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Mark McMorris Infinite Air

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Sports
Publisher: Maximum Games
Developer: HB Studios
Release Date: Oct. 25, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review -'Mark McMorris Infinite Air'

by Brian Dumlao on Oct. 28, 2016 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Mark McMorris Infinite Air is the first open-world, physics-based snowboarding video game built in partnership and close collaboration with top snowboarder Mark McMorris.

platform had a good representative of the sport, whether it was 1080° Snowboarding, Amped, Cool Boarders or SSX. For PC players, the selection was rather slim, as you either chose Shaun White Snowboarding or Stoked: Big Air Edition, both of which were fine titles but not as memorable as the aforementioned ones. Like many extreme sports games, snowboarding soon fell out of favor, and as of this generation, the only snowboarding game left is Snow on the PC. Infinite Air with Mark McMorris is the latest attempt at bringing the sport back to gaming platforms, and the approach is different enough to make it intriguing.

The first thing you'll notice that's different about the game are the controls. The pre-release coverage has constantly hammered the idea that this is heavily inspired by EA's Skate, and that comparison is immediately noticeable in the tutorial. The left analog stick handles braking, carving and changing stances as well as riding exclusively on your board's tail or nose. The right stick handles nollies and ollies, and the triggers handle preloading for jumps when pulled together as well as jumping for spins when using either one separately. Combining the right analog stick directions with trigger pulls initiates different grabs, with each trigger feeling like individual hands grabbing the board while you're in the air.

Compared to almost any other snowboarding game, the learning curve for the controls in Infinite Air is very high. Even if you have already unlearned the traditional controls of most extreme sports games and committed Skate's style of controls to muscle memory, you'll still find yourself practicing with these controls for a while before you feel like you've got a handle on them. Part of that is due to the sensitivity of the left analog stick. Unless you're very practiced with your movements, you'll inadvertently spin or brake when you're trying to carve. It can feel like you're out of control unless you're just going straight. Early events are going to be very tough to overcome until you get this down, so don't expect to knock out lots of events without practice.

The other element that can make the controls hard to nail down is the lack of buttons being used. Despite modern controls having a healthy number of buttons, the game only uses the triggers in conjunction with the analog sticks. The shoulder buttons are practically untouched unless you want to reset your camera, a function that doesn't work all the time, and the face buttons are used for restarting your run or getting up from a fall. By packing in as many controls as possible into so few inputs, the whole thing can feel too unwieldy for some players. As an aside, those hoping to use the keyboard and mouse are out of luck, as Infinite Air only supports controllers.

In practice, the controls become more of a liability once you hit the slopes. Should you find yourself abruptly stopping, it's very difficult to rebuild that speed unless you're on a steep slope. Once you jump on a ramp, you can start spinning or flipping, but you have no control over the speed of the flips and spins, and you have no way of stopping or slowing down. Thus, good or perfect landings all come about due to luck alone, as most of your landings are guaranteed to be sloppy or end in a crash. Oddly, rails give you no chance to spin at all, so you can't add any flair to your grinds. The only thing going for you on this front is that unless you completely wipe out on a landing, you'll still be given some points for tricks.

Even if you've mastered the controls, you'll still find the game rife with a few more technical quirks. Respawning from a fall, in particular, ends up being the most egregious of these for multiple reasons. First, you can't get up from a fall unless you come to a complete stop or close to one. Depending on how far you fall or for how long, you could miss a few scoring opportunities. Getting up near a halfpipe or ramp at the wrong angle can mean you're stuck behind it for a while due to the lack of movement on flat lands and the fact that the respawn system doesn't compensate for this. That lack of compensation becomes worse when you crash on rocks and somehow respawn on top of them, creating an endless cycle of crashing. Then there's the camera, which can sometimes start pointing in the wrong direction or look at your character from the wrong angle. With no other way to correct it save for a camera reset button that only functions half of the time, you'll be tempted to reset your run anytime something goes wrong rather than try to compensate for it later.

