Thanks to games like SSX, developers have taken an invigorated interest in snowboarding games, exploring ways to take the basic snowboarding recipe in new and interesting directions. THQ and the development team at Radical Entertainment have attempted exactly that with Dark Summit, a snowboarding game that still relies heavily on the basic snowboarding trick system for the purpose of unlocking additional items but also incorporates a storyline and an objective-oriented system similar to the one found in the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series. Ultimately, this trek into uncharted territory produces a fun experience that will constantly keep you trying to complete challenges. However, the Xbox version of Dark Summit suffers from a few problems--including some intermittent slowdown--that will undoubtedly lead to unnecessary bouts of frustration.
The most apparent difference between past snowboarding games and Dark Summit is the existence of a storyline, and while it's certainly shallow in comparison with most other narratives, the storyline is still successful in driving the gameplay. Essentially, Mount Garrick is the Area 51 of the snowboarding world, and the military has taken over the mountain for a reason explained later in the game. However, the mountain is still regularly used as a ski resort, so the security force--headed by Chief O'Leary--has to keep skiers and snowboarders from entering any parts of Mount Garrick that are off limits. Of course, you have to infiltrate these areas and uncover any secrets that may lie within them. Again, it's pretty shallow, but it serves its purpose of explaining why this particular mountain looks so odd and why security forces are constantly hounding you.
The storyline also provides ample justification for Dark Summit's objective system. During your run down any of the four enormous tracks, you'll see a series of phone-booth-like structures with large satellites beaming a stream of light. It's in these structures that you'll make contact with a mole inside Chief O'Leary's security force, and he'll give you a challenge that you can either decline or accept. If you accept the challenge, then you cannot undertake another challenge until the present one is failed or completed. These challenges range in difficulty and, for the most part, are all quite different from each other. One challenge requires you to simply avoid making contact with the ski patrol, which will give chase down the mountain. In another challenge, you might have to follow another snowboarding operative to the location of a bomb and destroy it before it detonates. Other missions, particularly earlier ones, are more trick-oriented and require you to do various types of grinds, flips, or grabs. Unquestionably, some of these challenges can be frustrating, and there are some challenges that require more than a few attempts to complete, but thankfully, Dark Summit includes a feature that lets you restart a specific challenge without traveling back down the mountain to the same challenge structure. When you complete a challenge, you earn points that are accumulated toward opening another track on Mount Garrick.
There are a few problems with Dark Summit's challenge system, some of which are caused by Dark Summit's large branching tracks. The objectives themselves are occasionally problematic because, at times, it's not entirely obvious where the objective is. An example of this occurs early on when the mole asks you to leap over a large snowplow, but you won't find the plow unless you do a little exploring--which isn't as easy as it sounds since there are so many hidden areas in Dark Summit's tracks. Another problem is the location of the challenge points. Obviously, the location of some challenge points have been deliberately selected to provide a challenge in itself, but there are some challenge points that are so hidden that it'll seem like you've exhausted every possible avenue before you actually find it by accident. That's not to say Dark Summit's track design is poor, but you can't help but think that portions of them were thrown together haphazardly.
There are four tracks in Dark Summit. All these tracks are massive and require a few minutes just to go straight from the top to the bottom. When you factor in exploration and the amount of time it takes to complete challenges, you can easily spend several minutes on the same track before you reach the end. Other than the trees of the surrounding forest, these tracks are populated with plenty of objects. In fact, some of those obstacles are necessary for completing challenges, gaining entrance into shielded areas, or pulling off complicated grind combinations. But again, the tracks are so large and have so many different paths that it can be difficult to find challenge areas or other operatives within a reasonable amount of time.
Fortunately, if you aren't able to find those last series of challenge areas, you can still execute tricks to open up new clothes and snowboards for the four snowboarders--three of which are the unlockable operatives. The three-button trick system is easy to use, and though it takes some time to get accustomed to the close placement of the buttons on the Xbox controller, newcomers to the extreme sports genre should have no problem executing some nice tricks early on. You'll be able to execute grinds, manuals, and an assortment of grabs, and you can switch between these tricks by flipping in different directions. Special tricks are executed through different button combinations, and additional special tricks can be unlocked by finding a small glowing item out on the track. Grinds tend to be a little more problematic than other tricks because of the occasionally awkward camera angle, as well as the fact that there's no substantial indication--like a noise or a visual cue--that you've successfully landed the grind.
In general, Dark Summit's control is responsive. However, after colliding with an object, your snowboarder tends to lose orientation and won't respond properly--he'll even occasionally go in the wrong direction. Additionally, executing tricks from a gap could be a little looser, as a seemingly mistimed jump makes it difficult to execute even the most basic trick. Otherwise, you should have no problems making smooth cuts through the snow and navigating through any objects on the landscape.
If there seems to be a theme forming here, it's that Dark Summit has many good features, but nothing overly spectacular--and the graphics are no different. While the environments are large and there are plenty of objects covering the terrain, there's nothing that would really make you stand up and take notice of Dark Summit's visuals. Even the snowboarder models are on par with those found in other snowboarding games like SSX. However, the Xbox version tends to have more frame rate problems than its PS2 counterpart. The frame rate trouble frequently appears near the beginning of some courses, during collisions, and while executing tricks through the air. It's not so horrible that it dramatically affects gameplay, but it becomes a problem when you're trying to navigate through smaller areas filled with plenty of obstacles. The split-screen multiplayer modes are largely unaffected by these frame rate problems.
Dark Summit's weakest area is its music. While there are some tunes that fit well with the pace of the game, the majority of the soundtrack doesn't really complement the game that well. It seems the development team was going for a retro-techno sound, and the retro portion of the soundtrack really bogs it down.
Overall, the Xbox version Dark Summit is a good game that has a few problems. The objective-based system works well within this particular environment, the storyline--though incredibly mediocre--is successful in what it sets out to do, and the trick system is easy to get into. The problems with frame rate, while unfortunate, aren't substantial enough to completely ruin the experience, but it shows that a few more weeks were needed to optimize the game for the Xbox.