Ski-doo Snow X Racing Review
You know, when we reviewed the last snowmobile racing game, SnoCross 2: Featuring Blair Morgan, we were sorely disappointed. As you can see, it was so bad, it was actually quite amusing, and while that was a relatively interesting experience, we honestly hoped Ski-doo Snow X Racing would be better. A whole lot better. Granted, it's hardly the most popular sport out there, but snowmobile racing should make for a sweet transition to video games...in theory. There's great speed, great competition, great high-flying leaps, and great wipeout potential, so the concept is certainly sound. If only a developer could step up and give this idea a proper foundation, with nicely implemented physics and race features, than we could have something pretty special.
Well, the graphics definitely aren't special. They're certainly better than SnoCross 2, but that isn't saying much. You sit much closer to your rider in this one, and there's a lot more detail in the bike, racer, and surrounding environment, so that's a big plus. Unfortunately, there's still a lot of generic background design, and many of the courses are poorly presented. You often have difficulty following the racetrack, and for whatever reason, absolutely everything holds the physical properties of a rock. It doesn't matter if you hit a tree or the orange netting encircling the course; you'll be greeted with the same "thump" sound and promptly get dumped in the snow. The color is okay, but beyond that, the visuals are basically average from top to bottom; completely unremarkable but not exactly bad.
No matter who's behind these snowmobile games, they just can't seem to get the sound right. Much like the graphics, the sound in Snow X Racing is superior to that of SnoCross 2, but again, that doesn't mean much. They still butcher the same alternative rock track, shove it down your throat over and over, and top it all off with only moderately better effects. The soundtrack actually seemed more diverse in SnoCross 2, but the quality is better in this one, and the effects are more polished and more realistic. Hitting the fluffier, deeper snow off the track sounds different than the crisp, tightly packed snow on the course, and the engine whine is pretty accurate. Smacking into an obstacle or another rider all sounds identical, though, and that's a major drawback. All in all, the sound is decent, but hardly classifiable as "good."
Plagued by absurdly loose controls and just plain ridiculous physics, SnoCross 2 was atrocious in the gameplay department. Thankfully, Ski-doo Snow X Racing is much better in this category, which automatically gives the player a far more entertaining experience. There are still multiple issues concerning the controls - which are also quite loose - and it's certainly not an exact simulator, but at least the overall gameplay is tolerable. However, just to get it out of the way, we'll start with a couple of the more mediocre aspects: the presentation and depth. Despite a good supply of tracks, there just isn't enough here to keep any typical gamer interested, and hardcore snowmobile fans - we assume you're out there somewhere - will find very little to get excited about.
Your only options are Quick Race, Single Race, and Career, and the latter couldn't possibly play out in a more linear fashion. You make a rudimentary profile, customize your bike a bit, and head out to participate in races. At the start, only one race gets unlocked for the successful completion of any existing race, but eventually, multiple tracks will be unlocked at once. Any mechanical or cosmetic upgrades you can purchase become available on a consistent basis, typically rewarded after winning - or even just placing - in a particular event. But there really isn't any real choice involved; winning gets you new upgrades to buy, which allow you to win more races. It's a standard formula for most racing titles, but the simplicity and lack of freedom is a little ridiculous. Oh, and we have no idea why they included Quick and Single Race; they're both the same thing, but you just can't select your rider and bike with Quick Race. ...what's the point of that?
Furthermore, any upgrades you buy and install on your bike don't seem to significantly impact the vehicle's performance on the track. Well, some do, but most don't. This is possibly due to the loose control, which is quite flimsy even though it's still workable, but it's hard to say just how important those mechanical alterations actually are. When you're out racing, your goal is usually the same- stay on the track, and don't let yourself get unseated. Each race is usually pretty competitive once you've installed your freshly won upgrades (engine, skis, wheels, etc.), so we'll give Snow X Racing the benefit of the doubt and say they are indeed necessary. The difference in how your bike controls, however, is often negligible.
Speaking of staying on the track, we mentioned this flaw once before. There is only a thin, light blue line that dictates the borders on each side, but that often doesn't help much. It's difficult to see at high speeds and in certain environments, and because there's rarely anything to stop you if you stray off course, you might not even know it immediately. Worst of all, the game actually waits for a good five seconds or so before placing you back on the track. Apparently, when you go off the course, a timer starts, and when it reaches a certain point, you're deposited back on the track. This means you'll be trying cheating shortcuts, which are actually possible if you're not off the course for too long. And if you fail, you go all the way back to your run-off point...which means you're way behind.
Thankfully, though, catching up is almost never an issue. For some reason, you usually out-accelerate your opponents on the straightaways, but because many of the jumps are challenging, they'll probably catch back up. The physics and realism is definitely out of whack, and there are only two trick buttons (in-air stunts are evidently useless, as they don't gain you points or any other rewards), which makes the game more repetitive than it needs to be. Lose ground because you couldn't really see the turn very well - perhaps you brake too hard - than gain it all back on the straighaway. Hit a jump wrong, and they'll probably fly by you, but even worse, they could land on you. It's the lone cool and original feature in the game; if you didn't come off with enough speed and another rider is aiming to land on your head, the screen will flash blue. Either swerve to get out of the way, or suffer the consequences.
Visibility is typically bad, your opponents are predictable, career progress is limited and linear, the physics are average at best, the loading times are kinda slow, and the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. But despite it all, there's some consistency to the races, and the gameplay is quite accessible and even challenging in some respects. Even though it's sometimes hard to see where you're going, it doesn't take too long to memorize each course, and it shouldn't take too many tries to win each one. Like we said before, there isn't enough depth to satisfy the hardcore, and your choices for upgrades are both limited and questionable in terms of effectiveness. On the other hand, the control tends to come around after a few hours of play, and you learn to deal with the looseness. You'll also start to better understand how to approach turns and jumps, which will pay big dividends on the tougher courses.
In the end, Ski-doo Snow X Racing is indeed a much better option than SnoCross 2: Featuring Blair Morgan. The timing is weird (where is it snowing in the U.S. at the end of May?), but Snow X Racing might be worth the budget price tag if - repeat, if - you're a fan of the sport. It's simply not an accomplished enough title to be worth it for anyone else; there are just too many shortcomings, here. Nobody seems willing to put a lot of effort into a snowmobile racing game, which is unfortunate, because we still believe the concept remains solid. There are plenty of great racing titles out there, and Snow X Racing isn't anywhere near the top of the food chain. If you must have one, get this and avoid SnoCross 2, but other than that... Nah.
5/30/2007 Ben Dutka