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NASCAR Thunder 2003
Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: Tiburon
Media: 1/0
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Racing

Graphics & Sound:
When you have yourself a racing game, there's really not too much to get right graphically. You need the tracks to look realistic, the crowd to be commendable and the cars need to look just plain ol' nasty awesome. Enter in EA Sports and be prepared to be amazed. Exhibit A is NASCAR Thunder 2003 and really that's all the proof we need. First, there's 60 events that you can take place in. Originally, there's about 20, but as the game progresses, you unlock other events. Some of them are real, and some fictitious, but all of them are created just like you'd see on TV. The grass couples itself nicely with the asphalt. You get to feel a bit of elation as you lay a layer of rubber right down on the road and speed off. The crowd looks okay, but nothing special. Still, when you're racing at 200 mph, all that stuff is a blur anyway. The pit crews also look very nice, as they hustle and exert themselves to getting your car back on the track in the fastest way possible. The funny thing is this year, you hire pit crew with real statistics. So, if you try to save some money by hiring an unskilled professional, guess who's going to be the one bumping in to everyone? Yep, and he'll make your pit time skyrocket. So that's cool, to see all the little animations that EA has put in for the 'mishaps.'

The cars are just in another league to themselves. They are awesome. After you do all the unlocking and count where the crows fly, you'll have yourself 175 NASCAR cars. Most of them are different reincarnations of a current driver's car, but they're all real neat. They're perfect, pretty much. Some of the racers have their patriotic 4th of July cars. Jeff Gordon has his Looney Tunes car, while Tony Stewart has that brilliant Orange Home Depot wagon. The sponsor stickers look so realistic, that I found myself craving Kenny Schraeder's M&M car every time I played NT2003. I honestly could keep going on and on...plus there's all the wrecks, and boy do they look painfully realistic. The best visual NASCAR experience truly is captured in Thunder 2003.

The sound is above par, but it could've been so much better. Sure, all the racing day sounds are there, with different manufactured cars having different engine sounds. Tires squeal and crowds roar. The crew chief even commentates in your ear piece to different positions of advancing racers and any avenue that you can take to move up to the lead. The music is where I have my bone to pick. Sure, it's awesome using artists like: Steppenwolf, (hed)p.e., Nonpoint and Fenix TX. These four artists each have one song a piece on the soundtrack, and that's it! All the songs are rockers, but you only have four, so it's a matter of time before 'Magic Carpet Ride' starts stripping away your sanity leaving you a shapeless hull of your former self. So while the sounds are great for a racing game, what little music we have is great, but I should've had some more music to choose from.

All of the Modes of gameplay have one thing in common with each other. Get to the finish line in 1st without having destroyed everything associated with your car in the process. For those of us who are cursed with little patience, then Quick Race Mode will have you in and out in less than an hour...which is long enough to get a pair of glasses in some States. Under the Race Mode, you have a few things you can try. There is the Lightning Challenge which has you trying to beat some of the greatest challenges that NASCAR has ever had. Each challenge you complete unlocks cars, paint schemes and sponsors (I was a little perturbed that Little Debbie was nowhere to be found in the sponsors). There's also the Thunder License challenge that has you trying to get Thunder Plates and unlock even more items. This one is kind of cool in that you get to go to all these different tracks, etc. There is also a Season Mode that lets you choose a driver and go through an entire NASCAR season. My favorite is always the Career Mode which has you going through 20 consecutive seasons to see if you can make your mark on NASCAR. In Career, you have to hire your crew, overhaul engines, repair body damage, pay your engineers to research faster, more durable engines and subsequently build them. It's like you're the team owner, right on down to who's driving the car (that'd be you as well). My favorite option was the Create-a-car, which has you choosing from dozens of designs and all four major stock car cars. Color schemes are endless, as you can choose what color you want your car from a palette. You also have options that control your Season or Career like how many races make a season, how aggressive the other drivers are, how much damage you think should happen, etc. It's definitely the deepest NASCAR game out there, and it just makes the Simulation lover in me flip for joy, much like dolphins in the deep Pacific.

Difficulty is generated by a variety of things. There are all the options that pretty much will let you find the niche that you like. When you're trying to get the Thunder Licenses and stuff like that, they get progressively more difficult, and some of them are truly challenging. As far as Career is concerned, you're not really going to win at first, because your car just doesn't have the muscle that some of the other drivers' cars may have, but as you research and build new engines and chassis, then your car gets stronger to where you're a prime competitor each and every race. The control scheme doesn't do anything to make things more difficult, as it is very fluid, plus you have the options pre-race to decide how tight or loose you want your car to feel. It takes some experimenting, but it's all worth it.

Game Mechanics:
I think NASCAR Thunder 2003 is probably one of the best games considering all facets. It looks good, the camera angles are great and it controls well. The manual explains everything perfectly. It really does help to have all those sponsors, because it adds to the mysticism that is NASCAR. Memory Card space is really low, and make sure that whatever memory card you're using has other EA stored data on it...makes for a great surprise.

Riot Rundown: This game is awesome, it's so fun. My friends and I have more fun with this game at times than we do College Football 2003. The sights, the sounds are all here barring that I wanted a little more music. Last year's installment gave me the feeling that you had to be a NASCAR fan to really enjoy it. Not this year's. It has a bunch of racing challenges that are good eatin's for the racing hunger in you. Plus, if it ever gets too frustrating, then turn damage to minimal, and race the track backwards. Hilarity will surely ensue!

-Sydney Riot, GameVortex Communications
AKA Will Grigoratos

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