Review by Darth Rustito

Reviewed: 10/15/03

God created bumpers, and bumpers were made for bumping.

''NASCAR WHAT? Thunder 2004? Shoot, I don't need that! I've got Dirt to Daytona! Dirt to Daytona's physics are better, the cars are more realistic to drive, and it's got the damndest career mode ever. Why in thunderation would I ever want that jacky old EA Sports excuse for a racing game?''

Well, I'm gonna tell you why, sister. Or mister. Whatever, just read.

EA Sports & Tiburon seemed mighty proud of themselves in pre-release interviews. They even readily admitted that Sierra/Papyrus had had them beat with the NASCAR Racing games early on in the game. Now, I don't care what you may think about that -- That takes a big set of rocks for a game company to admit, at least about a rival developer. But if they admitted something like that, and they were still going on with their own project, being Thunder 2004, you just know they have something up their sleeve that'll make whatever game they pump out quite the noticable little speedy product.

So now we have NASCAR Thunder 2004. At least, I do. Do you? NO? Well, doggone, sister. Or brother. Father, mommy, what have you. Keep readin' and find out exactly what makes this game tick. I mean great. Just read on already. Let's start with...

That's right. The game's most important category gets a big fat blonde-haired blue-eyed ten from yours truly. NASCAR Thunder 2004 could very well have the best gameplay of any of the NASCAR games ever produced -- Seriously. For starters, let me show you exactly what I mean by having us take a little practice race at, oh, say, Atlanta Motor Speedway? Works for me. Get in the car, young'un, don't be scared of the big, mean old steering wheel.

As you find yourself on the track for the first time, you'll more than likely be checking out the graphics for starters, but we'll get into that two-bit nonsense later. For now, we need to check out the gameplay. When the race begins, let me give you some advice. Don't hit anything. That includes but is not limited to other cars, the wall, yourself in the eye, Kurt Busch in the nose, and what have you. Why? Because they will have. A. Cow. The alliance/rival system works in a general way -- Draft behind some guy (the game allows you to ''share the draft'' with another driver by pressing one of the controller buttons), and you'll earn yourself some eye-bats from that particular driver. You'll see a set of points being accumulated in the side of the screen, usually going up from two to six points. One-hundred is the point max.

Bang that guy's fender in a little too hard, though, and you'll find yourself in a bigger battle than anything Cole Trickle and Russ Wheeler had in that atrocious Days of Thunder. Yeah -- Drivers are much easier to cheese off than make friends with. This mi-i-i-ight grow a teensy bit annoying in the game's Career mode.

Speaking of which, Career mode is about nine-hundred gazillionbillionjillion times harder than what it was in Thunder 2003. Okay, perhaps it's not THAT much harder, but still, your car just, well, blows at the beginning. Seriously, you'll drive so blamed lousy for your first some races you won't feel as though you're legitimately racing. It'll take a while for you to get good, even on Rookie mode. And some of the sponsor expectations for this year's game are preposterous. Okay, you want me to qualify first, finish first, and for some reason you also want me to finish ahead of Dale Jr., despite the fact finishing first voids any such expectation? Yeah, okay, wait a second while I go ahead and create life on multiple worlds while I finish up this ''Ten Commandments'' list I've been working on.

When I first saw the graphics, I thought, ''great big gobs of greasy grimey Goodwrench stuff,'' or something like that. Since I'm sort of playing this game on my Xbox, one would expect the graphics to be, uh, good. Well, they ARE good, just not as good as they should be. Still, I prefer them to Dirt to Daytona's, where racing at Bristol at night just doesn't look correct at all. Cars are decently modeled, paint schemes look great, and at times, the game has quite the immense sense of speed at certain tracks. I also still love the addition of camera flashes in the stands during night races -- Kudos to Tiburon for that. Tracks are rendered correctly, for their part. At times, you'll get a pretty darn attractice ''man, I feel like I'm really driving there.'' That's the point of a game like this, isn't it? To eventually make you forget you're actually playing a game? Sure it is. It does a darn good job.

AUDIO 7/10
I wasn't quite as impressed with the audio as I'd hoped I'd have been. The most important sounds, being the engines, are just a few inches short of sounding right. By this I mean when you're racing at Talladega it sounds as though you're in the middle of a lawnmower convention. And one particular thing I loathe about racing game sounds is when you're driving alone on the track and you start to notice the repetition of the engine recording's loop. I just can't stand that in any racing game. Not only this, but your spotter, who is quite an important fellow in the racing world, tends to, well, be off. You'll wonder at times if you have a blind, deaf, retarded ape for a spotter. Three seconds after you've passed a car on the high side, you may hear: ''Clear high.'' This gets aggravating if you like to use the in-car cam, but, oh well. If I can live with it, so can you.

CONTROL 8.5/10
This category recieves the same score as the one from my NASCAR Thunder 2003 review for GameCube. The game's controls recieve a good deal of flak, but I don't really see why. If you're a good driver, you won't be scootin' around all over the place like a monkey. If you're a bad driver, you'll know it because you'll not only be scootin' around like a monkey, but you'll also be getting your butt thrown around by the other drivers. You don't need to worry about control, though, to be serious, so long as you don't have the coordination skills of that slightly hairy spotter of yours.

Perfect-oh ten-oh. Why? Lightning challenges, thunder licenses, SpeedZone, Race Now, a truckload of thunder plates to unlock, season mode, career mode, gall-dang. Do I even need to go on? Good, because that's really about all there is, but it's still alot.

Should you buy or rent the game? It depends on your tastes. Did you like NASCAR Thunders 2002 and or 2003? You'll enjoy 2004, so if you have the cash, pick it up. Casual NASCAR fan? Rent the game, play it 'til you get sick of it, tell your friends about it, use it as a frisbee like I know some of you little snots out there like to do, use it as a laxative, whatever. Casual racing fan? See casual NASCAR fan. Hate all racing with a passion? Beat it, get lost, get out of here, no one likes you, no one loves you. Okay, not really. Only kidding. I guess. But you need not be reading this review. In any case, if the game sounds as leet as it sounds while I'm sitting here typing this review, play the game somehow. You'll enjoy it for what it's worth.

NASCAR Thunder 2004 is a cool game. Period. I enjoy it, and if I enjoyed it, you'll enjoy it! Kind of like how I enjoyed Mobile Suit Gundam: Journey to Jaburo. You loved it! No? No one cares what you think, no one asked you, beat it, get lo-- Err. Sorry. NASCAR Thunder 2004 is a very good racing game for Xbox, to summarize, on par with Codemasters' Pro Race Driver. Go out and race on, fellow Cup champion person thing. See you in the Winner's Circle.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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