Reviewed: December 2, 2004
Released: October 31, 2004
Gathering of Developers AKA Gathering is no stranger to the business simulation genre with a popular proven series in Railroad Tycoon. Now, as if the market were crying out for it, Cat Daddy Games has developed Ski Resort Extreme. Biz sims are nothing new. Take a look at the local software store and youíll see boxes of games encouraging you to become a tycoon at just about any occupation you can imagine; Restaurants, pizza joints, railroads, island resorts, amusement parks, the list goes on and on.
Ski Resort Extreme follows in the established tradition of those games by putting you in charge of a mountain park of your design. The gameís premise being that our business acumen - or lack thereof - will alone determine whether it becomes a winter wonderland or a frosty failure.
Having played games like this in various guises - the most notable being the legendary SimCity series, the less lauded but rather charming SimTower, as well as Wil Wrightís other blockbuster, The Sims - I was undaunted by the task of running a successful ski resort despite knowing NOTHING about the industry. Seriously, skiing and me go together like milk and Liquid-Plumber, but being a reviewer, I pressed on for the good of the people.
Like the aforementioned sim titles, the interface can be a blessing or a burden. Itís a case of what do I need to know versus what do I want to see onscreen. Itís one thing to have the various menus open and available at my fingertips, but they can easily overcrowd the screen, occluding the best reason to play such a game: the scenery. Now while most of the menus are collapsible, it seems like Cat Daddy Games wouldíve done better to trim down the clunkiness of them, or at least give an opacity option to mitigate their obscuring effect (i.e. make them transparent so you can see stuff behind them).
The main portion of the game is, again, like other sim titles before it. You must build a ski resort, with up to eighty different buildings or objects (extremity is apparently optional), that brings in the masses and keeps them happy enough to stick around, making you rich enough to presumably look into that pizza tycoon business youíve had your eye on. The usual pitfalls apply in the struggle to achieve that perfect balance between resources and expenditures in the effort to satisfy your rather whiny customers.
Whereas typical games have your character build up his/her stats in a manner that makes them better able to deal with progressively craftier foes, the onus is on you and your natural business savvy. If you know nothing about skiing, snowboarding or resorts, chances are you might not do as well as someone who does, or so the theory goes. But thatís where Ski Resort Extreme goes a bit awry. Seemingly in their effort to make a fun game for casual PC gamers who happen to like skiing, snowboarding or resorts, Cat Daddy soft-balled the challenge.
Itís actually a lot easier to ďwinĒ this game than Iíve previously experienced with other sim games Ė especially the gold standard of SimCity (I NEVER could beat that game! ARGGH!). If you start running out of money, and customers start getting restless, you can always sell some of your assets (say, a skating rink that no one seems to be using) and install exactly what they want. If you really want a challenge, youíre better off with the actual Challenge mode as opposed to the feet-wetting mode of Instant Action where you start with a nice chunk of change and an open mountaintop. Challenge mode presents the more ambitious players with a facility on the brink of financial doomsday and placing you in the role of a Trump-style hero. Bad hair is optional.
Strangely, when compared to successful models like SimCity, this game didnít offer any interesting diversions like avalanches or lost skiers to be found by eager Saint Bernards with little cartoony barrels of whiskey on their collars. The game couldíve used such a whimsical touch to ease the tedium that sets in after a couple of hours in what couldíve been an otherwise pleasant distraction.
It would behoove me to mention that I had some load issues when the game was starting. My test PC isnít the top of the line or anything but well above the minimum specs listed on the box. However, once the game finally began, everything seemed to run smoothly.
This game wonít win any prizes for graphic brilliance. Iím not asking for Half-Life 2ís engine, but I must say that for what it is, the game is actually Ė uh-oh, here it goes, Iím gonna say it Ė cute. Yeah, I said cute. The camera allows for a surprising amount of flexibility in overlooking your creation with a nice zoom that takes you from birdís eye to skierís eye without problems.
Again, up close, you wonít be bowled over by the character models or anything, but at the birdís eye view you can see a lot of nice touches in animation that really make the resort look alive. And at night, with lights aglow against the pale beauty of the snow-covered peaks, itís actually rather charming, like a scene on the cutting room floor of that Polar Express movie my girlfriend is plotting to drag me to, Iím sure.
A disturbing trend in game design from the smaller developers is the anemic sonic environments. True, in sim titles, you donít expect 5.1 surround sound or anything on the level of a cinematic FPS, but thatís hardly an excuse to skimp. In Ski Resort Extreme ambient sounds are at a minimum, and while you can hear some things youíd expect, you donít hear quite a few others. I donít want to beat a dead horse, but any game in this stage of the genreís life cycle will inevitably be compared to the greats of old.
Even in a game like SimTower, I remember hearing the clicking of keyboards in offices, the chiming of elevator bells, the humming of cleaning crewsí vacuum cleaners, etc. And while there was no music in that game, the developers saw fit to put some in Ski Resort Extreme to dull effect. To be honest, if the option exists in games like this, I turn off the music anyway, but it all seems indicative of the sound department being treated as an afterthought.
Typically, esoteric games like this are targeted at an audience that will undoubtedly appreciate the specifics of it. Ergo, replayability is high if the gaming experience is true to the actual experience. While the challenges arenít too imposing, the overall effect of starting a resort, making it flourish, adding elements of your choosing, and seeing the positive responses of patrons when you do things right by them is nice.
While multiplayer may not work well in this situation (like, what, dueling accountants?), I do think that an online component offering new expansions of buildings or objects over time would have added to the replayability.
Ski Resort Extreme is yet another title in a long line of a seemingly limitless genre. And itís reasonably enjoyable, but itís just not enough to release a game with the appropriate labels, fields, and numbers changed to fit the industry flavor of the month. Because of the length and breadth of such an established genre, and the wealth of quality titles that helped to define it, you have to at least cover all of the bases if not adding some new ones.
Because Ski Resort Extreme couldnít even prove to be ďextremeĒ, itís hard to recommend it unless youíre either an ambitious business administrator who wants to sharpen their skills, a ski/snowboarding buff, or both.