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Snow racing games are available in their abundance on the Playstation, some good, some bad, many indifferent. Most aspects of this genre have now been tapped into including skiing, snowboarding, luge, trick performing, speed skating, bobsleigh... even curling featured in one winter sports compilation.
During a late-night meeting at the office of EA Sports, a couple of producers had a brainstorming session for a new game idea. As racing games go, snowmobiling looked like an ideal candidate. A unique vehicle, an exciting sport, and untapped video game potential. The next day, they begin to sell the idea to their production team members and Sled Storm was born.
Hop on a high-powered snowmobile and enter aggressive racing events across hazardous alpine terrain. Earn points through merciless conduct and severe tricks. Reach the finish line at any cost and leave your competitors out in the cold.
A Ford dealer in New Hampshire, who put a pair of skis on the front of a retro-fitted Ford Chassis, developed the very first snowmobile way back in 1915. After more than 30 years of development, the first snowmobile races were manufacturer and dealer promotions in the late 1950's to draw attention to the machines that could travel on snow.
Snowcross racing evolved from a combination of closed loop obstacle courses and cross-country races. As you may have guessed by the name, Snocross takes a lot of its inspiration from Motocross. Race formats, courses, tricks and even some riders are common to both sports.
Sound and Vision:
Cool Boarders 3 presently sets the standard for this genre (although Snow Racer '98 comes within a snowflake's width). Gone were the glitches from the past where you could often see through the scenery and no longer did the ski slopes appear as large chunks of glacier held together by a couple of ice cubes. Personally I felt that this style of game had now been maxed on 32-bit consoles and all we would get in the immediate future would be quick cash-ins until the arrival of PS2.
The intro hardly raised my expectations. Surely it's glamorous introduction movies that catch the eye of potential customers as they wander around the game store undecided on which title to buy. My immediate thoughts were that this was going to be another 'run-of-the-mill' title due to the grainy, colorless and rather uninspiring opening trailer. I was still half-hearted when I flipped through the options and decided to promptly confirm my worst fears by selecting a single player quick race.
Imagine my surprise... no, astonishment, when the camera panned the starting grid before finally settling behind the snowmobiles. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. Surely I had pressed the wrong button and was actually witnessing the 'real' high-res intro. 3-2-1-GO! Three CPU controlled opponents sped off into the distance leaving my rider stranded on the line confirming, to my amazement, that this really was the standard of the in-game graphics. Silky smooth textures. Rich deep colors. Realistic terrain. Snowflakes that you could almost reach out and touch. Suddenly my driver raised himself from a seating position, turned his head and waved his arm over his shoulder as if beckoning me to get a move on. WOW! This was so realistic and possibly the highest resolution of in-game graphics I have experienced on the Playstation.
On acceleration the rider was forcefully thrown back into a seating position and continued to react pragmatically to every twist, turn and jump on the course. He was leaning into every corner, crouching down at each dip and performing slick, realistic maneuvers when launched into the air. Collisions with opponents provided many top comical moments as the riders appear to suffer the effects of whiplash and then scream obscenities back in anger. Unlike many other bareback racing games the driver isn't automatically thrown from the vehicle on impact. In Sled Storm they will attempt to hang onto the handlebars as if their dear life was dependent on it, often retrieving full control if the throttle is eased off a touch. Of course should you decide to accelerate out of an unstable situation then driver and machine are naturally separated.
There are two viewing angles, which are from behind the vehicle or what has been termed in the past as an in-car view. The first person perspective offers the best racing position allowing a good deal of the route ahead to be viewed. However, because of the bumpy contours of the track constant play may leave you feeling quite dizzy and nauseous. I finally settled on the behind driver view because it was much more fun watching his antics when performing bizarre trick acrobatics. After each race an instant replay may be watched from more dynamic camera positions.
If you long for a multi-player racing game where up to four human players can go all out head to head on one single screen then Sled Storm is perfect. Although some of the background detail has been removed to keep the frame rate up this mode is brilliant and can be highly recommended when a few mates call around. Obviously a TV screen over 22" improves the amount of vision for each person, but it is still playable on a small monitor or portable TV set.
The sound effects are excellent from the realistic engine noises to the wacky announcer (who can be turned off if desired). Don & Rolland, Uberzon, Ecoline Crush and E-Z Rollers supply the music. It's a lively selection of tunes that compliment the style of the game.
Thankfully Sled Storm plays as good as it looks. The handling and control of the snowmobiles are accurate and comfortable in both digital and analog mode.
The gameplay doesn't get bogged down by complicated multi-button trick combos and therefore won't distract from the racing side of the game. To perform a trick move simply hold down one of the two pre-selectable shoulder buttons (or face buttons if you prefer) at the peak of a jump and wiggle the left joystick, or D-pad. Apparently there are over 50 BMX and Motocross tricks and combos to pull off, some with bizarre names such as the Superman Air, the Wipeout and a Decade. Points are awarded dependant on how difficult it was to pull of the move.
Sled Storm offers time trials, championships and single races for one to four players. Championships are divided into two categories which are 6 Open Mountain courses (that are revealed as you progress) and 6 tight, high intense motocross style circuit courses in Super Snocross. The rider must win each course before advancing onto the next with three lives allowed on each group of circuits. Advancing through the tournament eventually opens up bonus tracks, extra riders, fog and night modes.
At the start of an Open Mountain Championship the player must select their character from the six available. Each has snowmobiles with unique attributes covering speed, acceleration, handling, stability and tricks. Before each race the sled may be upgraded using cash earned from previous victories and trick point scoring. Improvements may be as little as a tail scoop which throws up a huge rooster tail of snow behind your sled, or spotlights for nighttime riding. More expensive upgrades include constructing a light aluminum chassis to improve acceleration and top speed, fitting a pro racing chip to improve maximum overall performance, or upgrading an engine to a higher cc.
Winning a race in the Open Mountain Championship requires more than skillful driving. A keen eye will spot many alternative openings at the side of the track making for dozens of shortcuts. Some are not so obvious as others are. Investigation led me to a wall of ice that could be smashed down to reveal a secret passage. On the very first circuit taking two specific shortcuts every lap almost makes you unbeatable against the CPU opponents, but it's a different story when facing human players who also know the secret routes.
A Super Snocross Championship also involves winning each race to advance but leans more towards racking up massive amounts of trick points in the process. Should sufficient points not be achieved by the sixth race then the more advanced circuits are not opened. The whole style of racing changes dramatically on these bumpy motocross circuits. Suddenly the player spends more time in the air than on land, requiring an alternative technique for overtaking, cornering and braking.
Overall Sled Storm is definitely worth checking out. Should you decide on rental for a day or so then I doubt you'd reveal all of the circuits, just make sure you have a few mates around at the time. I certainly don't think you'll be disappointed if you choose to buy.
This is a single disk game for 1-4 Players (3 or 4 player split-screen requires a multi-tap connector). It is compatible with the standard (digital) joypad and the dual shock (analog) joypad. Games can be saved via memory card (1 block per save).
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