November 10, 2001
Arctic Thunder - Review
A couple of years ago Midway released a lovely little title called Hydro Thunder on the Dreamcast, PSOne and N64. The jetboat racing game had all the ingredients needed for a great arcade styled racer. Plenty of speed, plenty of crashes and plenty of close racing (thanks to some overly ambitious catch-up AI). The game was a winner and it was with some excitement that I waited for Midway to release a sequel. Well, it may not be a true sequel (the game takes place on snow sleds), but Arctic Thunder is as close as the developer has come to making one. There is only one problem, compared to Hydro Thunder this game is very unexciting and a chore to play.
|Still screens look pretty. But...|
Arctic Thunder is a port of the arcade game from a couple of years ago with several additions and enhancements. The home version now includes quick races, points races, 2-player multi-player, arcade modes as well as the ability to enhance the bikes in the Upgrade Shop. The points races, when you earn enough points, allows you to unlock new tracks, bikes and battle arenas as well as enhancing each riders sled. The game includes an impressive 19 characters and sleds to select from, after unlocking everyone, with each having their own unique characteristics. While racing on the 12 varied tracks, some of which aren't totally snowed-in, it's possible to pick up power ups such as increased speed, shields and health while pick-up weapons can be used against your opponents and include atomic snowballs, proximity missiles, snow bombs and much more. If you have no weapons it is possible to punch and kick your opponents off their sleds while racing.
Unfortunately, Arctic Thunder is plagued with almost every complaint I have ever made about a video game. The biggest problem with is the handling of the bikes which just don't feel right. They simply don't respond appropriately to the action, don't seem to have a realistic physics engine and don't respond to the action on screen. The low frame rate of the game doesn't help things at all either (more on that later). The power-ups such as missiles, snowballs, sheilds etc really have little effect on the outcome of the races due to the over use of catch-up in the game. There reallt is little difference if you use the weapons or not and it's almost possible to complete the race without watching the screen due to the AI steering assisance if you look like flying off the track after massive jump.
|Yep, you race on rock as well.|
Think that's all the problems? Not even close. The developers have also added a tricks/stunts component to the game, but seeing as it's all automatic it adds absolutely nothing to the overall gameplay experience. Even selecting the type of trick, or the time when to perform them would have have been infinitely better then having no control at all at all. Also the Chicken Tail power up (which sprays a massive cloud og snow in the air) is a littl too harsh and completely blocks the view ahead. Finally the collision detection is completely pathetick with your bike passing right through solid objects at times, or being kicked off your bike with the opponent about 3 leg lengths away. I thought this sloppy programming was resolved years ago after 3D gaming became the norm.
Sadly, the graphics in Arctic Thunder are very misleading. In these static screenshots the game look solid enough, but when the game moves it becomes a confusing mess. The biggest problem is the frame rate which makes the game look more like a PSOne title, rather then a next-generation PS2 game. Also annoying is the fact that you won't go for more then a few seconds before being blinded from the explosions, riders, or power ups ahead. It becomes more like a guessing game as to where to turn next or where potential shortcuts could be ahead. This is a very disappointing effort from Midway who can produce much better when they try.
|You have no stunt control at all.|
Now we come to the best part of the game, the sound. The music is actually quite exciting with plenty of arcade-styled up-tempo beats and some variety in the tunes. It's not brillian, but compared to the rest of the game it's better then you would expect. Sound effects aren't quite as spectacular but are adequate and serve their purpose in the game.
If you ever receive this game as a gift (I can't recommend you buy it) there are two redeeming features. First you will receive a lovely drink coaster with Arctic Thunder on one side, and a lovely metallic blue finish on the other. The second great thing is that you will end up with a spare PS2 case which, unlike the game, has that great PS2 quality we have come to expect. In all honesty however, Arctic Thunder is hardly worth a rent let alone a purchase, and why Midway even continued developing the title after early tests astounds me. Give this game a great big miss.
|Power-up's are just too big.|
Talk about Arctic Thunder in this forum topic now.