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by Crave

snocross_dc_01-01.jpg (4158 bytes)The original review of Sno-Cross Championship Racing was written on Christmas day and I had written a scathing report on it. I had denounced everything on the game from its graphics to its menu system; in all, I gave the game a single star. But, then I decided to read other reviews of Sno-Cross (more for confirmation of my opinion than to check facts) and was surprised to find so many positive reviews. Rethinking my opinion, I decided not to submit the review just yet and to road test Sno-Cross for a few more days.

snocross_dc_02-01.jpg (3629 bytes)The final analysis? Sno-Cross Championship is not for the arcade racers out there; it is a serious snowmobile racing simulation with a realistic physics engine, actual damage models, and real-to-life race tracks with equally life-like AI. Unfortunately, it also sports graphics that should never be seen on the Dreamcast and visual effects that take away from the realism.

snocross_dc_03-01.jpg (3397 bytes)Published by Crave Entertainment, Sno-Cross features 12 snowmobiles, all of the Yamaha brand and supposedly modeled from "secret CAD drawings." Still, I can’t tell any of the snowmobiles apart, other than their colorings. Each snowmobile has its own strengths and weaknesses but you have to test out each one to find these. The game doesn’t provide a simple way to distinguish, performance-wise, between mobiles. Instead, it shows useless statistics like the number of cylinders or the type of cooling system used. Maybe a real snowmobile buff can look at these statistics and know exactly what it all means, but the casual gamer wants a more visual way to help them pick out a snowmobile.

snocross_dc_04-01.jpg (3367 bytes)Anyway, like I stated before, this is a simulation, so every snowmobile slips and slides all over the racetrack until you get used to how it handles. Remember, folks, we’re talking small vehicles going 100 km/h over snow and ice, so this ain’t no Sunday walk. The learning curve is steep, but after awhile you learn the ropes: lean forward to go faster, lean back for more control, decelerate at the curves and NEVER hit an ice patch at an angle. This is not a "pick-up and play" game. You’ll have to spend some time on each track to learn the nooks and crannies.

snocross_dc_05-01.jpg (4297 bytes)Speaking of tracks, you have your choice of seven different locations to race from Nagano, Japan to Aspen, Colorado. I have no idea how accurate the tracks might be to their actual real-life counterparts, but they are well designed none the less. There are plenty of hills and bumpy straights to keep you flying off your snowmobile at every turn. The overall effect is lessened by the blurriness of the track and the statuesque spectators supposedly watching. The surface of the track is lined with tread marks but these were actually drawn on before the race even begins. In other words, you won’t be able to see the skid marks you made when you made that 180-degree turn. There are no shortcuts or special paths to take. You stay on one path throughout the entire race.

snocross_dc_06-01.jpg (4195 bytes)Weather is a big factor in Sno-Cross; too bad it looks so horrible. You have to deal with three types of weather effects: rain, snow, and clear conditions. Each effect affects how your snowmobile responds (for instance, your acceleration is reduced in the rain). However, visually, the weather is nothing but white spots floating on the screen. This effect is particularly cheesy when you go through a long tunnel and its snowing inside the tunnel!

snocross_dc_07-01.jpg (3440 bytes)The racers controlled by the computer aren’t the perfect AI that you often see in racing games. They crash or make serious errors just like human players and are just as competitive, too. Despite the simulation feel, you can play nasty and wreck the AI by pushing them into barriers or simply getting in their way. And, if you run into a crashed snowmobile, you’ll go out of control and crash, too. It’s annoying if you’re used to plowing through opponents in your armored, turbo-charged ice cream truck but, hey, that’s why I’ve said this isn’t for arcade racers.

There are two ways to race: Championship mode and Single Race mode. In Championship, there are three divisions with each division having its own set of snowmobiles. You start in the lowest division (and, therefore, with the slowest snowmobiles) and race in four pre-selected tracks. You have to place 3rd or better to progress through the races, but you must place 1st overall to go to a higher division. In Single Race, you pick any track (including weather effects) and any bike and just have a basic race against 3 AI opponents. You start the game with the lowest level of snowmobiles until you start winning divisions in Championship mode.

snocross_dc_08-01.jpg (3102 bytes)Of course, the real fun of any racer is going head-to-head with your buddy, so I carted my DC over to my friend’s big screen TV to give it a whirl (not mention a round or two of Soul Calibur). Unfortunately, the racing is not nearly as smooth as in single-player. The feeling of speed was completely lost as you seemingly chugged along and, to add insult to injury, the various sound effects kept cutting out. You can’t add computer controlled players to the two-player showdown, so there’s no satisfaction of beating multiple opponents.

The sound effects, overall, are clear, crisp, and used sparingly. The only sound you’ll ever hear for most of the race is the sound of your motor. I’ve heard actual snowmobiles a couple of time in my life and their unforgettable roar is replicated in the game. Occasionally, you might even hear the sound of hard snow crunching against your snowmobile as you slide around the corner. The music, however, is sub-par and perhaps the worst element in the game. Repetitive techno plays over and over again as you streak down the track; fortunately, the music volume is adjustable so you can drive in relative silence.

snocross_dc_09-01.jpg (4129 bytes)Sno-Cross throws in some extras to go along with the mainstream racing. There’s an extra mode called the "Track Editor" which allows you to design your own racetracks. It uses a simple grid interface that allows you to piecemeal various road hazards (ice patches, hairpin curves) into a completed racetrack, then you get to pick the scenery and you’re off to race. This definitely ups the replay value, as you can save as many custom tracks as your VMU can hold.

Sno-Cross Championship Racing is not a user-friendly title to play. You’ll be frustrated the first few times you play, but, if you have the patience, you’ll learn to enjoy the game. This is certainly a try-before-you-buy, and make sure to give it a good run through before you decide.

Van Davis


Ups: Realistic sim; damage modeling; good course design; good sound effects.

Downs: Lackluster graphics; lame weather effects; steep learning curve; not for arcade fans.

System Reqs:
Sega Dreamcast


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