One of the key selling points of Polaris SnoCross is its retail price of less than $20. The first thought that will invariably pop into your mind after hearing that is, "Finally! An affordable game!" This thought will be quickly followed by the slightly more cynical, "If the game were any good, wouldn't they try to charge more for it?" Well, the second thought proves correct. With this game, you get what you pay for: passable gameplay and graphics but far too little bang for the buck.
This title features ten tracks and 16 sleds, which you can unlock as you complete the tournament mode - the game's meat and potatoes. Rounding out the features are a single-event mode that offers tracks unlocked in the tournament and an instant-action mode that picks a random track and snowmobile.
The gameplay blueprint is as simple as pie: You win races and do preprogrammed tricks (the game offers 16 tricks, which have to be found in the instruction manual and/or through trial and error). In tournament mode, as players progress they unlock more tracks and snowmobiles. By doing tricks and winning races, you earn wrenches to improve your snowmobiles' statistics.
Visually, the game proves to be a pleasant surprise. Admittedly, with any PlayStation racing title you'll see some polygon pop-up, but it isn't really noticeable with this title. The gameplay moves at breakneck speed, especially after you unlock some of the beefed-up snowmobiles. At these high speeds, the fluid frame rates and smooth, responsive controls really deliver that "whoosh" feeling of flying through the snow at death-upon-impact velocity. Effects such as snow and night racing look a little on the plain side, but they do the job visually. Aside from the occasional AI/graphics glitch (such as opponents being stuck in midair or banging their sleds against an immovable fence), the game's looks and control [QUERY: controls?]are both solid. In addition, the techno background sounds and minimal audio effects prove generic but at least adequate.
The game's track designs prove to be another worthwhile highlight, especially with the cross-country courses. The tracks have a good deal of ramps to attempt tricks from as well as a great deal of branching paths and hidden shortcuts (such as busting through doors or squeezing through narrow gaps). In the latter stages of the game, these shortcuts are essential to finishing first. In addition, the game offers plenty of obstacles to mow down: fences, signs, boxes, etc. Unfortunately, there are no bonus points awarded for finding/destroying these objects, a feature that might have added replay value.
Two major flaws really drag the game down. First off, it's possible to beat the tournament mode in a single evening - by unlocking all tracks and sleds. Since the game lets you upgrade your sleds after repeated play, any semblance of challenge gets thrown out the window once you unlock the 2001 and the top-secret concept sleds. Secondly, the game's collision system between objects (such as two snowmobilers) is downright goofy. In some cases, you can be in first place, but then a driver who bumps into you from behind sends you flying. The resulting crash can easily move you from first to fourth in a heartbeat. In other cases, computer opponents can literally bump you into a wall - but when you try to do the same to get revenge, you wind up wiping out instead. It seems that upgrading the snowmobiles' stability attribute moderates this problem somewhat, but in essence, these seemingly random collision effects will prove frustrating and cheap - and you'll just have to deal with it.
Most people would rather pay $40 for a more polished, fleshed-out, and challenging version of this title, because it does have potential, especially in a genre with so few entries. For snowmobile fans with a little extra cash to burn, Polaris SnoCross proves to be a rather entertaining diversion as long as you can accept its odd collision glitches. But buyers beware: With a $20 price tag and minimal gameplay challenge, the racing fun might end all too quickly.