It’s been a few years since we last took to the slopes with EA’s divisive SSX reboot. Now, as 2016 draws to a close, we’re presented with a trio of games looking to revive the dormant snowsports genre.
First out of the blocks is Mark McMorris Infinite Air, arguably the underdog of the three. Although developers HB Studios have been in the biz for well over a decade, they’ve rarely strayed from mainstream sports and are perhaps best known for their annual rugby games.
With that in mind, you wouldn’t necessarily think Infinite Air was their first crack at a snowboarding game. Despite its slightly smaller price tag and diminutive 2.9GB file size, those first few minutes are pretty convincing. There’s a certain weight to the handling, matched with a depth in terms of the tricks and their many branching variations.
Unlike main rivals, Snow and Steep, Infinite Air eschews an open world design for something more streamlined and straightforward. Although there’s an option to let loose and roam some of the game’s larger stages freely, you’ll inevitably be drawn to the game’s series of events, each with its own cluster of challenges.
These levels follow a handful of archetypes, alternating between long format freestyles and quicker, multi-round stages. Having the challenges there encourages you to dig a little deeper into the game’s mechanics, practicing new tricks and developing go-to combos. At the end of the day, building your multiplier and banking a shedload of points becomes the main focus.
That said, going back over each event quickly becomes essential. You see, in order to progress to later tiers and unlock new boarders you’ll need to tick off a set number of challenges. This soon becomes a problem as you clash with Infinite Air’s somewhat fiddly controls.
If you’ve played just about any snowboarding (or skateboarding game) in the past few years then the basics are easy to get down. Layering on some grabs and spins still keeps things relatively easy, but when it comes to flips and rolls, a sense of maddening frustration soon follows.
Preparing either one of these essential tricks requires precise timing and a sudden tangle of inputs, both from the triggers buttons and analog sticks. If looking to pitch forward, you’ll instinctively push the left stick upwards, and having spent years playing a menagerie of games with 3D movement, that gesture has become somewhat ingrained. Doing so here, when launching into a trick, will cause nothing but trouble, however. Instead, your character will awkwardly lean forward, looking like a melon as you waste valuable airtime.
Even when you do manage to nail a launch, there’s a very narrow window in which to land these advanced tricks without bailing and ruining your score chain. It wouldn’t be so bad if flip and rolls weren’t such an essential factor when it comes to racking up points. They’re more effort than they’re worth and that’s just your bog standard variation – the thought or weaving one into a combo is almost unthinkable.
The more you play Infinite Air, the more you’ll start to unearth other inconsistencies buried beneath its snow swept surface. Board handling at speed will induce panic as you clumsily dash through trees and rock formations, fingers crossed for the duration of the descent. Grinding on rails can also be hit and miss, with the aforementioned confusion surrounding stick inputs and player angles always rearing its head.
Another thing that continued to irk me throughout was the points system. In some events you tackle the same jump multiple times, looking to outscore your opponents. Whenever I perfectly landed a trick that felt particularly skillful, I’d be shocked to see my score barely making it past 20 (out of a hundred point maximum). Then, on subsequent tries, simpler, less risky moves would somehow bag a higher rating.
Away from the singleplayer portion, there are options to hook up and shred with players from your friends list. Infinite Air also offers a fairly intuitive set of tools with which to create, upload, and share your own runs.
The more positive features in Infinite Air are somewhat overshadowed by core gameplay in need of refinement and a progress system that punishes players, restricting content based on skill. Sadly, it marks a sloppy start to the latest run of snowboarding games podium.
Version Tested: PS4