[Games] Review: Days of Thunder Arcade

This is as pretty as it gets

This is as pretty as it gets

This is an odd thing to admit but Days of Thunder holds a special place in my heart. And yes, I am talking about the crappy 1990 Don Simpson / Jerry Bruckheimer produced Tom Cruise movie about NASCAR. I was nine when it came out and had never experienced stock car racing before. It was big, loud, exciting, fast and American and I loved it.

The film was terribly written, cheesily directed and featured performances so wooden you could get splinters from looking at them. It was a desperate attempt to find a vehicle for Cruise that would reproduce the magic and box office success of Top Gun. It failed.

Precisely none of that mattered, though, to my pre-pubescent mind. Here were three dozen huge, V8-powered behemoths literally ramming each other out the way in the most exciting racing I’d ever seen. Better still, the drivers all had amusing names like Rusty Wheeler and Cole Trickle and there was a brilliant theme tune by David Coverdale which my mom had bought for me on tape from a strip mall in Pittsburgh when we were on holiday (we took holidays to odd places when I was young).

So imagine my delight on Christmas morning that December when i opened my presents to discover a brand spanking new Amiga 500 complete with a shiny copy of Argonaut’s 3D racer Days of Thunder. Like the film, it was, in so many ways, a terrible experience. Yet with it’s untextured polygons and sound chip version of the Coverdale theme song it was one of the most wonderful things my young, naive self had ever experienced. Here was a racing game that didn’t feature sprites stuck to the foreground or a simple top-down view. It was so real I could almost touch it. The fact that the other pack in games in the Screen Gems box set (Shadow of the Beast 2, Nightbreed and Back to the Future Part II) were even worse may also have had something to do with it.

Now twentyish years on from the film’s release there’s a new licenced adaptation available to download on PS3 and 360. The Playstation version is called Days of Thunder NASCAR Edition and blends the movie’s cars and racers with real life stock car heroes. For reasons, one imagines, of licensing or perhaps developer apathy the 360 version is titled simply Days of Thunder Arcade, and drops the real life names.

It’s nice to see the three or four drivers actually featured in the movie make an appearance. There’s Cole Trickle’s lime green chevy, there’s Russ Wheeler’s orange and blue Hardees car, and yup that’s Rowdy Burns in is black Exxon car. Michael Rooker even puts in a turn as Rowdy’s voice, reprising a role for which he was tragically and unforgivably overlooked by the Acadmey. Sadly the old guy attempting to sound like Robert Duvall’s pit chief comes off more like Mr Herbert, the neighbourhood pedophile in Family Guy.

So what are we to make of the racing itself, then? This is, after all, Days of Thunder Arcade, so let’s not brace ourselves for the stunning realism and attention to detail of Papyrus’s seminal NASCAR Racing series. Indeed producer Jeff Dickinson is quoted as saying “we wanted to stay away from that [a simulation] because the games that are out there that do that do it well.” How true Jeff. If only you’d felt the same way about everything else.

Sadly then DoTA is no Daytona USA for the 21st century. In fact it doesn’t even feel like it belongs in this century at all. The graphics, which are garish and nauseating, wouldn’t look out of place on a PSOne game. The handling is at best bizarre, at worst simply unforgivable. Your car is sent pinging this way and that across the track for no obvious reason. Some massive collisions see you lose about 2mph in speed, while tiny grazes of the track wall can send you cartwheeling in slow moton into the stands. Insanely it’s easier to take tight corners by flinging your car around the flat apron on the inside of the track than it is to make it around the cambered banking above.

The game’s two desperate nods to innovation come in the form of boost, which is earned by doing er… something, presumably. I was so busy ricocheting off walls and my competitors that I couldn’t really work out what. There’s also a kind of time altering power up that allows you to slow the action to a crawl and get your badly textured car heading back on the straight and narrow. The first is a feature that was old when Geoff Crammond used it in Stunt Car Carcer, the second is lifted, so far as I can tell, straight from Need for Speed Most Wanted. Wow. The originality.

Honestly the entire affair is an insult to what must have been a very cheap licence. Given the frighteningly low quality of the source material that’s saying smething. Frankly after about two minutes with this game I wanted to stab my own eyes out with the controller so I wouldn’t have to witness its horror again. I’ve played many racing games in my time, and many bad ones for sure, but I cannot remember a driving title so bereft of playability or enjoyment as this for a long time. For the money this 800 MS point game costs you, you could grab three copies of Project Gotham 3 or Need For Speed Most Wanted off eBay. You could even buy a boxed copy of the Amiga original. It may have been slow, and crushingly mediocre even by the standards of its day but at least it holds happier memories for me than this piece of insulting shovelware crap. Don Simpson must be spinning in his grave.

1/10

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Categories: Games

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [Games] Can We Please Go Back To The Eighties? « TGIGreeny.com - March 12, 2011

    […] dire eighties movie has been turned into an excerable licensed tie-in (even Days of Thunder – not just once but twice), so why not Hal Needham’s finest hour? The format would be perfect, a coast to coast race […]

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