An Hour In The: SNOW Alpha

By Graham Smith on February 6th, 2014 at 5:00 pm.

Gnarly masks, bro.

SNOW is currently in Steam Early Access, which means it’s unfinished but you can buy it and start playing right now. Let’s therefore put the buyer’s advice up top: you should not do that. While some games in Early Access are already robust, content-rich, and ready to offer dozens of hours of enjoyment, SNOW is not there yet. After an hour, you’ll have seen all there is to see.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t tremendous potential in the idea: an open-world ski and snowboarding game, in which you can speed from one slope to another contiguously, or shoot off the track and and go exploring. There’s little hints here of what the game might become, and for that hour you might spend with it, you’d likely have fun.

I used to play Tribes 2 a lot. In between sniping at enemy defenders, or performing shrike stunts with friends on a private server, I liked to go skiing. Your ability to gather tremendous speed by sliding down that game’s mountains was key to success, and you’d use that skill while dueling or attempting to capture the opponent’s flag. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

Tribes 2 had enormous levels on which to play, but beyond the edge of the in-game map, the world did not end. There were further stretches of infinite – or seemingly infinite – terrain, devoid of landmarks or objectives, but accessible to any player who wanted to leave the war behind and go exploring. And so I would. I’d go ski across the randomly generated sprawl, hunting for particularly steep slopes from which to slide.

Trees: natural enemy of the skier.

Eventually I’d grow tired and return to the fight, but that was a real part of enjoying that game. Sliding and skiing made movement Tribes’ basic unit of fun, allowing you to enjoy yourself even if you couldn’t hit anyone with a spinfusor.

This is why an open-world skiing game works. If movement is fun, you don’t need to be compelled to continue by the competition for faster times or coming first in a race. You just need a world to explore that’s sufficiently interesting, and even that bar is set low. All I need is a good hill.

Currently SNOW is all set on the same side of a mountain, with spawn points littered across its surface. Some of those are placed at the top of smooth slopes, some in front of jumps and ramps, and others in wilder spaces surrounded by trees and craggy outcrops. You can start from any of those points and, depending on the route you take, perhaps find yourself reaching the others later.

You’re rewarded for skiing and exploring by a couple of different things. One is the feeling of excitement at stumbling across a new landmark, which currently the map only provides a couple of times: for example, when you first crest a hill to come across a dam cutting across the crisp white expanse. The other is what Tribes had: the excitement of finding a particularly good slope, anticipating that moment of speed, and watching the speedometer in the corner tick up as you descend.

I think your speed might be capped unrealistically, given the steep slopes.

There’s a multiplayer mode as well, though I haven’t had the opportunity to play it, and you can score points by grinding on rails and Tony Hawking in the air when you hit a jump, though it feels simplistic and a little pointless. SNOW is an emptier, white-out Proteus with slippy sliding instead of walking. That’s all there is.

That is almost literally all there is. The menu is mainly made of greyed-out options, each one a mode or feature that has yet to be implemented.

The section which seems to have had the most effort put into it is the in-game store, where real money can be traded for hats, jackets, poles, skis and so on, each marked by a real world logo. Many of these items are included in the different packs through which you can purchase the game, but it’s a good example of the way microtransaction models can warp the priorities of game development. SNOW has many different types of snowgoggles, sure, but it doesn’t have any sound effects. The model incentivizes the creation of gloves before snowboards.

Break now to watch the most recent update trailer, which does show what progress is being made.

I’m going to bracket this write-up with two descriptions of fun times I’ve had skiing and snowboarding, neither of which are from the game I’m really writing about. That’s strange, but it’s because I want to balance the reality of what SNOW is (an alpha game you shouldn’t buy yet because there’s not enough to it) with the potential of what it could be as glimpsed in its better moments.

SSX3 is my favourite snowboarding game. It combines racing with stunts, but its best feature was that everything took place on the side of the same mountain. Once you had unlocked the whole track, you could board from its peak to its bottom, each track strung together in a race that could take almost 30 minutes to complete.

I hate it when I crash into... something.

