A frozen reception.
Being a corn-fed country boy from Indiana, I can tell you from experience that
snow and snowmobiles are a hell of a lot of fun. It’s one of many things I miss
about living in the flat, mountainless Midwest. We’d get a few inches of snow
and, like magic, no school, since it’s too dangerous to drive. It was the greatest
thing in the world for a kid. We lit fires, sang songs and offered Rainbow
Brite toys as sacrifices to a snowman. Ah, those were great times.
the days of fresh air, Feldenkrais
hysteria, yellow snow and snowmobiling are long gone (at least until my next
Xmas visit home). Here in the Bay Area, where snow never falls unless a celebrity
drops one of their “special” vials, I get to play video games that occasionally
remind me of my frigid Midwestern childhood.
Midway’s new snowmobile race-and-battle game Arctic Thunder 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, or at least is entertaining.
After spending some time with this thing, I have reached two conclusions. No,
it doesn’t, and no, it isn’t.
Arctic Thunder is a port of the arcade game of the same name. But while
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, 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. Snow that’s kicked up is heavily pixelated and the background textures
lack a great deal of detail. There are no cuts and grooves, the lines carved
in the snow can’t hold a candle to those in SSX
and many of the weapon effects just suck. This barely passes as being a next-generation
game. Twisted Metal: Black,
we love you!
But what the game lacks in eye-candy it makes up for in sheer speed. The levels
literally blaze by, making it very hard to figure out where you’re going. Though
there’s no noticeable slowdown, the framerate is rickety and it seems like there
are some frames missing from the animations.
At the very least, I promise 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, though their icons on the track are
a little hard to make out when traveling well over 100 mph, and I swear I have
no idea who my weapons are hitting – the graphics are that bad. Still, 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
Unfortunately, the graphics are much too poor for you to really see a character
fall and eat snow. And if you haven’t picked up any power-ups, you’re left with
your puny fists of fury. Try punching a guy while you’re both on snowmobiles
in real life and the result is about the same…a severe wipeout!
In addition to the bad graphics, lack of story and the elusive fun factor,
the arctic motif is often lost. Somehow, and more often than it should be, you’ll
find yourself racing in heavy industrial areas. The level design is disjointed
Multiplayer is a total wash. You get all the same graphical lameness, but now
the screen is split, making it even harder to see what the hell is happening.
You are offered two modes: Battle or Race. The Race mode is easily the better
of the two, as Battle is more boring than counting snowflakes with Bob
Arctic Thunder is simply not a good game and can’t be recommended. You’ll
find more arctic thunder around an outhouse in Antarctica than you will in this
entire game. Don’t bother to thaw.