Compared: January 22, 2002
Midway ventures onto very thin ice with their latest coin-op to home console port of Arctic Thunder for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox systems. Arctic Thunder gets some kudos for being the first snowmobile racing game on each system, but being original simply isn't enough to make a game great. For as much as Arctic Thunder breaks new ground in originality, it also excels in horrible control, poor visuals, and gameplay that seems to drag you along for a two minute ride before leaving you battered and bruised at the finish line.
Arctic Thunder never comes close to achieving the same adrenaline rush I got from snow-racing games like SSX, and while this game may have snuck by as a first generation release at launch title, Arctic Thunder can't even begin to compete with the amazing second generation titles we are now seeing for the PS2 and launch titles for the Xbox.
Round 1: Control
Control on the PS2 is absolutely horrible. Your sled controls like a large log caught in an avalanche. I've ridden snowmobiles and know how they control and this ain't it. The lack of control is perhaps the major reason this game seems to take you along for the ride rather than making you feel like you have any say in what happens.
The Xbox features some improved controls that respond quickly and accurately to your commands. The steering is tight on the straight-aways with just a small amount of slippage in the corners.
The PS2 loses this round. Apparently in the few months between the PS2 and Xbox release Midway managed to tweak the controls and tighten things up enough to make the game playable.
Round 2: Visuals
Blocky graphics and terrible framerates make the PS2 version of Arctic Thunder look more like an original PSX game than a next-gen title. Backgrounds are muddy and effects are especially poor. The snowy rooster tail your snowmobile kicks up literally washes out the screen in a sea of white forcing you to choose the first-person view mode if you hope to finish a race.
The graphics have been tweaked for the Xbox in a few areas yet remain untouched in the ones that count. Backgrounds, explosions and trackside graphics are now much more colorful and defined yet the rider and sled models are unchanged and still quite poor. The framerate has also been improved and remains smooth even when the screen is littered with other riders and special effects.
The Xbox easily wins this round. While the graphics still aren't up to Xbox standards they blow away the lackluster visual the PS2 offers.
Round 3: Music & Sound
Sound effects are a mixed bag with horrible sounding snowmobiles that all sound alike regardless of their performance specs. And that wouldn't be that bad if they didn't all sound like chainsaws instead of high-performance racing machines.
The music is actually quite good with your typical techno/rock tracks suitable for racing. There are some nice level-specific tunes thrown in that keep things fresh and relevant to where you are racing. The lack of support for the CD-ripping feature of the Xbox is regrettable, but in the end both systems have an identical sound presentation so this round is a draw.
Round 4: Other Deciding Factors
The only thing going for either of these titles is the fact that there is no other competition out there for snowmobile racing. This will change for the PS2 when EA's SledStorm releases later this year. Xbox owners may have to wait a bit longer.
There were several opportunities for the Xbox to exceed the PS2 version. It had a longer development time and the Xbox obviously has more power and built-in features, but none of these were taken advantage of. Ultimately, the Xbox does offers better control and slightly improved graphics, and while that may be enough to make it the clear victor in this comparative challenge, anyone who pays more than a bargain bin price for this game will be the loser.