The Dixie Chicks? I shudder at the thought.
The control is easy and manageable, with optional computer-aided assists to make it even easier. Now all you need to concentrate on is outmaneuvering the competition.
There's a Season mode that allows you to race with a balanced car through the different tracks, but the real fun is found in the Career mode. Career mode places you in the boots of a real NASCAR driver as you climb the ranks and establish your penchant for speed. You can choose from some 50 drivers from the 2001 season or just create your own. When you've chosen your driver and are all ready to go, try creating a custom car from several templates and color schemes.
But what would a stock car be like without all of those ads liberally strewn over the surface? One of the cool features in Thunder 2002 is the advertising that can be solicited and smacked across your car for cash. Just place an ad logo across different areas of the car and meet challenges to score some big advertising bucks. Do well, and your ever growing stockpile of cash goes towards upgrading your car, which starts the snowball effect of more wins, more advertising dollars, and more upgrades.
At first I was deeply unimpressed by the impacts and collisions, but like the Good and Evil Switch on a Krusty Toy Doll, I discovered the damage modeling switch in the Options that transformed a watered down "Limited" damage feature into a decidedly tastier slam and bam fest.
With this little option turned on, cars can be struck with enough force to send them flying. Parts fly off at a greater rate and scratch marks streak across the side of your ride. There are still a few little physics problems that can be seen here and there in replays, but I'm just happy the possibility for destruction is now there.
Strangely enough, Thunder 2002's announcer is taciturn. For once, I found it really weird not having some obnoxious freak bellowing out comments. The only downside of this guy is that he doesn't have anything particularly interesting to say. Where oh where is that happy middle ground?
Graphically, Thunder 2002 has both good and bad. While the cars are sharp and clean, the backgrounds have anti-aliasing issues along with the fact that they are just plain boring. All the bleachers look the same. There's also an annoying sun glare, but at least it's offset by a beautiful sky in the nighttime stages. The colors in this version aren't as vibrant as the Xbox one, but the backgrounds are noticeably better.
NASCAR Thunder 2002 won't magically transform anyone into a NASCAR fan, but the for the tried and true NASCAR fans out there, this game should mark the beginning of good things to come. The attention to detail, from the realization of 43 cars to the breadth of 23 tracks, should make any NASCAR nut proud.