The winter sport for petrol-heads.
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never driven a Snowmobile before. However, through playing Ski-Doo Snowmobile Challenge, which is being distributed in the UK by PQube, I have learnt a few things about racing with these machines. Firstly, leaning forward on a Snowmobile puts extra weight on the steering, which allows for tighter turns, whilst leaning back will give the rider more speed and power. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, driving one of these vehicles into a bright orange safety fence, y’know – the sort that are supposed to prevent harm, will result in an impressive crash which usually ends with a ball of flame. I now have a great deal of respect for people who race these things professionally.
From what I can work out, Ski-Doo Snowmobile Challenge, which was developed by Coldwood Interactive, has been out in North America for a good couple of years. It perhaps says something about how popular this snow-based motorsport is in the UK, that it has taken so long to make it’s way into our stores. Still, better late than never, the game is now available at a bargain price on PS3, in a country which grinds to a halt at the slightest sprinkling of snow.
But what does this arcade racer have to offer the UK gamer? Well, as you would expect, there is a selection of winding, snow-covered tracks upon which to race your chosen Snowmobile in what is a strange combination of rally driving and snowboarding. The rally driving component comes from the way that the Snowmobiles handle, which will be picked up fairly quickly by anyone who has played a driving game before. The leaning forward for tighter turns and backwards for extra power take a fair bit of getting used to, and are essential if the player actually wants to win any of the races. Many of the courses have sharp corners where it is far too easy to either lose too much speed, or overshoot and explode.
The snowboarding mechanic comes from the fact that the player can perform tricks whilst in the air, scoring points which become your objective on certain courses. Pulling off tricks is fairly easy, with the player being able to hold the tricks for as long as they dare to score higher, but losing points for repetition within the same round. The tricks are also handy in the basic race as they fill the adrenaline meter which, once filled, gives the player a frightening burst of speed that will leave all others in a cloud of snow. Deciding when to use this boost can be a bit tricky due to the winding nature of the circuits and a badly timed boost can result in one of the frequently experienced ball of flame crashes.
Another way of earning adrenaline is through aggressive racing, knocking other players and trying to push them off-course. Whilst this is highly entertaining, the AI opponents in single player are not exactly a push over and attempting to bump other racers will often result in the player bouncing off and ending up losing any advantage that they had. One bodged move and they are at the back of the pack again.
Which is something that anyone picking this game up should get used to, at least in the early races. There is not a lot by way of explanation when it comes to controlling your snowmobile, and getting used to the leaning forward or backward mechanic can take a while to master, so players will likely spend their first few races wondering where they are going wrong. However, once techniques have been mastered, the standard races don’t really hold too much of a challenge.
The game has the standard single races, local split-screen for players who like that sort of thing, and 12 players online. The core of the game however, is the career. It is here that the player will work from one course to the next, unlocking new snowmobiles as they go. They will also earn cash which can be used to both upgrade and customize the snowmobiles, keeping the more creative players happy.
The game itself looks very nice, although some of the rider animations when crashing seem a bit wooden (although this could be because I spent so much time crashing…). This was actually quite surprising considering how long ago the game was actually made. It doesn’t hold a candle to more modern games, such as SSX, but there really wasn’t anything to complain about.
Ski-Doo Snowmobile Challenge has 25 circuits to enjoy and 20 different snowmobiles to race. This may not seem like a lot, but for a budget-priced game on the PS3, it was quite impressive. This bargain price would make the game appeal to youngsters and the more casual gamer, but unfortunately the high learning curve and niche appeal of snowmobile racing leaves the game aiming more for the core gamer. This confusion concerning the target audience will likely harm sales.
If you are in the mood for some snowmobile racing, enjoy a challenge and don’t mind going up in a ball of flame, then Ski-Doo Snowmobile Challenge with it’s very attractive price, should be your first port of call. However, casual gamers that are tempted by the thrill and the snow would be better served elsewhere.