NASCAR Thunder 2003 Review

From single races to a 20 season career mode, there is a lot of gameplay in NASCAR Thunder 2003 for everyone from casual race fans to diehard NASCAR junkies.  You can race on all 23 NASCAR tracks (and nine road courses), race as or against actual NASCAR drivers, and drive their authentic cars or create your own.

Racing games usually fall into one of two categories: arcade style or simulations.  Unlike a lot of racing games, though, NASCAR Thunder 2003 will appeal to players who prefer either style of game.  The game features numerous assists and skill settings which can be used to tweak the game to your level of play.  Traction control and auto-braking will help novices and arcade racing fans keep their cars on the track, while on-track racing lines show the best approaches to turns and straightaways.  Turn off all of the assists, and you'll get to experience the challenge of keeping a car going 175 m.p.h. under control as it enters a turn.  The skill of the AI drivers is also configurable, and you can tweak a number of factors such as speed, tendency to make mistakes, and crashes.  Crank up the AI so that your competition makes mistakes about as often as their real-life counterparts (i.e. rarely) and you will have some very challenging races on your hands.

ScreenshotsShould you want to work to increase your skills away from the pressures of a race, you'll love the game's Thunder License mode.  In this mode you select one of the NASCAR tracks and then select Richard Petty or another top NASCAR driver as your instructor.  The driver will give you an overview of the track and provide you with tips on how to navigate its turns.  You then get the opportunity to follow the driver through the track as he provides you with instruction on driving lines, braking points, and other racing nuances.  You can run the Thunder License mode under progressively harder skill settings to learn to become a better racer.  It is a great way to learn racing techniques without the frustration and pressure of being hopelessly mired in last place during a race.

Each track in Thunder License mode has three progressively shorter target times associated with it.  If you compete a lap in less time than one of the target times, you are awarded a Thunder Plate.  These licenses can be used as cheat codes to provide you with bonuses such as improving your starting position in a race, and to unlock new tracks, drivers, and videos.

Another great game mode in NASCAR Thunder 2003 is the Lightning Mode.  This mode consists of over 30 scenarios taken from actual NASCAR race events.  The driver involved in the scenario will describe the action and how he handled the situation.  You are then placed in the race at the exact same moment and challenged to do as well or better as the actual driver did.  These scenarios include evading massive collisions and pile-ups, pulling out a win in the last lap, fighting off a competitor to preserve your lead and win the race, and many more.  While this mode can be pretty challenging, it is pretty addicting and quite a bit of fun.  NASCAR race fans will probably derive a lot of enjoyment from it especially if they remember the races from which the scenarios are drawn.

NASCAR Thunder 2003 wouldn't be a NASCAR race without races, and provides three different racing modes: quick race, season, and career.  Quick race is a single race which allows you to select any track, pick a driver, and run a race.  Many of the available tracks can be raced during the day or night, and you will get more tracks to choose from as you unlock Thunder Plates.  Once you've made your selections, you can practice on the track, qualify for your starting position, or just jump right into the race in a mid-pack starting spot.