SnoCross 2: Featuring Blair Morgan Review
This is one of those times where we have difficulty choosing an opening. But for the sake of brevity, we'll just kick off with the standard introduction- certain sports simply aren't significantly represented in the video game world, and one of them is snowmobile racing. They've popped up here and there - like the relatively entertaining Arctic Thunder way back in 2001 for the PS2 - but none have been all that extraordinary. Developer Sensory Sweep and publisher Crave have decided to sign on a big name in the SnoCross world and do what they can to provide us with an outstanding racer entitled, SnoCross 2: Featuring Blair Morgan. Well, they didn't quite make "outstanding." In fact, they failed so miserably, the entire production is one giant stand-up comic routine from front to back.
It's been a while since we've seen a game that has looked as bad as SnoCross 2. Apparently, Sensory forgot they were developing a last-generation PS2 game, and decided instead to produce a game that would be merely average on the PS1. If the game had come out in 2001 alongside Arctic Thunder, it would've been barely passable, but with the likes of God of War II and Final Fantasy XII out there, something like this is just embarrassing. Both the player and environment detail is terrible, the cutting and pasting of every tree and snow bank is painfully obvious, visibility ranges from average to almost non-existent, and the clarity is a joke. There isn't too much in the way of major graphical flaws like clipping, though, which we suppose is a plus. And there is consistency in the visuals...if consistent mediocrity is somehow a good thing.
But believe it or not, the sound is actually even worse. We're not intimately familiar with the sound of a snowmobile, but we're fairly certain they don't sound like that. It's some generic engine whine that could fit just as easily with a lawn mower or motor scooter, and the rest of the racing effects are equally atrocious. The sound of smacking into the snow from a jump is similar to that of landing on cardboard - or perhaps soft concrete - and you get the exact same scraping sound when you meet an obstacle, regardless of if that obstacle is a rock or a tree. The soundtrack has some nice diversity, but each track is implemented so poorly, you find yourself wondering if they even bothered to do any QA testing on the technical side of things. The music will switch volume erratically, have difficulty fading out and switching to another song, and in general, it's a wince-inducing assortment of musical accompaniment. All in all, this is some of the worst sound ever. Repeat- ever.
As this remains an interactive entertainment medium, gameplay can always be any title's redeeming quality. Of course, the gameplay in SnoCross 2 would have to be freaking spectacular to override the horrid graphics and sound, but if the racing were entertaining enough, it would've been worth the budget price. ...oh boy, it's entertaining all right. It's entertaining in the same way Big Rigs and Driven is entertaining. It's entertaining in the same way the typical Uwe Boll production is entertaining. If nothing else, you'll laugh yourself silly throughout your first few hours with the game, and if you can get beyond that, you're either a masochist or you're really starved for comedy. But before we get all nasty and insulting, let's talk about some of the good things. Don't worry, it won't take long.
There are quite a few snowmobiles to unlock and purchase in the Career mode, and you can make an appropriate number of upgrades and alterations to your chosen ride. Once you've created your character, you can enter the Amateur Qualifiers and start earning money for those upgrades, and they include new skis, suspension, and engines. Each bike is rated on factors like speed and cornering, and the further you go, the better machine you can build (or buy). The game is easy enough where you can earn money quickly right off the bat, but the prices aren't too low where you can dominate the competition with a super-fast bike way before you hit the Professional circuit. And that difficulty, while it does spike in strange places, increases at a fairly steady pace, which gives the player time to adjust to each new track and any alterations they may have made to their bike. Overall, the Career mode is a touch bare-bones, but it's generally well formulated.
It's just too bad the racing itself is so poor. The track design appears inspired on the surface, but finding your way gets increasingly frustrating as you progress through the more difficult tracks. Furthermore, they inexplicably placed overhangs over certain jumps, meaning you boost up and fly directly into a stone arch. Are you trying to tell us that nobody attempted to boost off a jump during the testing? Isn't that what you're supposed to do for the sake of more air, and thus, more tricks? Speaking of tricks, you can perform a variety of in-air stunts simply by pressing the circle button and moving the left analog stick up, down, left, or right. If you don't have the air-time or perform the trick too late, you'll invariably take a header into the snow, but the crash animations are stupid enough so you might start failing on purpose. Your bike bounces and spins in bizarre directions, your rider reacts strangely to just about everything he comes in contact with, and most of the time, you're not even sure if you'll crash.
