Arctic Thunder looks and plays just as good, if not better than the arcade version. The framerate is an extremely important part of racing games, especially this one. If it drops, the game will feel as if it is moving in slow motion, killing that speedy feeling you once had. Fortunately, Arctic Thunder has been perfectly ported from the arcade to the PlayStation 2. All of the flashy graphic effects and detailed backgrounds are here, and they consistently fly by at an incredible pace. At times, the snowmobiles -- or sleds, as they’re referred to in the game -- move so fast that it doesn’t even feel like you’re playing a video game. The Emotion Engine aims to please and it’s nice to see that Midway is taking advantage of its immense power. Furthermore, no matter how far away a check point, a building or anything else in the background is, it’s never, ever covered up with fog. The backgrounds don’t simply pop up out of nowhere or fade in unrealistically; they’re animated as far as the eye can see. This is one of the things that makes the speed feel so amazing, because you’re not just racing in an empty background that appears to be developed on the fly. You could look at a ramp up ahead and begin counting to ten. Then you get there and you’re only on the third second.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the game, Arctic Thunder can be best described as Mario Kart on steroids. There’s a lot more to the game than that, but much like Mario Kart, Arctic Thunder has a strong emphasis on power-ups, which is why I chose to compare it to that particular game. Super Boosts and Invisibility are standard power-ups in racing games, but the Grappling Hook, which grabs your opponent and throws him off his or her sled, and the Super Attack are much more unique. Other power-ups include: Snow Bombs, Atomic Snowballs, Proximity Missiles, Rooster Tail and a shield that protects you from enemy attacks. If you don’t have a power-up, you can drive by your opponents and punch and kick them until they fall off their sled. Be careful though, because they can do the same to you.
This isn’t just a simple arcade-to-PlayStation 2 port though. New game modes and features have been added, the coolest one being the Points Mode. The Points Mode is essentially the same as the standard Arcade Mode, except that you are able to collect points, which can later be used at the Upgrade Shop to enhance your snowmobile’s performance, unlock hidden tracks and more. Earning points isn’t easy though. You’ll have to perform many stunts, collect every power-up you see, blast your opponents and finish the race first if you expect to get anywhere in this mode. Regardless of how badly you perfom, you’ll still get some points, but upgrading your snowmobile isn’t cheap, so the more points you win each race, the better.
If there’s one thing Midway is good at, it’s making a game that is fun to play. Actually, Midway is good at many things, but making fun games is definitely what they’re best at. Pulling myself away from Arctic Thunder was tough. I looked at the clock the other night and was surprised to see that it was already four in the morning! In many ways, Arctic Thunder is a better game than Nintendo’s Wave Race: Blue Storm. I know that they’re completely different games and all, but being two of the only racers coming to the ’Cube anytime soon, comparisons are going to be made. Knowing how good Arctic Thunder is, I hope Midway releases a jet ski racer next. Wave Race: Blue Thunder, perhaps?
2001 won’t last forever, but when the year ends and the number of game releases begins to lessen, most games will be forgotten. But this one definitely won’t. GameCube and Xbox buyers -- if you don’t have a PS2, what are you waiting for? Go out and buy one! If you can’t get one yet, at least watch for the release of Arctic Thunder on your respective platform. It’s a great game that is a blast to play.