Snowboarding games in the past decade have been very few and far in-between. Yes, we’ve seen EA reboot SSX (yet still no mention of a new one this generation), and we’ve also seen Ubisoft attempt it with its mediocre Shaun White’s Snowboarding. Developer HB Studios, known for their golf simulator title, The Golf Club, is giving the much needed snowboarding genre a try with their latest title, Mark McMorris’ Infinite Air. Is this the definitive snowboarding simulator?
Infinite Air is not your SSX-style snowboarding game, so let’s clear that up right away. Instead, HB Studios aimed to make a physics-based snowboard simulation game. Essentially, it’s the “Skate” of snowboarding games…and that’s a good thing. Infinite Air has players immediately start with a tutorial to get a feel of the control scheme. It starts simple and gets more advanced as that progresses, from simply learning how to turn, to how to do flips. It is a necessary tutorial to have since the controls are all physics-based. Now you may see some comparisons to Skate being made with this game, and again, that’s because this legitimately aims to set that precedent…but with snowboarding. Controlling the boarder feels responsive and fairly smooth, giving a weight and feel that’s authentic to snowboarding.
Infinite Air has you partake in Circuits as the main campaign mode. This consists of four varied events across six tiers. Each event has five objectives that can be completed, whether it be to score a set number of points, pulling off a specific trick, placing 1st in an event, earning a certain grade during a competition, etc. It keeps each event fresh and will test your skills in a variety of areas. Naturally, as you progress up to each tier, the challenges will increase in difficulty. There are different style events as well, whether it be slopestyle, big air, backcountry, etc. Each event style does change up the flow and really lends to keeping things fresh and varied. The final event of each tier has you going up against another famed snowboarder, those of whom can be unlocked.
There are several big name snowboarders to be found here. However, if none of the characters are to your liking, you can create your own character. While the customization isn’t enormously in-depth, there’s plenty of clothing types and accessories to choose from. Not all of these customization items are unlocked from the beginning. You unlock more by completing more challenges in the Circuit mode.
The controls will certainly take time to get a feel for. For example, jumping in this game won’t be a simple button-press. You will have to emulate the jump using the right-analog stick by holding down and then pushing up, or vice-versa (depending if you want to ollie or nollie). Granted, you can also hold down both L2 & R2 simultaneously and release to jump. Timing is important too, because you can’t pre-wind your jump early or too late if you want to get the most air. You can control spins using the L2 & R2 buttons (or LT/RT on X1) and like jumping, you’ll need to time your pre-wind just right to get the most spin. You’ll control the direction of the flips and spins, as well as where to grab the board with both analog sticks. Grabbing the board utilizes the L2/R2 buttons as well. Grinding rails occurs naturally and automatically, dependent on how you land on the rail itself. Is this sounding like Skate’s trick system at all? Again, not to say it’s copying directly from it, but rather incorporating it in similar fashion. After all, it’s an entirely physics-based game, as Skate was. Landing tricks will net you various statuses as well: Buttcheck, Sloppy, Ok, and Clean. Honestly, the trick system is very challenging to grasp at first and will take a solid amount of time. However, stick with it for a while and you’ll start pulling off some sick tricks. There’s an immensely gratifying feeling pulling off a 2160 roast beef flip (that’s a legit trick name apparently) while getting some crazy air.
Now one of the biggest features that sets Mark McMorris Infinite Air apart from its competition this year (Snow and Steep) is the World Editor mode. This lets you create an entire mountain to your liking. This where things get really impressive. There are roughly 100 set pieces to place on the mountain. You’ll fly the chopper around the mountain, finding spots to tweak to your liking. You can sculpt the snow, whether you want to just smooth it out or grade it. There are a variety of ramps, rails/jibs, buildings, nature and other objects you can utilize. You can scale objects, adjust the height and tilt of them, snap them to the mountain (or have them float above ground if you’d like), and rotate them to any degree. You can even use a ruler tool that gives you an in-depth breakdown of distance, angle degree, width, etc. It has an intricate degree of depth for sure, and one that sets a standard in this genre. Furthermore, you can create your own runs on the mountain for others to try out. This is truly a fully fleshed-out mode. Publishing a mountain gives players an entire mountain of your creation to explore, as well as runs to tackle. There’s even leaderboards for your runs, adding some competition and activity to your mountain. It’s easy to lose hours upon hours creating a mountain that lives up to your imagination.
