Thanks to games like SSX, developers have taken a renewed interest in snowboarding games, exploring ways to take the basic mechanics of the sport 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 a basic snowboarding trick system for the purpose of unlocking hidden items. But Dark Summit also incorporates a storyline and an objective-oriented system like the one 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 new challenges. The new GameCube version of Dark Summit is essentially similar to the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions that came before it. The GameCube version doesn't have quite as much slowdown as the others, though it still has its share of problems.
The most apparent difference between past snowboarding games and Dark Summit is the presence of an actual storyline. While it's shallow compared with the storyline of a typical story-driven game, Dark Summit's is still successful in driving the gameplay along. Essentially, Mount Garrick is the Area 51 of the snowboarding world, and the military has taken over the mountain for a reason you'll later discover 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. Naturally, you'll have to infiltrate these areas and uncover any secrets that may lie within them. Dark Summit's setting may not be completely original, but it serves the purpose of justifying 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 streams 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 accept or decline. If you accept a challenge, then you cannot undertake another challenge until the present one is either accomplished or failed. 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 perform 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 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 concealed to create a challenge simply out of finding them, but there are some challenge points that are so hidden that it'll seem like you've exhausted every possible avenue before you actually stumble upon them by accident. That's not to say that Dark Summit's track design is poor, but you can't help but think that portions of them were thrown together haphazardly. This is especially evident when you happen to fall into an occasional toxic sludge pit that doesn't reset your boarder back on the main part of the course, which is what it's supposed to do.
There are four tracks total in Dark Summit. That may not sound like a lot, but 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 a considerable amount of time on the same track before you reach the end. Other than the trees of the surrounding forest, plenty of objects populate these tracks. 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 outfits and snowboards for the four snowboarders--three of which are the unlockable operatives. The game's 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 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 any sort of noise or 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 start going 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 about it is overly spectacular--and the graphics are no exception. 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 look about the same as those found in other snowboarding games, like SSX. You'll notice some frame rate problems that frequently crop up 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 an issue when you're trying to navigate through smaller areas filled with plenty of obstacles. For what it's worth, the game's split-screen multiplayer modes--which generally run at a lower frame rate to begin with--don't quite have as many problems with frame rate.
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, but the retro portion of the soundtrack really bogs it down. The rest of the game's audio effects are suitable, though not especially noteworthy.
The GameCube version of Dark Summit is a good snowboarding game that has a small list of minor problems. The objective-based system works well within this particular environment, the storyline is successful in what it sets out to do, and the trick system is easy to get into. You might have to take some time to get adjusted to the sometimes touchy collision detection and the occasional frame rate drop, but these problems aren't drastic enough to completely mar an otherwise solid gaming experience.