Sled Storm Review
EA BIG has certainly made quite the name for themselves in the short time they've been around. The three games they've published so far -- SSX, NBA Street, SSX: Tricky -- have been pretty amazing to say the least, and have given the team in Canada an impressive track record. EA BIG's formula is also quite straightforward, and all of their titles thus far have shared a lot of similar gameplay mechanics. EA BIG is now taking a new series under their over-the-top wing, Sled Storm. The first Sled Storm on the PSOne made quite an impact on its release and scored pretty good ratings from internet sources and magazines alike. However, the series is now under a new brand, and while the game can be fun, it slightly gives us the notion that "BIGer" may not always be better.
When SSX was first released along with the PS2 system at launch, gamers were greeted with some very alluring visuals, be it both character models and backgrounds. Everything was just so immaculately detailed, and the levels left no place that couldn't be explored. Sled Storm features basically the same exact levels. The downside here is that these levels are starting to get outdated. Surely, Sled Storm could boast visuals that would make the first SSX look inferior, but sadly the two don't hold many visual differences, aside from a few more polygons. However, the character models still look excellent, replete with unique trends and looks, perfectly executed in BIG's own bold style. Taking the same rout, the different snow mobiles were wonderfully detailed and come in a wide variety of designs, shapes, and colors. To top it off, the framerate is very stable, never taking any serious dips, even in the most extreme instances.
The six levels are very immense, as stated previously. They include tons of short cuts, jumps, and sharp turns, and most of the goals in challenge mode -- the meat of the game -- are much like those found in SSX. The main goal, is to place 1st, obviously. But in addition, there is a trick point criteria for each level. If you can match (or surpass) the given score, you will then unlock one of the hidden characters -- the hometown hero for the respective track. However, the point levels won't be nearly as high because, unlike the SSX series, the main emphasis isn't on rotating while executing the tricks. Imagine playing SSX: Tricky and just doing the tricks, but not turning 720-degrees (or so) every time you pull of the trick. Your overall score would be substantially lower, and that's one of the main reasons why you won't gain nearly as many points in Sled Storm. Additionally, there are no uber tricks, or any such thing of the like. But still, the tricks are pretty cool looking, and some are just straight out crazy (in an awesome way).
The various tricks are executed the same way as SSX: Tricky, holding any combination of the four shoulder buttons initiates the trick corresponding to that button mixture. The tricks with fewer buttons needed are naturally less impressive, don't receive as many points, and don't require a lot of air, while the tricks that are pulled off with three or four button commands require huge jumps to land successfully, and look sweet as hell. Unfortunately, the tricks can be unresponsive at times, which results in crashes (from delayed tricks) that shouldn't have initially happened, but did because the button response is somewhat quirky. The main reason for pulling off sweet tricks, aside from unlocking the hidden characters, is to fill up your "Storm" meter and therefore letting you enter a hyper-speed like state. When using your turbo booster, the surroundings seem to move in a blur like fashion, and the velocity that is created from the boost ensues an incredible sense of speed that generates an unthinkable rush.
While the turbo boosters certainly deliver an exuberant rush, they don't seem to do a whole lot in the long run. This is thanks to the AI, which is based on the rubber-band model. In other words, the AI competes and performs according to your own performance. For example, if you're just goofing around the whole race -- going slow, running into things, and whatnot -- there's still an actual chance for you to catch up. Why? Because the AI is basically mocking your play. In addition, if you pull off every trick in the book and use your boosters to a great extent throughout the race, guess what, the AI will be right behind you, almost mimicking your speed and progression. This makes the races tighter and come down to the wire more, but it's rather faulty because one crash towards the end of the race usually results in a horrible finishing place. Your first five to ten minutes of valiant racing may end to no avail, as one spill can knock you back to sixth place. This alone makes the levels drastically harder than they should be, and can be pretty frustrating after numerous failed tries.
The people at EA BIG have added two commentators to the mix; they introduce the race at the beginning, but not much else, from a blimp high in the sky. The people presenting the action are Mean Gene Okerlund (former WWF and WCW announcer) and Matthew Lillard (actor). The commentary isn't too big of a deal, but the music presented in the game is just on a completely different level. The music throughout the game -- starting as you enter the main menu, and lasting all the way through the end of the race -- extends a tremendously intense vibe to the in-game action. It's action-packed all the way through, and it lends a wonderful hand to make the rush you get from the game itself even more fierce. So much, that playing the game for the musical prominence alone isn't as crazy as it may sound.
Sled Storm can deliver a good sense of fun, and the ruthless AI does make the game more challenging, perhaps giving it more replay value. But the fun can wear down rather fast. The overall game just plays too much like SSX: Tricky, hindering the lasting appeal of the game, and also lowering the longevity. It's definitely worth a rental; though, since placing high (1st or 2nd) in the latter levels is such an arduous task, most gamers won't have the pleasure of opening the last couple levels, and this lack of forgiving play may turn off the average gamer.
4/2/2002 Joseph Comunale