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Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: December 19, 2001
Back in the halcyon days of the Dreamcast’s launch, Midway managed a huge coup on the fledgling system with their port of the arcade-ready Hydro Thunder. Blending racing and combat, this racer sent you careening through unique courses on modified jet skis. A sequel to Hydro Thunder eventually made its way onto arcades, and this time the inevitable port made its way to the PS2, with plans to move it onto the Xbox in the near future. Unlike its watery cousin, this sequel places you in the role of a Ski Doo driver careening at dangerous speeds over snowy terrain, leading to the obvious title: Arctic Thunder.
At its heart, Arctic Thunder is a pickup racer, molded on the same formula which produced RC Revenge Pro, Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing and countless others. This means that you must walk a fine line between racing skill and bloodthirsty aggression in order to win, since you must balance your time between carefully rounding corners and carefully lining up weapons. As a result, the action is fast and furious, and simulator fans need not apply, since this game is about as realistic as hoping for a New Kids on the Block reunion tour.
Recognizing that realism isn’t a high priority in most arcade gamers’ minds, Midway elected to go whole hog with their character designs. Featuring the stoic Agent 5, the repellant Dirty McGurdy and the simian Ponzo, who is literally a great ape, Arctic Thunder offers a healthy selection of riders. Each one of these combatants comes equipped with their own statistics, which measure their relative success at various tasks. In addition to the standard speed, cornering and stability options, the brutal nature of these races means that your character must also be rated in their offensive skills like aim and damage. Defensive traits also play a major role, as a larger health bar can keep you on your sled longer, while power-up durations for shields and invisibility can significantly hamper incoming attacks.
In the long run, these skills can be upgraded by spending points in an upgrade mode. Acting like currency, the points are available whenever you play the one-player version of the Points game, which essentially makes up the heart of the Arctic Thunder. In this battle, points are awarded for your final position, meaning you must try and cross the finish line in a respectable place. At the same time, every attack, pickup and enemy rider knocked clear from his sled will earn you points also, so you’ll have to stay in the thick of things in order to really score well. As you play the levels, your earnings are accumulated and stored until you enter the upgrade mode.
From there, you can spend the points however you wish. Unlike many other titles of this sort, your earnings can be put towards characters you’ve never even used in the game. As such, any of the characters may be upgraded, or you can save up to purchase new levels, snowmobiles or characters from the large assortment available. Luckily, an autosave feature ensures that your progress isn’t lost in a freak power outage.
If traditional racing is more your style, Arctic Thunder will accommodate your needs as well, with both its arcade and racing modes. The main difference between these two lies in your progress, since racing lets you use any course you’ve unlocked with your points, while Arcade mode rewards you with special cheat codes every time you earn one of the twelve gold medals on each course. In both of these modes, your placing in the heat determines your level of success, but this by no means removes the combative elements.
While Arcade, Points and Racing modes allow you to introduce a second player for some split-screen action, the Battle mode will hold the most appeal for hardcore sluggers. Locked into a confined arena, with power-ups scattered liberally about the area, two humans can go toe to toe in a battle to the death. Matches in Battle mode can be won within a time limit, or by reaching a predetermined number of kills. Like all other modes, the characters arrive equipped with all of their upgrades, and the result can level the playing field for disparate players, or skew the challenge level wildly out of proportion.
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