Publisher: Poppermost Productions
Developer: Poppermost Productions
There’s not a lot of gaming themes that I claim to have firsthand knowledge of. For example, I was first to admit that I have no idea what real warfare feels like when I reviewed Battlefield 4. But one thing I do a lot of living here in Whistler, is skiing.
For the six months of Canadian winter, my adopted hometown basically turns into a snow-filled Disneyland. I’ve taught and coached the sport for the last 10 years of my life, and dare I say, I love skiing more than video games. Yes. Apples and oranges they may be, but in this day and age of technology, there is still only so many sensations that one can accurately simulate. Gliding on powder snow with shaped wooden planks under your feet is one experience that remains an unblemished, natural wonder.
SNOW is an open world skiing and snowboarding simulation game from Swedish indie developer Poppermost Productions, currently available as an alpha on Steam Early access. Touted as being “For riders, by riders” (rider being the collective term for skiers and snowboarders), SNOW has some pretty solid backing from the ski and snowboard industries. Logos of brands like Volkl, K2 and Red Bull all flash up during the intro screens, something usually only seen in ski films. Freestyle skiing wizards Tanner Hall, Russ Henshaw and Tom Wallisch have all had creative input on the game’s design to make it as real-feeling as possible.
But does it work? That’s difficult to judge at this point, the early access version gives you one mountain to explore through a variety of terrain. You can hit the park for jumps and rail jibs like all the million snowboard games we’ve seen over the years, but during that time there has been very few efforts at actually replicating the tricks that skiers can do. SNOW pulls them off with surprising accuracy.
The rest of the mountain gives you the option to ski alpine bowls, tight chutes and lots and lots of cliffs. Seeing the distant alpine peaks blurred with depth of field is a nice touch, keeping the action in the foreground tack sharp. I’ve yet to get a real kick out of skiing the alpine terrain, though. There are some convenient diving board ramps that launch you off cliff sides, but freefalling through the air trying to mash together a slew of flips and twists starts to feel like an aerials competition, which despite it’s impressive acrobatics is kind of boring to spectate. Skiing powder snow is what most skiers live for, and while SNOW seems to simulate that experience better than anything seen previously, the game still seems to be all about what you can do in the air.
SNOW is an attempt to make an actual freeskiing game, where you are not bound by competition rules or ski area boundary ropes. You can in fact go any where on the enormous map, but I would like to see what other terrain variation Poppermost come up with before judging that experience. The gamepad controls are as tight as Amped with a steep learning curve, small mistakes are punished with big crashes – just like with real skiing. I liked the unforgiving landings; it may frustrate rookie players but the patient player will be rewarded with smooth, flawless runs after hours of practice.
The most surprising move by Poppermost is making the game entirely free-to-play upon release. If you want to play it now, you have to buy an early access pack starting at $14.99, but the developers say the free version will be available as early as next year. The paid-for content will likely include map unlocks as well the usual character skins and accessories. By staying true to the physics of the sport with accurate depictions of real tricks, SNOW will likely do well with snowsport enthusiasts. But it will need to have something very special to appeal to the mainstream masses.