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Dark Summit

Score: 75%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

For the most part, Dark Summit looks quite nice. The environments are a little bland, but that's to be expected, considering the whole thing is set on a single snowy mountain. There are a lot of neat touches in the game, though, such as the spray-painted snow that's just about everywhere. The models are quite well articulated, and the occasional cutscene shows off some pretty nice lip-synching. The various tricks that your main character can do are also nicely done. Unfortunately, there's some visible pop-in in the distance, and when there's snow blowing in your face or one of the explosions the framerate can definitely start to chug. It never gets to an unplayable point, though, and most of the time the framerate chugs along at a nice clip.

The game's sound is extremely low-key. There's quite a bit of voice-acting, mostly from the man who gives you the missions as you play the game, and the skiiers and patrollers on the slope have a number of set lines that they repeat fairly regularly. You'll get tired of the girl's 'Are you crazy?' before you get to the end of the game, trust me. The sound of the snow and the various surfaces that you can grind on are nice, if not particularly mind-blowing. The music is usually near-nonexistent, kicking up for the chase challenges and the like, then fading back into ambient tones.


Gameplay:

Dark Summit is a decidedly . . . different game. It's an adventure game, only it's done on a snowboard. I'm not entirely sure who thought up the idea, but it's definitely unique, and that definitely scores the game some points. Unfortunately, it's also quite short, and entirely too easy, making for a play experience that will leave many people unfulfilled. Nonetheless, for a first cut at an snowboard adventure game (I'm still scratching my head over this one), it's an entertaining experience.

You start off the game as Naya, a redhead on a mission to snowboard where only skiiers are allowed. Right after starting the game, though, you're thrown into a mission to . . . well, you don't really know what your mission is at first, just that there's some guy who keeps calling you on your phone and informing you of different challenges that you have to embark on. Successfully completing those challenges gives you lift points; get enough lift points and you can move higher up the mountain, where even more challenges await you.

This rather odd mix between adventure game and snowboarding makes for a bizarre first few minutes, but once you get the hang of what's going on, it's quite a pleasant experience. If you fail a challenge, you can hit Start and immediately attempt it again, which is absolutely necessary on some of the more difficult ones, where you're required to land a series of difficult grinds or do a certain number of combos over a short stretch of 'track'.

The mountain itself is intriguingly made. There are a few main paths down it, but there are also a large number of side paths, which often lead to challenges or even the elusive bombs that you must collect. Along with lift points, you gain equipment points that let you don new outfits and even a couple of new boards that go faster and jump further. Greater differentiation between the available equipment would have been really nice, but it works enough as is. There are also hidden tricks that you can find spread throughout the game, which add to your repetoire. Executing tricks is how you get equipment points, although you can easily max out those points by doing grabs and the like without ever using the specials.

Unfortunately, though, the game feels half-complete. It seems that there should have been many more challenges in the game, or new areas to explore, or something; after you beat the large number on the first two 'levels' of the game, you'll find yourself breezing through the mere handful available in the last few sections, and before you know it the game will be over. I never even saw the entire last area, because I got both of the missions quite rapidly. It's as if the developers ran out of steam, or encountered a deadline; the last areas of the game are nowhere near as 'fleshed out' as the first ones, and veteran gamers should find themselves beating the game from start to finish in a mere handful of hours.

There are three two-player modes that are also available, but they're definitely fluff; a race, a demolition derby, and a trick-based area, each of them lasts only a couple of minutes and only stand up to a few play-throughs. The game also unlocks new characters once you beat it, but their experiences are pretty much identical, giving little reason to bother with playing through again.


Difficulty:

There are a couple of relatively difficult challenges scattered throughout the game, but for the most part, the game is almost humourously easy. This is mainly due to the ease of landing tricks and grinding, both of which are practically done automatically for you. The handful of difficult challenges will take you a number of play-throughs to complete, but are still quite feasible. Indeed, the only challenge in the game that I found genuinely challenging was the very last one, which took me a large number of attempts before I managed to complete it--a series of elaborate grinds and jumps makes for a difficult experience. I can imagine that most gamers will blow through the game, getting stuck at the last part until they time it just right. The game as a whole is still entirely too easy, though.

Game Mechanics:

Dark Summit controls fairly simply for a snowboarding game, since it's more a platformer than another SSX. There's a grind button, a grab button which you combine with the stick, and a half-pipe button that is used in the handful of half-pipe areas in the game. There's also a duck-and-jump button, as in most snowboarding games. Tricks are executed either with the control stick by itself or with button combos. The controls are easy to get the hang of and you'll be pulling off 10,000-point combos in no time. Indeed, sometimes it feels that the controls are a little too simple, especially when it comes to grinding. Ah, well. The game has minimal load times and runs at a steady clip. There are a few really neat things in the game, such as the way that debris tumbles down the slope with you; more of these touches would have made the game experience that much more enjoyable.

Dark Summit is unlike any other snowboarding game, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, it just doesn't offer up enough gameplay to cement its originality. The game is over too fast and too easily. With expanded gameplay and a more challenging environment, Dark Summit would be a definite winner. As it is, it's only recommended as a rental; if the game's mechanics appeal enough to you, feel free to pick it up, but most gamers will blaze through the game quickly and be thirsting for more. I, for one, would love a much-expanded sequel.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Windows Waterloo: Napoleon's Last Battle Microsoft Xbox Star Wars: Obi-Wan

 
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