Along the way, you’d move through steep slopes, to canyons, to ice caves. SSX3 threw in environmental hazards to break up the rhythm of its races, with collapsing ceilings and pursuing avalanches. It was exhilirating, because the skill required to avoid obstacles, perform stunts, beat opponents and win the strung-together race amplified the pleasure of moving, by making it about maintaining speed, and flowing as gracefully as possible through each area.

SNOW is in its infancy, but it’s sliding down an exciting slope. Keep an eye on it.

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43 Comments »

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  1. Fumarole says:

    So it’s safe to say this early access game left you cold?

    • Aiken Drum says:

      Icy what you did there.

    • Orageon says:

      Yeah for now it’s still easy to get a bit board.

      • InnerPartisan says:

        One can only hope that it’s not all downhill from here.

        • jkz says:

          I’m going to ski-pass on this one for now, it sounds like I might be piste off at ploughing through the content so quickly.

    • Bahlof says:

      paying early access is probably gonna be a snow-go for me on this one..

    • Faillie says:

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  2. Shooop says:

    SNOW is currently in Steam Early Access, which means it’s unfinished but you can buy it and start playing right now. Let’s therefore put the buyer’s advice up top: you should not do that.

    I’d go as far to say you shouldn’t do that for anything. This pre-order madness is getting way out of hand.

    • Wedge says:

      It’s really just turned into another kickstarter venue. Throw up a barely playable demo with a concept of a real game, and try to rake in the funding.

    • Gargenville says:

      Note it’s not even a pre-order, this is going to be a Free to Play title. All you’re pre-ordering is bonus cruft.

    • SillyWizard says:

      Maybe you should go so far as to not tell other people what to do with their money.

  3. Mr. Mister says:

    I preferred SSX Tour. It all took place in the same mountain too, and you could equip motherfreakin’ batwings.

  4. BooleanBob says:

    Yes but can you get chased by a yeti yet

  5. Eight Rooks says:

    I’d love to be proven wrong, but I’m pretty sure there will never be a PC sports game anything like the SSX series at its best (SSX 3 or SSX 2012 when it wasn’t being horrible to you). Much as I like RPS, going by the typical comments here the general PC audience treats “pop culture” like a crime against nature, and runs screaming in the other direction at the merest suggestion of chart dubstep.

    More fool them, basically. I have neither played nor heard of any game on the PC which contains a piece of visual and auditory feedback as gloriously, rapturously euphoric as filling your Tricky meter in SSX 2012, hearing the music kick in landing a stunt and seeing that shockwave ripple outwards through the terrain. It’s gaming as play that’s every bit as joyous as Minecraft or whatever the emergent flavour of the month is at the moment.

    Again, I’d love to be proven wrong. I bought Snow in the Steam sale and I broadly agree with all of this post. But just one quick look on the Steam forums at the time had me feeling as if my point was proved – MAKE SURE WE CAN DO FIFTY MILLION ACTUAL REALISTIC SKIING MOVES, NONE OF THAT SHITTY BROSTEP, blah blah blah. These are the people who won’t be happy until the game ends up as dry as if Bohemia had gone into sports sims, and when they don’t get exactly that the player base will die off, the move to F2P will tank and in a couple of years the game will quietly die a death.

    • Graham Smith says:

      Yeah, this is a concern. I like Euro Truck Simulator, but I also like OutRun and Sonic All-Stars Racing. I’d prefer my slip-and-slide games trended towards the latter, personally.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        Oh, also, SSX 3 was the better game overall, but SSX 2012 was better when it worked. IT IS SCIENCE.

        Sadly SSX 2012 was largely a terrible piece of design – people who complain about Final Fantasy XIII have clearly never known the horrors of being forced to play what was essentially a fifteen-hour tutorial against a savage difficulty curve and cheating AI before you were allowed to play what was really the actual game. I’d still pay full price like a shot all over again if EA stuck it on Origin tomorrow, mind.

    • Bremze says:

      SSX is a great series and the great thing is that you can play them on PC through PCSX2 with significantly better visuals to boot. Dubstep is utterly shit though, sorry.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        Sigh. Sure it is, grandpa.

