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by THQ

52002_11-01.jpg (9191 bytes)The genre of snowboarding games has officially fractured. Back in the day, when we played Coolboarders and nothing else, there was a mixture of fantasy and reality. Games like ESPN X Games Snowboarding brought a lot more reality to the screen. Games like SSX (and the successful sequel, SSX Tricky) have carved a niche for the fantasy element. And games like Amped still offer up serious doses of reality. Gameplay is pretty similar in all of these titles, although the fantasy oriented games offer bigger tricks and flashier courses. It all comes down to how much you personally enjoy snowboarding. Most real-life riders prefer a more realistic title, while most folks who fantasize about snowboarding appreciate the fantastic elements of games like SSX. Dark Summit falls somewhere in-between, leaning heavily to the fantasy side but in a way that real snowboarders will probably appreciate.

52002_09-01.jpg (5769 bytes)Dark Summit puts you in the role of Naya, a trash-talking, mountain shredding snowboarder bent on uncovering a major conspiracy at Mt. Garrick. Chief O’Leary, the head of the Ski Patrol at Mt. Garrick has been charged with eliminating the snowboarding crowd from the mountain because everybody knows snowboarders just don’t tow the line like skiers. Something fishy is going on around Mt. Garrick – strange deposits of possibly nuclear waste lie around untended, and there are hordes of Ski Patrol and surveillance commandos keeping an eye on everything. It all smells like a cover-up, and with the help of your mysterious snowboarding contacts, you will guide Naya to uncovering the shocking truth behind the anomalous ski resort.

52002_07-01.jpg (7051 bytes)Actually, Dark Summit is not so much shocking as it is really funny. It is the first snowboarding game to take a mission-based approach, offering up a single player mode that is probably more satisfying to the non-snowboarding gamer, at least more satisfying than tricking off every little shoulder trying to build a career as a pro snowboarder. The storyline draws heavily from the old skier vs. snowboarder conflict, and it’s really the stuff of snowboarding legend. Even today there are some resorts that don’t allow snowboarding, and ten years ago there were a lot of them.

52002_04-01.jpg (7065 bytes)The story is portrayed wonderfully through a series of challenges you receive. Many of these challenges are trick-oriented – slide so many rails or complete so many combos without falling. Other challenges are more humorous, such as running into Hanz, the pretty boy skier, to steal his lunch money, and then avoiding his crazy sister who chases you down the remainder of the mountain yelling about how you shouldn’t pick on her brother. You’ll also find yourself avoiding the Ski Patrol, breaking all kinds of equipment, and even divebombing robotic cows.

52002_08-01.jpg (7341 bytes)The overall ambience of the game comes from a combination of graphics and sound, both of which are impeccable. The graphics are just what we expect from the Xbox. Movement is very nice, snow spray shows up at appropriate moments, colors are bright and vibrant, and characters are detailed. Garrick is a large mountain, and some runs take a long time to complete. You can see far into the distance, which becomes a large part of how you play the game. Without excellent clarity of graphics Dark Summit would be a nightmare.

52002_00-01.jpg (7351 bytes)The sound adds to the feeling of cracking a conspiracy at a freakish ski resort. As you ride different non-player characters yell at you. Other skiers tell you to get off the mountain and shriek when you zoom past them. Ski Patrol follows you, yelling such memorable quotes as, "Please stop looking for secrets." There is a definite absurdity to the game, which is welcomed and creates quite a bit of humor. Some of the missions end in bizarre encounters between characters that can only be described as hilarious. While many of these catch-phrases are repeated throughout the game, they don’t really get old, which may be because Dark Summit is too short, but we’ll address that issue later.

52002_03-01.jpg (7386 bytes)Controls are well thought out and easy to pick up. Real tricks are blended with fantasy tricks. This blending works very well for the most part, but it is weird to think that Naya can’t push her snowboard up even the slightest incline (and forget about trying to hop up the mountain to make a turn or jump you missed), but she can whip her board off and do flips in mid-air. However, throughout the challenges you are asked to perfect some standard moves, such as performing manuals on rails and doing trick combos from obstacle to obstacle.

52002_13-01.jpg (7654 bytes)The basic layout of the game has you clearing different lifts on the mountain by completing challenges which show up at different communication points. As you ride, you’ll notice beams of light coming down to the mountain from the sky. Follow the beacon to the communication point and you receive a call on your cell phone. The mystery caller who helps you out through the entire game will then give you a particular challenge. While most of these will take more than one try to beat, you can easily restart a challenge after failing. Once you clear out enough challenges you can go to a different lift. Eventually you will reach the summit, and the climax, in one of the most literal translation of Freitag’s Pyramid I’ve seen in a long time.

52002_05-01.jpg (7973 bytes)Multiplayer modes are decent, but nothing that will keep you busy for ages. The best one is probably Wrecking Ball, where you and a pal ride down a mountain destroying objects. All through Dark Summit you find yourself destroying fences, snowmen, signs, etc., and it’s very cool how pieces of all the things you destroy keep on going down the mountain. You can chase a giant snowball from a destroyed snowman for ages, watching it take out fences, signs, snowmen, and skiers in front of you. Race to the Bottom is a lot like it sounds – you and a pal race to get to the bottom first. The final multiplayer mode is Half Pipe, and it’s very disappointing. The problem is that Dark Summit isn’t really geared toward half pipe riding (you only encounter the half pipe a couple of times in the game and it’s pretty sorry). Unfortunately, the Half Pipe mode is the only one that scores according to trick performance. It was a major oversight to not have a downhill freestyle multiplayer mode or to incorporate variable scoring as in Coolboarders to you could race downhill either for time, trick score, or a combination of both.

52002_10-01.jpg (7987 bytes)Dark Summit’s appeal is further confounded by the overall brevity of the game. If it takes you longer than a weekend to beat this one, then you haven’t played enough snowboarding games. The brevity would be fine if there were more to the multiplayer modes or more reason to replay the story mode. Upon completing the game you unlock the other snowboarders who have assisted you in your mission, and you can play them in the story mode unlocking new boards, outfits and tricks for each of them. These are good characters, and it’s too bad more wasn’t done with them.

52002_06-01.jpg (8343 bytes)So while Dark Summit is really great the first time through, it gets noticeably less appealing on consecutive runs. If the multiplayer modes were a little more substantial, the brevity of the story mode would be much more forgiveable. However, they are not, and it’s just a short game. Dark Summit is definitely a title Xbox owners should rent at the least, and if you are a fan of snowboarding games, especially of the fantasy variety, then Dark Summit might be worth a purchase, at least until SSX Tricky comes to the Xbox.

Shawn Rider   (12/09/2001)


Ups: Great gameplay; excellent sense of humor; cool take on snowboarding game; nice graphics; great controls.

Downs: Too short; not enough replay value; needs more multiplayer emphasis.

Platform: Xbox