Review of Sled Storm
Saying that I enjoyed the previous PSOne version of Sled Storm would be an understatement. Besides loving a good racing game, I thoroughly enjoy snowmobile riding and the combination of the two in a videogame was a very liberating experience for me. I could now do things that I would not dare to do on a real snowmobile…unless I had a death wish. So…it was with great anticipation that I was awaiting the arrival of the PS2 follow-up title…also called Sled Storm.
Instead of getting a somewhat true-to-life snowmobile sim, Sled Storm is a completely over-the-top arcade racer plopped down on courses that only an over active imagination could possibly come up with. Gone are the tracks that slice through quaint little backwoods towns and heavily forested areas. Instead we are treated with extremely bright, vivid and highly “neonized” courses that are carved through icebergs and canyons complete with large billboards, bright directional arrows and chaotic twists, jumps and turns. The whole approach to this version of Sled Storm is so different from the previous version that the two games are literally night and day.
Made by EA Sports BIG developers, my initial impressions from seeing the first course is that this is just SSX Tricky with a snowmobile instead of a snowboard. The characters are over-the-top, the tracks are similarly designed and the whole “look” of the game just screams SSX. Giving credit where credit is due, EA ‘s got some balls to take a popular title and totally re-work the way the original game was played.
I was definitely initially disappointed…this was definitely NOT what I was expecting from my next Sled Storm “fix”. Luckily, I was not easily swayed and decided to stick with the title beyond the first the track to see if the new formula clicked…boy does it ever!
Once again, upon initial glance this game could easily be mistaken for SXX. The track configuration and overall look of the game surely denotes that Sled Storm was created by the same developers. There is now a trick system in Sled Storm that when utilized rewards the player by filling up a Storm (boost) meter, that when used kicks the snowmobile in high gear and blurs the screen ala SSX. There are also a ton of shortcuts and alternate paths to choose from…if you can find them. You see, there are markers and obvious clues for the paths, but once you smash through them (say on lap 1) the markers disappear and you must remember where to wander off the track to get the shortcuts in later laps. There is another thing to take note of…not all of the alternate are shortcuts. Some of these trails will actually take you off course and increase your lap time! Once past these obvious similarities though, Sled Storm begins to take on its own persona.
Points are awarded for causing mass destruction. Whack into track markers, billboards, stalagmites and other “smashables” and you gain points that are added to your overall score and also fill up your Storm Meter. Perhaps I am getting a bit ahead of myself here though…
Sled Storm offers up a team of smack talking, rough and tumble riders and a variety of modes to use them in. When the game is started gamers can select from 3 riders. Each rider has their own specific snowmobiles to choose from. At the start only one can be selected but again, as you progress through the game other bikes will get unlocked and become available for use.
The game modes are Quick Race, Time Trial, Practice, Multi-Player head-to-head, Championship and finally the Rival Challenge which gets unlocked after the Championship Mode is completed.
Quick Race is of course the gamers best bet to just get in and race. Three courses are already available as well as the initial three riders. The number of laps here can be set from 1 to 9 and then you are pretty much ready to race.
Time Trial can be played in either single or two-player mode and consists of a timed race on any of the unlocked tracks. This is a pretty good mode to test out those shortcuts and alternate paths to see how they effect the overall lap times. From here, gamers can also get into the Hall of Fame by smashing track records.
Practice is just that…it’s an opportunity to run through a track without other riders to content with and to find where all of the shortcuts are and sweet jumps that will earn the big points and Sled Meter “fills”.
Multi-Player pits you and a friend against one another in either the Quick Race or Time Trial modes. The screen is split vertically with player 1 on the left and player on the right. To really get the most enjoyment out of this mode, gamers should unlock as many tracks as possible in Championship Mode first.
Okay, on to the Championship Mode… It is here that most of the gamers rewards are to be found and should be the most focused mode to delve into to. Once again, players will be given the selection of three initial riders – one male, two female – and one bike that goes with each rider. Each rider has their own attributes so choose carefully. The bikes are all class one’s, so they pretty much suck as far as speed and overall handling go, but they do fit in well with the first two courses. Once the second track is defeated a new class 2 bike is awarded and the third track gets unlocked. Since you can already race the 3rd track in the Quick Race Mode, I strongly recommend familiarizing oneself there first so that there are no big surprises once you race the track in Championship Mode.
The controls are laid out pretty well with tricks being pulled off by pressing the shoulder buttons either alone or in combination with each other. Throwing the triangle button in adds a whole new set of tricks that can be pulled off…Some requiring much more airtime to pull off, but of course these types of tricks also reward with higher point scores.