Much like it did with The Golf Club, HB Studios seems to emphasize its course creator system to generate an infinite number of snowboarding locales. Luckily, the creation system is both robust and easy to work with. Mountain generation is a randomized affair, and that system is robust enough that you won't need to change anything else to have a fun run. You can, however, choose your powder density and raise or lower certain sections of snow, though the point-by-point system on doing this isn't completely intuitive or very precise. Expected things like kickers and rails and halfpipes are at your disposal, and everything in these categories is unlocked, so you have near-limitless creation options from the outset. It's the amount of space you can play with that makes this appealing. There's enough room on one mountain that you can use it as a template for many different kinds of runs, all without having to delete parts of your course to accommodate them all. This is also where you can create your own races or trick-based courses.

The main mode in Infinite Air is comprised of user-created content. Races, big air jumps, and trick runs are some of the modes where you can see what the community has cooked up. If you want to jump into something quickly, a daily challenge and a few limited time ones are also available. Interestingly, the game doesn't let you repeat the challenges once you complete them. After giving the course a rating and viewing the results, you'll start the whole thing again but as a free run with full access over every part of the mountain. You can effectively go wherever you want, and that includes calling on a chopper to drop you off at any spot on the mountain. The only way to restart a course is to escape to the main menu, go to the list of courses, and select the same one again, a needlessly long process if someone is merely trying to improve their standing in a user-created challenge.

Though the option to immediately retry the challenges is missing, it does reveal the game's true nature. Namely, Infinite Air is a snowboarding title that emphasizes exploration and enjoying the mountain over trying to beat records and times. You still get the chance to score points and explore the perfect line for tricks, but without set goals in place, you're given the freedom to ride however you see fit, either solo or in multiplayer. It sounds odd, but this otherwise directionless approach is refreshing because it makes the affair seems breezy and casual, which you don't see in many games at all. Whether the public at large will accept this approach is up for debate, but the developers should be applauded for trying a different approach.

For those more interested in structure, there is the trials mode. It feels much more in line with the old Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games in that you're given an event on a pre-made course and several objectives to complete. There are around eight tiers and over 100 challenges to tackle, all of which are made more difficult due to the aforementioned controls and other mechanics. The rewards for completing this are more pro riders or clothing and equipment for your rider. For the former, this is where you'll notice that the roster of pros is very tiny compared to other extreme sports titles. There are no discernable stats to differentiate them, so they're fairly interchangeable with the user-created riders, save for their unique gear and visible faces. For the latter, the extra equipment gained is just cosmetic, though a good chunk of it can be unlocked before it becomes usable. Compared to the other modes, this feels like an afterthought, but it gives players something to look forward to if they tire of the user-created content.

Graphically, Infinite Air shows flashes of brilliance but is otherwise underwhelming. The mountain and the vistas look fantastic, while the snow deformation that occurs when you ride looks very good, even if it seems like it cuts through the powder a little too easily. Little details are great, like clothing whipping around in the wind, and the same can be said for seeing the board bend due to weight distribution. On the other hand, standing still shows that snow starts to warp under your pressure like water, bouncing up and down even though it doesn't affect you. Shadow detail is pretty flaky, as it's nothing but blobs for the most part, but the snap to more detailed versions occurs at a rather close distance. More prevalent is the constant pop-up happening to the trees. Like the shadows, the more detailed version suddenly appears at close distances, but the various stages of detail for each tree make it much more jarring even if you're going at top speeds.

Things fare better in the sound area, especially with the music. The selection of tracks is fine, as it ranges from rock to EDM, but it plays them like a typical DJ would. There are no pauses, as the tracks often cross-fade into one another, so the soundtrack feels smooth even as the genres change. The effects are good overall, with the rush of wind sometimes chiming in every now and then to give you a better sense of speed. The only voice you'll hear in the game is the narrator, who ranges from pretty enthusiastic in the tutorial to cheesy while in the helicopter as he tries to recite one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's famous lines.

Infinite Air with Mark McMorris can be best described as unpolished promise. The idea of a whole game centered around casual riding is pretty brilliant, the presence of a decent amount of user content this early, and a robust means of generating the content equates to a game that can seem infinitely replayable. Having said that, the learning curve for the controls can be too high for some, while others will not be happy about the little quirks that can quickly become big annoyances. Considering the small amount of snowboarding games on the market, it may be tempting to give this a shot despite its grievances, but only if it's on sale and not at the current $50 price point.

Score: 6.0/10

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