        I dunno: opinions and all that, obviously, but I swear, sometimes reading the comments on this site makes me feel as if I’m about twenty years younger. “I SAY, I REMEMBER WHEN NOISES LIKE THAT HAD THE DECENCY TO STAY INSIDE A HOOVER”, and so on. :rolleyes:

    • Low Life says:

      “But just one quick look on the Steam forums at the time had me feeling as if my point was proved – MAKE SURE WE CAN DO FIFTY MILLION ACTUAL REALISTIC SKIING MOVES, NONE OF THAT SHITTY BROSTEP, blah blah blah.”

      Maybe it’s because the game is advertised as a realistic skiing experience? I’d sure as hell be annoyed if I bought a game advertised as a driving simulator and got Burnout instead, even if I like Burnout by itself.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        Strange; I don’t see even a single mention of the word “realistic” on the Steam store page.

        (I’m well aware the devs are not making SSX, and I would have no desire to force them to even if I could do that, but I stick to my previous statement: the vast majority of PC gamers who would be into this sort of thing act like grumbling old folks who think that anything produced for the mainstream market is automatically the tool of Satan himself, for whom the only possible worthwhile skiing/snowboarding game would be a Serious Simulation for Serious People.)

    • benkc says:

      Huh, and here I thought I was the only person who felt SSX3 was a high point of the series. Never heard of this 2012 thing though. Maybe I should go looking for it.

  6. kwyjibo says:

    You can tell a site is hardcore when their only reference to skiing games is Tribes.

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    Gap Gen says:

    Those are amazing ski mask names.

  8. tk421242 says:

    but are there zombies in the game????

  9. iainl says:

    You’re all wrong, I’m right, and the Amped series was better than SSX. Partly because it did the open mountain thing first, partly because it got the feel of snow far better, but mainly because the third one is utterly silly and meta, like the Abstergo Entertainment stuff dialled up to about 74.

    Also better than SSX is the original 1080.

    • Wedge says:

      I really should try to find a cheap old copy of that sitting around to put in my disused 360 sometime.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      While you are indeed completely and utterly wrong – 1080 was dull, and I despised Amped 2 because I couldn’t learn how to manual, at all, and so completely failed to move out of the first area – at the same time damn you, my good man, for you’re reminding me of how much I wish I’d played some more Amped 3 before I sold my 360/abandoned consoles. For anyone who doesn’t know it, seriously, go read Margaret Robertson’s Games I Like That You Might Like and marvel at its glorious weirdness.

      • iainl says:

        Avalanche was a bit of a disappointment but Original 1080 blew me away. Because at that point I was easily impressed, admittedly – it was all a very long time ago.

        • InnerPartisan says:

          2nded on the original 1080°. The game had its flaws, to be sure, but it was also utterly amazeballs. The graphics, at the time, were astonishing – demonstrating that, when handled correctly, the N64 could indeed blow the Playstation out of the water – but more importantly, it just got that “snow-feel” right. It’s really hard to explain, but as someone who has flung himself down an actual mountain with fiberglass planks strapped to his feet in real life, the game instantly “clicked” with me.
          Which is also why I prefer Amped over SSX – as fun as SSX 3 is, it’s basically just Tony Hawk’s Pro Boarder. That mountain could as well have been coated in asphalt.

          • Eight Rooks says:

            Admittedly I’ve got no real counterpoint for someone who’s actually been skiing/snowboarding – I’ve never done any activity in real life then seen it reproduced in a videogame, unless you count, I don’t know, hiking or something.

            But still, no SSX game is really that much like Tony Hawk. All you’re saying is basically “having been out on the slopes in real life and greatly enjoyed it, I’m not interested in anything purporting to simulate the sport unless it reproduces the things I like about it as closely as possible given the technology available at the time, and anything I’m not interested in just gets relegated to the same slush pile at the back of my mind”. Which – at least to a degree – is fair enough, obviously. I might well feel the same way if I’d ever been boarding. But since I haven’t, let’s just say I could write essays about how SSX pretty much flattens any Tony Hawk game ever made. It’s like saying Burnout is fundamentally no different to Outrun, simply because to an experienced race driver they each bear equally as little resemblance to what it’s like to get behind the wheel of a real car.

