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A.P.I Review: Snowbreak Extreme
Developer: Microids OPTIONS: S.SHOT
SCREENSHOTS:
No.1   No.2   No.3
Distributor: 1-2 Player
Game Type: Racing Memory Card
Review Date: July 1998 Standard Joypad

Setting the Scene

Some people may think that rocketing down a snow covered mountain on planks 
of wood at over 80 km/h is fun. These same people also seem to derive demented 
pleasure from staying in sub-zero temperatures for long periods of time, 
sometimes at night.  To top it all off they tend to enjoy this pastime even 
more when completely soaking wet while suffering excruciating pain.  If 
you're saying, "yeah, that's me" right about now then the recent release of 
several Playstation games in the snowboarding/skiing genre will doubtlessly 
have you squirming in your latex jumpsuit.  

Snowbreak Extreme is going up against some pretty tough competition in the 
form of Eidos's brilliant 'Chill' and Ocean's classy 'Snow Race 98'.  So 
given the tough competition, how does 'Snowbreak' stand up?  Can it possibly 
go up against the development might of Eidos and Ocean and come out shining 
or is it just another pretender better left on the shelf to gather dust. 
Do you think I'm going to spoil the surprise and tell you now? 
No way! Read on and find out for yourself.

Genre

Well, you take control of some dude (or dude-ette) on Ski's or a Snowboard 
and then race down a giant hill on snow. That would tend to make it a Snow 
Racing game, don't you think?

Graphics

Snowbreak's Full Motion Video intro shows us some rendered footage of the 
age old battle between skiers and snowboarders, as one of each race down a 
mountain in an effort to prove who is better. The video is reasonable, 
although a little blocky and unrealistic. Unfortunately, the intro is the 
best element of a graphically poor game.

I usually rate the graphics in a game with an open mind.  I tend to pick up 
on bad clipping, pop-up or polygon edges and am usually pretty forgiving when 
just one of these problems exists in a game.  A game that has all three and 
in such abundance that it detracts from the overall enjoyment deserves to be 
highlighted as a good example of what developers should NOT be doing with the 
Playstation hardware. 

The gameplay and graphics are fast but when the speed comes at such a cost I 
really don't feel it is worth it.  The Pop-up is so obvious and there are 
times when it looks like you are going to go over the edge of a very large 
cliff when suddenly a wall of snow will appear.  You quickly need to make 
emergency evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision with this mysteriously 
appearing mountain.  

Clipping is equally bad.  If you hit an obstacle, such as a tree or building, 
on your way down the mountain you will suddenly find yourself inside the 
structure.  This is bad since scientists haven't quite perfected transporter 
technology yet. 

Finally, the polygon edges are so obvious and contrasting to the background 
and textures that as you ski down the hill it looks like a volcano has 
erupted and the tectonic plates have come apart right before your eyes. 
Shocking!

The graphics do have a few good points.  Viewing from behind, the skiing 
characters are well rendered.  Especially the female skiers who have the best 
rendered rear ends I have seen in a game ever (that includes Lara). The 
background scenery may not be 3D but it is nicely painted and moves quite 
fluidly as your skier or boarder jerks madly around the slopes.

Sounds and Effects

The music and effects in Snowbreak certainly don't jump out and grab you 
but manage an adequate job of keeping this very average game from becoming 
too dull. The electronic music is pretty standard racing fare, so there is 
not really anything new here. 

The effects are restricted to the usual grunts and exclamations from the 
skiers that you would expect from anybody racing down a steep hill at 
breakneck speeds. The race commentator does a good job of stating the 
obvious, but considering that is what commentators usually do, we can't 
really hold that against him.

Playability

Snowbreak gives you the choice of racing as a Skier or Boarder down a 
variety of tracks in a number of different race formats. 
The race formats are: Arcade, 2 Player, Time Race and Time Trial. 
Nothing to really surprise you here.  

The Arcade mode just lets you jump right in and race against 2 computer 
opponents on any of the 4 available tracks with whichever racer you want 
to choose. 