The thing is, your control is so loose and unrefined, you'll often boost yourself into a rock or tree, but depending on your speed, you might just bounce right off and continue along as if nothing had happened. Hell, other riders have a more detrimental effect on your progress than certain mountains do. And given the numerous blind turns on the tracks, you'll often find yourself on the wrong path or even going in the opposite direction, which is outrageously annoying. There are also plenty of ways to get yourself stuck forever after jamming the nose of your bike in a corner somewhere; you'll often see opponents in the same compromising situation: your competition is just plain hilarious. They'll spin out for no reason on a straightaway, get caught behind an outcropping rock and keep trying to drive through it; etc. Funny stuff, ladies and gents.
Okay, we just have to ask: whose brilliant idea was it to fuse bowling and snowmobile racing? Seriously, where's the connection? And even if there isn't any connection (which would be fine), why would that, in any way, better our racing skills? Two of the alternate Quick Races are Bowling and Rally; Bowling has you race towards 10 pins in an attempt to knock down as many as possible. With the crazy loose steering, it appears difficult and frustrating...until you realize you can just stop a few feet in front of the pins and position yourself, then drive forward. But that's not the best part. The best part is speeding fast through the pins and watching your rider go flying off into the distance at breakneck speed, possibly slamming into a stone wall positioned way in the back. Hilarity ensues.
Rally makes a tiny bit more sense; you drive around a course and attempt to knock down as many pins as possible within the time limit. But even then, it serves no real purpose. You've also got Eliminator and the standard Circuit to fool around with, but none are worth anything more than a quick go-round to familiarize yourself with the basic controls. The controls aren't too horrendous - you'll certainly have them mostly mastered after about 15 minutes - but they fail to deliver a solid racing experience. And what is the deal with the magical popping snowmobile?! Sometimes, perhaps after an impact or a sharp turn, the bike will "pop" directly up into the air, which makes absolutely no sense. What, pebbles in the snow? Protruding sticks? ...hover thrust? Honestly, what the hell?
Lastly, there is a neat-o Create-a-Track feature, but it's about as threadbare as can be. You simply select from a grid of pieces and string ‘em together, and you'll even have an option to change the scenery on those pieces. However, when you go to test it, you'll find yourself in this track encased in some kind of dungeon. It's like Bowser's Castle in a SnoCross game! Who thought up that one? As for the general track design, there are more than a few questionable decisions, including a lot more of that stone block, Dark Ages-esque construction, and the clichéd tunnel, apparently made of wood or something. Worst of all, these tracks seem to go on forever, but maybe that's indicative of a real-life snowmobile track, we're not really sure. But we do know that in comparison to any other racer, it takes an abnormally long time to get around three laps of any track.
SnoCross 2: Featuring Blair Morgan is riddled with major problems in every facet of its presentation. The only good news is that it really is funny, and gets funnier with each race or event you attempt, so perhaps that's a reason to check it out. On the other hand, we assume you have better things to do with your time; like, say, volunteer for an unnecessary root canal, start up a diet that consists of nothing more than Brussels sprouts for a month, or go shopping for a whole day with your mother-in-law. The control is sloppy, the graphics are bad, the sound is bad-er, the gameplay is mediocre at best, the number modes and options are minimal (and the ones that do exist are poorly conceived), and if I were Blair Morgan, I'd go live in an igloo somewhere until this disaster blows over. Oh, and you could play with a friend - more fun! - or even go online, but we have to admit, we simply couldn't steel ourselves for such an endeavor.
Well, it's not often we get something quite this bad. If you have a sense of humor when it comes to truly awful games, we might actually recommend you rent this one, because you'll be laughing yourself silly within a few minutes of play. But if you don't, stay far, far away. No, it's not even worth that budget price because you won't be able to trade it in. You'd probably have to pay GameStop to take this filth off your hands.
One final note- if we're laughing, we have to logically and begrudgingly admit that it is a form of entertainment. We had a good time playing because it was so bad. That's the one and only reason the game scored above a 3. If we weren't in a good mood, it might not have broken 2.
4/12/2007 Ben Dutka