Additionally, the game does have a traditional multiplayer mode known as Live Ride. This has you inviting your friends onto the mountain to shred together. Unfortunately, during the time of our review, we were not able to test this feature out properly. There is also no split-screen multiplayer support.
The game does have a few issues that slightly takes away from the gameplay experience. First off, when you bail and “get up”, the screen refreshes with you getting back on your board. As opposed to getting you back on track, it literally respawns you right where you bailed. The issue with this is if you collided with the wrong side of a ramp or in between two objects, you will find yourself struggling to get out of that spot. The other issue is a few times I found myself facing the uphill direction when respawning. When this happens, it can be pretty frustrating. However, it doesn’t heavily hurt the overall gameplay experience, and is something that can honestly be patched.
Infinite Air’s visuals are quite nice and crisp. Environments have a clean, sharp look to them, with nice looking textures. Lighting effects here are solid, but there are some jagged-looking shadow effects on the snow at times. The snow looks great overall, with backcountry snow deforming as you shred through it and snow park graded snow being more compact. Riders animate smoothly as well, providing very believable animations whether carving, spinning, grabbing, or bailing. Since the environment generates, you will notice trees in the far distance popping up. The game does run at 30 fps, but there were a few instances where it dropped to the low 20s. It didn’t impact the control input much, but did take away from visual presentation a bit when that occurred. Interestingly, the developer allowed players to tweak visual settings such as draw distance effect, texture quality, etc. Although, even switching all the settings either to off or low didn’t seem to boost game performance. Despite some technical performance hiccups, Infinite Air is still a nice looking game without question.
The audio presentation is certainly strong in Infinite Air. The sound of the wind as you speed down the mountain, the snow being carved, the board landing after getting some big air…it all sounds like you’re on the mountain yourself. When you get air, the music becomes more subtle to give a more dynamic feel. Even bailing has the music take a subtlety with an airy tone. The soundtrack definitely does a great job keeping you in the experience. Consisting of a mix of rock and techno music, it’s a very adequate selection of tunes that nails the game’s pacing. All-in-all, the audio department is very well done and keeps you drawn into the experience.
Replay Value: 4/5
Infinite Air’s title has the word “infinite” in there to convey the sense of seeing endless things on the mountain. Whether it be your creations, other’s creations or just seeing what the game procedurally generates before editing a mountain. While the game’s online mode seems to rely on inviting a friend to your mountain, and no public matchmaking, this limits you a bit in this aspect. Despite that though, between the game’s Circuit mode, browsing runs others make, tackling Daily Challenges, or creating sweet mountains, there is plenty here to keep you coming back for quite some time.
Overall Score: 7.5 out of 10
Mark McMorris Infinite Air clearly aims to be the Skate of snowboarding games, and certainly does a great job achieving that. What’s here is a snowboarding simulator that is very skill-based and challenging, but incredibly engaging to keep coming back to. Despite a few technical qualms, this is a much needed snowboarding game this generation. Snowboarding fanatics, as well as fans of Skate, will definitely want to give this a go. With the great amount of content, challenging yet gratifying trick system, and amazing World Editor, this is certainly a mountain worth shredding on. Hands-down, this is snowboarding’s answer to Skate.
+ Skill-based, realistic trick system
+ Plenty of variety
+ Appealing visuals
+ Strong audio
+ World Editor is sublime
– Occasional framerate dips
– Respawning is wonky
– Multiplayer doesn’t have public matchmaking
A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Mark McMorris Infinite Air! Copy reviewed on PS4.
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