Title  : Dark Summit
Platforms  : Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube
Publisher  : THQ
ESRB Rating  : Teen
Game Rating  : 8.8
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Snowboarding seems to be a disproportionately popular genre of video game, with titles like Cool Boarders and SSX earning sequel after best-selling sequel. 

Pardon me if I've been underwhelmed by the sport. 

Snowboarding is too plain a setting for straight-out racing, leaving it to instead focus too much on tricks, stunts, half pipes, and the like. It's a video game; just who exactly am I showing off for? 

Dark Summit, while featuring both racing and tricks, is about neither. THQ's snowboarding title is a goal-based adventure game for all new next-generation game consoles (GameCube version reviewed here). 

Mt. Garrick has been secured by the government for unexplained reasons. No self-righteous snowboarder will let a simple matter like national security keep him from carving the mountain, so strap on your boots and hit the slopes — you're going to uncover the conspiracy! 

Dark Summit sends players to accomplish various mission objectives as they make their way down the mountain. Challenges include performing sequences of specific tricks, knocking down snowmen, acquiring bombs, and evading the Ski Patrol. Each success earns Lift Points, which makes accessible new runs. 

The difficulty of these tasks varies wildly, in part due to the variety of skills they test. Completing one trial can make more available, requiring multiple runs to try them all. Mt. Garrick is huge, with a single run taking ten minutes at most. With so many branching paths, hidden areas, and changing missions, it's a pleasure to be sent back down the slopes again and again. It's strangely addictive; there's always another challenge to surmount, a few more points to earn, or a shortcut to explore that warrants "just one more run." 

If you're normally a trickophobe, like me, fear not: Summit's controls are extremely conducive to all manner of maneuvers, aerial and otherwise. Once airborne, it's as simple as pressing a key combination, such as A-B-A, with each combination executes a unique trick. Collecting trick icons scattered across the slopes will expand one's repertoire. Equipment Points earned from trick completion will allow outfits and boards to be upgraded. Summit is paced such that new snowboards are earned roughly when more difficult courses are unlocked. 

Other characters interact with players primarily through the game's excellent audio. The archetypal German villain announces over the loudspeakers that "Everything is normal! Rules are for your protection! Obey!", while skiers whine over the disturbance snowboarders cause. The music is completely instrumental, and not the stereotypical hard rock or grunge one might mistakenly expect from a snowboard title. 

Though the blue, green, and red snow is unexpected — as are the land mines and toxic waste pits — the graphics depict them finely anyway. There's a good sense of speed, and a floaty feeling when airborne. Some surprising details sneak in during gameplay. For example, don't think the wanton destruction of signs and snowmen is without consequences; the resulting debris will continue rolling down the slopes, smashing into other athletes and obstacles. 

If you're a skier who's ever invoked the patrol's wrath by going off the beaten path, you'll love this game. THQ has finally made snowboarding interesting by playing up the elements of subversion and subterfuge. Neither a racer nor a trick-based title, Dark Summit is a high point in gaming innovation.


This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 04-Mar-02