Arctic Thunder Preview
Midway gives the Xbox some snowmobile love.
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Midway's arcade racing games are generally known for having over-the-top level design and gameplay with a nearly nonexistent learning curve, and Artic Thunder is no different. Whereas Hydro Thunder took place on various waterways around the world, Artic Thunder lets you race on snowmobiles through several unique locations ranging from an oil pipeline in the Alaskan tundra to a haunted forest, complete with enormous spiders marching across the landscape. Artic Thunder also includes missiles, grappling hooks, bombs, and other items for wreaking havoc on other drivers zooming through the track.
There are six options to select from in Arctic Thunder: race, arcade, training, battle, points, and upgrade. The race and arcade modes are nearly identical--both are straightforward races that don't give any particular rewards for finishing, but you can try to set new track records. The race mode also includes a turbo boost meter at the start line that, if timed properly, can give you a useful boost at the beginning of a race. The training mode is similar to the two previous modes except there aren't any opponents, so you can take your time to explore each track to find any possible shortcuts.
The real attractions of Arctic Thunder are the points and upgrade modes, which work together to give the game a fair amount of replay value. In the points mode, you receive points based on your race performance. You're awarded points based on what place you finish in--first place receives the highest amount of points--the use of trick ramps scattered across each track, and other factors. Unfortunately, the tricks in Artic Thunder are all automatic and change depending solely on how much speed you have when you launch off the ramp. After accumulating enough points, you will have a variety of ways to spend them. You can enter the upgrade menu and spend points to modify rider performance, sled performance, the number of weapons in your inventory, or weapon accuracy. You can also unlock new riders and new tracks, both of which require more points than the upgrades.
Combat in the game takes a few different forms. You can either use a character's default punch or kick attacks by pressing the right trigger on the Xbox controller, or you can use any one of the special weapons on the track. The most efficient weapon is the missile because it automatically tracks the rider in front of you and a few direct hits from it can easily knock a rider off his or her sled--though the recovery time after being knocked off a sled is virtually nonexistent. Moreover, weapon accuracy can be an issue for some riders in the early stage of the game, but the upgrade option lets you fix that problem by adjusting the rider's accuracy levels. Other weapons, such as mines and bombs with sweeping explosions, don't really require much accuracy. They're all fairly typical of a racing game with a combat element, so fans of the genre should have no problem becoming accustomed to them quickly.
Like Hydro Thunder, Artic Thunder features tracks with interesting designs and all kinds of huge jumps and shortcuts. On one track, you race through the Russian countryside, through a nuclear power plant, and past a glacier, where an enormous submarine surfaces. Another track features a Washington DC that's been frozen over by tremendous blizzard. You'll get to skate across a frozen reflection pool, past the Washington Monument, and into the White House. Occasionally, there's so much action occurring in the environment that it's difficult to keep an eye out for valuable power-ups or shortcuts.
The control in Artic Thunder is much more forgiving than a typical arcade racing game's control. Even though the riders all have different characteristics, they don't seem to affect the controls, so you can basically keep your finger on the accelerator throughout the entire race without worrying about collisions with track objects or other riders. It's still possible to get left behind the pack if you happen to run into a barrier that splits the track in two or if you wedge yourself between some obstacles.
Artic Thunder should appeal to those who had fun with Hydro Thunder or any of Midway's previous racing efforts. The game has practically no learning curve, so newcomers shouldn't have any problem jumping into the game right away. Also, the shortcut-filled track design should keep you from tiring of the original set of tracks too quickly as you try to gain more points to unlock others. The four-player battle mode should also go a long way toward adding some replay value after you've unlocked all the secrets in the game. Artic Thunder will be available alongside the Xbox launch this November.