No, I am not going to start this review mentioning how some people enjoy cars racing around in a circle. I figure if you are reading this, you like NASCAR. And if you like NASCAR, you should buy NASCAR Thunder for XBOX ASAP! NASCAR Thunder offers a plethora of driving options, which will satisfy both the arcade and sim hungry gamer.
EA did a pretty decent job on the graphics. They are a bit better than the PS2's, with less jaggies and more vibrant colors. In addition, the XBOX version has a few more lighting special effects that make it stand out ahead of the PS2 version. Framerate in this game is excellent, hovering between 30-60fps nearly all of the time. There is occasional minute slowdown when there is a 10 car pileup and smoke fills up the entire screen, but at that point you aren't really paying attention to the framerate anyway. There is no draw-in with this game, and a full 43 car field is available to race against, again with no slowdown even with the whole pack in view. The one thing I would complain about is that the textures don't look to be improved much from the PS2's, while we all know that the XBOX is capable of more detailed textures. For this reason, when looking at backgrounds or track structures close up, some of the textures may look a little blurry, similar to the PS2 version. All in all, a great looking game, but I feel EA could have improved on the graphics more.
NASCAR Thunder features a very aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, really giving you the feeling that cars are zooming by you. One of the best uses of surround sound on XBOX yet. Engine noises are spectacular, however music is nowhere to be found in this title, aside from the menu. Though NASCAR purists would probably not want music anyway, the option to use your own soundtrack during a race would have been a nice touch, however this is not offered in Thunder 2002.
Options abound in this latest EA outing. You can either set it realistically, where banging into someone means one or both of you are going to spin; or, you can set it so that the game is like NASCAR bumper cars. You can set it so that a bad hit will end your race, and poor turning will lead to worn out tires; or, you can set it so that you can race backwards around the track and smash into other cars head on, watching them fly through the air in flames, your car undamaged. (Oh come on, everyone tries that eventually). You can play with all of the rules, or none of the rules. You can set the game so that you only have to hit the left trigger to repair damage, or you can set it that you must pit; even the pit crew is ultra-realistic. As for controls, they are dead-on, and any NASCAR fan will be drooling over the precise steering available. Create-a-driver and create-a-car options are also available for those who want to put themselves in the game. Lastly, splitscreen multiplayer is supported for up to four people.
NASCAR Thunder 2002 on the XBOX is the overall best looking, sounding, and playing NASCAR game to date, for any gaming system. EA Sports did a fine job this time, and I commend them for it. Hopefully next time EA will fully take advantage of the XBOX's hardware in both the graphics and sound department; that would make this game near-perfect. Who knows, this game may even become a collector's item, as it features a silent tribute to the legendary Dale Earnhardt by displaying his #3 before the game starts. A must buy for NASCAR fans.