          • Premium User Badge

            Llewyn says:

            All you’re saying is basically…

            No, that’s not what he appears to be saying at all. The SSX series basically lacks the one thing that separates a snowboarding game from a skateboarding game – any reasonable feeling of being on snow and using the edges of the board, as opposed to having wheels and being on tarmac. It’s effectively a winter-themed skateboarding game, hence the comparison with Tony Hawks. Whether it’s better or worse is irrelevant to that point.

            Personally I had a lot of fun with SSX but it’s a crap snowboarding game, just as Wipeout is a crap driving game*.

            *With the obvious proviso that it doesn’t claim or pretend to be one.

          • aerozol says:

            Coming from someone who follows the winter all year round, amped is far from a realistic snowboarding simulator as well obviously… ‘more’ realistic? Sure, but what kind of an arbitrary distinction is that. Neither are a SKATE, both are a Tony Hawk.
            I loved both games though.

            Also don’t pre-purchase SNOW, I made the mistake of doing that, and regret it sincerely. Lesson learned.

  10. Jac says:

    Almost picked this up a while back as have been desperate to find a skiing simulationish type game (I.e. not based around tricks and stuff). But yeah then I saw early access. Followed by its actually going to be free to play. Still not into this whole kickstarter thing – only way I’d ever be able to rationalise paying into something like this is if I could equity fund it for a share of all future profits etc.

    Anyway I’ll finish with a question for RPSers: are there actually any skiing games on pc similar to this but actually finished?? (Aware of ssx and stuff but I’m allergic to snowboarding)

  11. SominiTheCommenter says:

    Finally. I was starting to think I was the only one that played Shaun White Snowboarding avoiding avalanches and wanted more of thins kind of thing.

  12. Syphus says:

    One thing that is missing from the update video is that they have also added to the map. The park looks like it might’ve changed a bit (but it might be me), but also there’s a half-pipe and a number of jumps next to it that wasn’t there. If they end up making the world semi-dynamic (say weekly challenges where jumps or rails are built in specific areas, or of course races), it could extend the game very much so.

  13. jeffcapeshop says:

    Supreme snowboarding was the one i played endlessly.. 1999, still looks alrightish, courses weren’t restricted and you could veer off course quite some distance (i don’t actually remember how far or what happened at the edge.. but i do remember it feeling very free)

    here’s a video – more off-piste demos near the end http://youtu.be/AzX-nGxq7Ts?t=5m25s

    • Premium User Badge

      dahauns says:

      High-five for Supreme Snowboarding! I’ve never played a snowboard/skiing game that captured the feeling so perfectly, and it does it without being a hardcore sim on the one side and an xxxxtreme overkill on the other.
      Just watching the video makes me want to give it a go again.

  14. Geebs says:

    I particularly liked the part where the man clipped into the ground.

    Still, very informer-tive piece.

  15. Banjo-Tuesday says:

    I have been looking forward to an open-worldish skiing game. It will be interesting to see how this goes. The terrain and environment look great. But there are some things a skiing game really has to get ‘right’.

    – decent particle effects for (different depths of) powder snow
    – tracks left in the snow by skis, preferably deformable terrain in deep snow
    – convincing animations of the player, legs flexing dynamically with sudden gradient changes, bodyweight shifting forwards/backwards etc.

    SNOW could improve from a lot of work in these areas. Nice to see this article in time for the Winter Olympics though.

  16. ahac says:

    I hope they improve the skiing animations. You can’t ski like this just by turning your body a bit, like the character in the video does. He doesn’t even move his hands… what are the poles for? Skiing beginners usually move better than he does..

  17. bill says:

    SSX3 was awesome.
    I’ve been looking for a decent snowboarding game on PC for years… it’s a shame they don’t seem to exist.
    Frankly, I’d settle for a copy of SSX3 on PC. (for the simple reason that I no longer have any consoles).