Time Race is a single event down any of the 4 tracks.  You have 300 seconds 
to complete the course and you can record your time and try and improve on 
it as you get better. 

Time Trial is the more traditional "race to the checkpoints" style, where you 
must reach each checkpoint in a pre-allocated time to continue the race.  
If you don't make it - you're out.  If you do - you can continue racing. 

The only real disappointment here is the 2 Player mode.  In the traditional 
sense a two Player game has you pitted against a friend in a split-screen 
race to the death.  In Snowbreak you can play against a friend, as long as 
you don't mind waiting while they race, and vice versa. You race down the hill 
first then your opponent does the same but against your ghost. While the "take 
turns" approach taken by Snowbreak could be seen as an attempt to break the 
mould and try something different, it really doesn't work and ends up being 
very boring.  

The four racers you can choose from each have different skill levels in three 
areas, maximum speed, acceleration and turning power.  The size and skill of 
each racer determines the level of these attributes but in general the choices 
are well balanced.  So all you really have to decide on is whether you want to 
ski or board, oh, and if you want to look like Rosco McQueen, Whitney Houston 
or an Elf from Santa's workshop (that's what they looked like to me!).

The options are pretty standard and allow you do do such mundane tasks as turn 
the Ghost racer off, change music and effects volume and set up your controller. 
The only cool feature here is the ability to name your character so instead of 
being known as "Player 1" you can name them such things as "Chunky looking 
block thing" or "Strange Colored Brick with arms".

Once you start actually racing the action in the game is quite fast and 
control of your racer is pretty responsive but many annoying features hamper 
the gameplay.  To survive each track you must safely navigate a number of 
jumps over bottomless pits.  You usually get a warning sign and a beep before 
you reach the pit of despair.  In general, unless you know where they are, 
the warning is too late and down you plunge, setting you back quite a way. 

In real life hitting a tree at 80km/h would probably cause you some 
considerable damage (just ask the Kennedy's).  During Snowbreak it causes you 
to tumble out of control and lose valuable time.  This is all right, but what 
isn't acceptable is the fact that if you even graze the invisible barrier 
surrounding the track (sometimes it appears as a fence - sometimes nothing at 
all) you will come to a sudden stop and have to begin raising your momentum 
all over again. 

The camera angels used throughout the game can also cause frustration.  While 
most of the time the camera is suitably placed directly behind the racer, 
sometimes it gets a gets a little confused and ends up looking into the sky or 
directly at the side of a building or the snow.

There are some nice features in the gameplay that make it an interesting 
experience, the best of which is the ability to fall off the edge of the track 
into gigantic pits and valleys, further adding to the stressful experience of 
racing down a huge wall of ice as excessive speeds.

Value for Money

You start the game with access to four players (2 Ski and 2 Board) 
and four tracks.  To be honest, I couldn't stand playing it long enough to 
discover if extra tracks were released by winning the championships.  I'm 
sure that there must be at least another two hiding in there somewhere. 

Even with a possible six downhill races and six players to choose from the 
variety of gameplay is pretty limited in this title. 
You choose a track.  
You race down it really fast.  
If you hit anything you fall over.  
Repeat until you finish or turn your Playstation off in sheer boredom. 
At least 'Chill' gives you the choice of playing free-style in a halfpipe 
to do some awesome board tricks.
Opinion
CHRIS
GRAPHICS: 10/20 I may have been a little harsh on the game in all the categories above but there really is not excuse for a game of this (poor) quality, in the current environment of excellent games, being released for Playstation.

If you're a mad keen Skier or Boarder and really want to play a game based on the sport I highly recommend Eidos' Chill (for Boarders) and Oceans Snow Race 98' (for Ski and Board action). Both of these games beat Snowbreak on playability, graphics and sound (and I haven't even mentioned the equally cool, '1080 Snowboarding' on N64).

Resist the temptation to even rent this goose, give 'Snowbreak' a miss. My apologies to EIDOS and OCEAN for mentioning the names of their excellent products next to such a poor excuse for a game.
SOUND: 5/10
PLAYABILITY: 32/50
VALUE: 14/20
OVERALL 61%

 

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