NASCAR Thunder 2003 Review

Season mode allows you to compete in a series of races to accumulate enough points to win the NASCAR cup.  You can set the number of races in the season to 12, 24, 36, or even create your own custom season.  You can also set the lengths of the races as a percentage of the number of laps in the actual event, from 3% to full 100% endurance events.  The game also provides you with the option to race with unlimited fuel and no tire wear if you don't want to be bothered with pit stops.

ScreenshotsCareer mode takes things a step further and gives you the chance to simulate a 20 season NASCAR career.  Career mode provides a number of options and a great degree of control over your car and team, which make it an engrossing simulation and a dream for NASCAR fans.  You begin by creating your car and driver.  While creating a driver only involves picking a name and hometown, creating a car gives you a good degree of customization options.  You can select the car's model, paint scheme, colors, and number (you can only choose numbers not claimed by other NASCAR drivers, though).  There are a lot of paint schemes and color choices available, so you'll have a lot of options in creating a car that you like. 

Once you finish with your car, you'll need to sign sponsors.  Since you are starting out as a rookie, you won't have an opportunity to sign a huge account right away.  As your career progresses, success will make bigger corporate clients come knocking with bigger endorsement checks.  Each sponsor that you sign with will have certain expectations of you.  If you fail to meet their expectations, you will not be paid and could lose your contract.

Next it is time to sign your pit crew.  Each position in the crew will have a couple of candidates from which to select.  You will need to base your choice on their speed, skill, and salary requirements.  You sign your crew to one year contracts, and so will need to build a new team each season.  However, if you perform well you will have the opportunity to sign better quality pit personnel.

ScreenshotsDuring each season, you will have the opportunity to work on your car between races.  In addition to repair and upgrade of the chassis, engine, and other components, you'll be able to research new technologies.  Research and upkeep are important during a season, as your race performance will be hindered by worn or obsolete equipment.

No matter which race mode you select, the races are enjoyable and challenging.  The competition is good at the lower AI settings and brutal at the highest.  NASCAR Thunder 2003 does a good job of conveying the feeling of speed and power that comes with driving a race car.  This is especially true during accidents when the cars' momentum sends them careening out of control - you'll certainly see your share of spectacular wrecks when playing the game.  As a nice touch, you'll be treated to several multiple camera angle replay of accidents each time the yellow flag is waved.

While I'm on the subject of wrecks, the game has a very good location-based damage model.  Bump the wall or hit another car, and you'll be able to see the results reflected on your car.  During one race my hood buckled and I could hear it thump and rattle as I raced around the track.  My car's speed also suffered as a result of the increased wind resistance.  Even normal attrition such as tire wear will affect the feel of your car as you race.