The sense of disappointment in alpine skier Bode Miller's performance at Turin, Italy is becoming one of the most memorable points of the 2006 Winter Olympics for many American fans. Confidence in Miller was extremely high leading up to the winter games, and those that followed them will recall a bombardment of high-profile endorsement deals. In addition to credit card companies and shoe manufacturers, one of the dotted lines Miller put his ink to belonged to video game publisher Valcon, which in turn shipped Bode Miller Alpine Skiing just before Miller started partying and socializing on an Olympic level. Even if he had brought home the gold, it wouldn't have changed the fact that his skiing game is a shallow cash-in on athletic idolatry.
Unlike Jonny Moseley's Mad Trix, the last dedicated skiing game to garner any attention, Bode Miller Alpine Skiing features no trick systems, exotic locales, or preposterous atmospheric conditions. Instead, it offers a very straight-laced take on the World Cup, which consists of four different disciplines--downhill, slalom, giant slalom, and super-g. All four events ultimately boil down to moving through gates as you speed down the hill, though course layout and gate placement can make a big difference in how you approach the different events. The incredible discipline, breakneck speed, and naked sense of danger that define the tone of real-life alpine skiing could've made this a really intense experience, but the gameplay is stripped so bare that all of that potential goes to waste.
An oscillating power meter will determine how quickly you'll come out of the gate, and you can use the circle button to perform small hops, which can be of occasional use during some especially tight slalom turns. The rest of the time, though, you'll be gently rocking the left analog stick back and forth to control your skier's direction. That's it. Leaning up or down on the stick doesn't even have an effect on your skier's stance. The controls are responsive enough, and it can keep your attention as you figure out how to approach the different event types, but once you learn the rhythms, the game loses any sense of challenge, and then the monotony sets in.
It doesn't help that the various locales you'll ski at, which range from Korea to Austria, are virtually indistinguishable fields of snow, trees, and colored plastic netting. The skiers themselves don't sport an incredible amount of detail, but they do animate rather nicely, naturally shifting their weight and haphazardly tilting their poles out as they take sharp turns and tucking in for the long straightaways. The skis don't carve into the snow very convincingly, though, and the snow itself has a grainy quality to it that makes it look a little more like sand.
There are a few different ways to experience the shallow monotony of Bode Miller Alpine Skiing, though the differences are minor. The quick start and practice modes are pretty superfluous, and the arcade mode lets you participate in a one-off Alpine Cup challenge or you can build your own. The career mode is predictably where the action's at. Here you can create your custom skier--though the customization options are brutally limited to nationality, a few different faces to choose from, and the skier's name--and then head out on tour. You can buy performance-enhancing gear at a pretty granular level, and in a move that World Cup officials likely frown upon, you can wager on your upcoming events. You also have the ability to choose your trainer and wax master, the latter of whom has the prestigious job of creating almost alchemic tinctures of wax to help minimize friction between your skis and the snow. Your pocketbook will decide which trainer and wax master to hire, since their abilities correlate pretty consistently with how much money they want. Though the training is always done automatically whether you even choose a trainer or not, you can opt to create your own wax mix by blending more than a dozen distinct types of waxes, a glimpse of depth that is completely absent in the rest of the game. And, in one of the rare moments that the game actually exhibits any sense of personality, each trainer and wax master is paired with a really goofy headshot and some mildly amusing biographies.
The game also features commentary during the events from Jeff Jones and Wolf Jackson, who bring some of the most sedate and uninformative commentary in just about any video game. Wolf, a former alpine skier whose role is, at least in theory, to provide some color commentary, proves especially bland, and rather than embellishing upon or debating with the points made by Jeff Jones, he'll often follow up with an "uh-huh" or "yup." The commentary is sadly the most prominent feature in the game's minimal sound design.
Despite its inherently mercenary qualities, Bode Miller Alpine Skiing is pretty inoffensive and largely irrelevant to anyone who isn't a devout follower of professional alpine skiing. Even if you fall into that rarified category, approaching this game with anything more than the most modest of expectations will inevitably lead to disappointment.