While on the track the L1/R1 buttons assist of sharp turns by leaning the rider into them. Acceleration is generated by either using the “X” button or preferably the right thumbstick. Storm Boost is enabled by either pressing the Square button (when using the “X” button for acceleration or R3 (when using the right thumbstick for acceleration).
The riders and their sleds respond extremely well to the commands and controlling them is very easy to do…unfortunately the tracks are pretty difficult right from the start and I found that finding the proper shortcuts are imperative for getting 1st place from the 2nd track on. Failure to do this will have gamers totally frustrated as they watch other riders appearing out of nowhere (from obvious shortcuts) and jumping far into the lead. Getting onto the shortcuts and memorizing their locations is critical to success.
During the race, when your rider comes into close proximity with another rider, your person will automatically start to swing and kick at the biker. Of course this works both ways and I often found myself knocked on my ass because I caught a cheap shot by another racer. I found the best method to get past the pack is to enable the Storm Boost and mow them down like bowling pins. Wiping out on the bike really sucks hard because not only is time lost re-setting the bike onto the track, but the rider has to go through cracking the throttle three or more times to ignite the engine again from its stalled status. Watching the other rider’s speed past me while waiting for my sled to engage was frustrating beyond words.
The opponent AI is pretty good but unfortunately works on the “rubber-band” theory. This means that no matter how many times during the race your rider dumps it, it always seemed possible to catch up to the other riders. Unfortunately I had my share getting cheap shots right near the end of the race that often had me pushed to 5th or 6th. I found the only effective way to consistently win races was to use ALL of the proper shortcuts, keep my Sled Storm meter in almost constant use and finally to make sure that I was firmly in 1st place near the end of the race to avoid getting poked right before the finish line.
And it’s there that the game almost became unforgiving for me. I could look past the fantasy track settings, the new trick system and all of the damn shortcuts I had to take…but combine those with a rubber-band AI and cheap shots and it was too much to take. It’s a shame too because the new Sled Storm format does actually work…a little more care just needed to be taken to make the whole thing gel a bit better.
Finally, if you are lucky enough to get through the Championship Mode, Rival Challenge will get unlocked. Here you can race challengers for the pink slips…i.e. if you win, you get their bike. Of course, that works both ways…if you lose your ride is gone and the only way to get it back is to go back into Championship Mode and race on the track that awards the bike that was just lost.
All in all, I really wanted to like Sled Storm and to some extent I did. The gameplay, while dramatically different from the first one, still managed to work and hell, a good racer is a good racer…where the title really failed me though was in the things that I was forced to do…like take shortcuts, pull off trick after trick, etc. Then only to be further hampered with cheap shots at the last minute in the race.
Graphically, Sled Storm is pure “bust your blood vessel” eye-candy. Every trick that EA has learned while programming the PS2 is brought out here in all its glory. Bump-mapped course surfaces, incredible lighting effects, top-notch fluid animation…the list just goes on and on. The game is just flat out gorgeous to view. The display is crisp and razor sharp with no draw-in or aliasing to be found…anywhere.
There are a veritable ton of special effects going on at all times in the games. The lighting and particle effects in particular are really extremely well done. The whole game reminded me of a stroll through a busy amusement park (which you actually get to ride through)…All the lights, the actions, the commotion…the smell…
The animation of the characters and their vehicles is also top-notch. The word “fluid” comes to mind as the perfect description for what you will be seeing on the screen. Everything flows along smooth as mercury without any slowdown or frame rate hitches. Overall the game is truly breathtaking to view.
Soundwise, I am pleased to say we have near perfection. The music and sound effects are programmed in DTS and make very good use of the technology. Sound separation is excellent…much better than EA’s previous venture into DTS on their hockey title. Center channel mixture is much more apparent (considering it was virtually absent in NHL) and the effects speakers really get a workout. This is definitely a game that begs to be played through a good home theater setup to get the most out of the sound department.
The music is raw and lively with tunes from Overseer and Sulpher as well as original tunes by Hein Hoven and some talented in-house EA musicians. The voices for the riders are also well done and often times quite hilarious with their various comments at any given time of the race.
OUR PLEDGE: We promise that we have fully played 'Sled Storm' before writing this review. The scores given above are our honest opinion and were not influenced in any way by the manufacturer or distributor of the game.
This review was written by Tom Rooney © Absolute PlayStation
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