Just in time for snowmobile racing season!
Total world domination seems to be EA's plan. With new franchises such as skating and boxing, Electronic Arts is becoming the Nike of the sports game industry. New on the shelves this month is Sled Storm, the first snowmobile racing game for the Playstation, and the first snowmobile racing game I've ever seen.
I've never seen a snowmobile race nor ridden a snowmobile, but I saw Bruce Willis ride one in Die Hard 2 and it looks like a lot of fun. It seems logical enough; people race everything these days. You name it and, if it moves, someone is probably willing to race it. However, I had no idea there was a real market for snowmobile racing. With this well-done first endeavor, EA just might start their own.
The purpose of Sled Storm is typical of most racing games. Your goal is to win the championship, while upgrading your snowmobile along the way. There are two separate championships to win: the open mountain and the snocross. The open mountain championship is comprised of courses that wind through actual mountain trails. The snocross is analogous to motocross, where the tracks are in stadiums and they loop around. All in all, there are a total of fourteen different tracks.
There are six different characters available at the outset. As expected, each one has different strengths and weaknesses. Your character and snowmobile have five attributes that can be upgraded throughout the tournament: top speed, acceleration, handling, stability, and tricks. The first four refer to the snowmobile and 'tricks' refers to the character's arsenal of tricks.
Taking cue from Gran Tursimo, Sled Storm includes a multitude of vehicle upgrades. Although you cannot fine tune gear ratios or angles, you can get a really annoying tail scoop that blows snow in the face of your opponents. Seriously though, there are plenty of upgradeable options, such as body chassis, brakes, headlights, engine, treads, skis, and exhaust pipes. In order to get new parts, you have to make money in the races and sell your used parts. The only way to make money is to win your races and perform loads of tricks. Sled Storm doesn't go light in the trick department either. You've got your no-handers, one-footed can cans, nac nacs, decades, saran wraps, recliners, airwalks, no-footers, backflips, supermans, nothings, heel clickers, and much more. Several of these tricks can be linked together for some wild combinations and huge points. It's amazing what they can do on snowmobiles these days.
Being a first attempt at snowmobile racing, I'm pleasantly surprised at how good the game looks. There is little to no polygon breakup, and the game runs at a healthy frame rate. The snow effects are very well done, with realistic powder and ice effects. The weather conditions are also great, ranging from darkness, to fog, to rain and snow. The game developers achieved an excellent level of reality within the confines of Playstation hardware. I don't know a damn thing about snowmobile racing, but it sure looks good on the Playstation.
The level design and character animation are also commendable. The levels are long and showcase a great variety of terrain and creative jumps. There are also tons of hidden paths and tricks to master in each stage. Your snowmobile and rider are smoothly animated and look realistic when falling over or performing midair acrobatics.
I didn't really enjoy the game music, but that's just my taste in music. Here's who they have to offer: Rob Zombie, Econoline Crush, Uberzone, E-Z Rollers, Dom & Roland, and Jeff Dyck. Bless the option to turn off the music! The sound effects are good enough to keep your heart pounding as you wind the turns.
As an added bonus, Sled Storm is one of the few games on the Playstation that supports four simultaneous players. At the expense of the frame rate and graphic detail, you can take on three of your friends a la N64.
Sled Storm is definitely a pleasant surprise. It has plenty of big tracks, a variety of tricks and upgrades, and multiplayer support. The graphics are excellent and, for the most part, the sound is great. Normally this is the paragraph where I'd complain about the game, but there really isn't anything that needs much improvement. Actually, the tail scoop upgrade is the most useless part of the game because you can't see a damn thing with all the snow flying in your face. Oh, and the darkness and headlight effects are better in Need For Speed . . . That's about it.
If you are a snowmobile racing fan looking for a snowmobile racing game, then Sled Storm is a must buy. Look no further, this game is for you. However, since snowmobile racing isn't really the hottest growing sport in America, I can only tell the rest of you to rent this game and maybe you'll like it enough to buy it. All in all, this is a great, solid game. Thumbs up.