Bonus Rounds are short, 5-minute musings on quirky titles that either end up hidden down the back of the sofa, or lost among the endless pile of Steam games and Bundles you own, but have never got around to playing. These could be reviews of PC, iOS or console games, Early Access titles, games made as part of a Game Jam, and so on. They’ll predominantly be games made by indie developers, and usually (but not always) published on a Sunday or Monday morning.
Steam Early Access: to some, it means getting in at the grass roots and helping a game grow, whilst supporting the developers. To others, it’s an unnecessary cash-grab that leaves the customer at the mercy of fraudulent developers – with little or no sympathy from the retailer.
Amidst this storm of opinion enters SNOW – a game released to Early Access well over a year ago, but with the added stigma of being a free-to-play game on release. This fact alone has been a major turn-off for many looking to support it. Compounding things, the odd decision to release two pricing structures – one allowing multiplayer support and one just for single player, meant that SNOW fell victim to an avalanche of negative opinion years before its official launch – the time when the game leaves the realm of Early Access and joins the thousands of games on Steam which proudly proclaim themselves to be a complete experience.
I believe Early Access has to be entered into responsibly. Proper research needs to be done on the part of consumer, so that they understand what they are purchasing and to ensure the pedigree of developer. Equally though, a lot more needs to be done to protect consumers against blatant scams and for me, game development should be at least 50% complete before it’s allowed to be sold to the public. It’s important then to view each title individually, and judge it not by how it has been released, but by the pace and quality of its progress, as well as whether or not development promises have been kept.
SNOW describes itself as being “the only free-to-play, open world, winter sports game”. According to Steam, I purchased SNOW during December 2013 – almost a year and a half ago. I remember being slightly drunk at the time, but reading enough positives about it that I couldn’t resist taking the plunge. At that time there was barely a game to play: virtually no options, no customization features, no multiplayer, most of the menu graphics didn’t work, and, on the forums there were widespread issues with the game not loading at all. There wasn’t even any sound yet. Despite all of these negatives, it was evident at that early stage that Poppermost Productions’ core idea was not only solid, but with their obvious mastery of the latest version of Crytek’s CryENGINE 3, they were onto something special.
There’s no doubting that whether you’re running a monster PC, or one less powerful, SNOW looks absolutely gorgeous. Poppermost has created a vast, amazing open-world mountain to explore, race and pull tricks on. Over the many months of development, this has been refined further, with areas being fleshed out and mountain zones named to keep track of exactly where you are on the slope. Alongside Sialia – the developer’s name for the single mountain upon which all of the game’s action takes place – several other gaming areas have been added to coincide with various events (Fochi 2014, for example), all of which add to what is now an impressive package. There’s clearly still plenty of work to be done in the presentation department, as some menu options still don’t show up correctly; and there’s still noticeable ski-clipping and texture popup during the game. But Poppermost has clearly worked hard since those early days to build and refine the experience, working to get the game closer to their initial promises.
Gaming content has grown quickly since its inception, including the highly anticipated addition of multiplayer. Alongside the standard free-ride mode, there are now seven events to compete in – spanning all four areas. These range from standard time trials (with or without checkpoints) to point-based, trick-driven challenges. Multiplayer has been added, and feedback from players on the Steam forum suggests that the community thinks it’s working fairly well. Sound effects and music have also been added, although again a little more attention is needed as at the moment, it all sounds a little quiet.
SNOW has made good headway with its customization tools, but there’s still quite a distance to go before they come close to what is promised. There’s currently no way of altering any physical aspect of the player character yet, nor the option of changing gender (hopefully this will be added before release). Personalization instead comes in the form of equipment, ranging from goggles to jackets and everything inbetween. And as SNOW will be free-to-play on release, there is the option of using real-world money to purchase these goods.
It’s always difficult to recommend whether or not you should take the risk of buying into an Early Access game, as there’s always a risk – regardless of how far into development a game is. All I can say with confidence is that SNOW is definitely not another Starforge (another drunken purchase that unfortunately I do regret making).
The Poppermost team are passionate and active and has constantly listened to their community, whilst continuing to make excellent progress. SNOW is currently in closed beta, and for the small asking price, there’s no better time to take to the slopes and become part of what could be one this year’s sleeper hits. It’s not quite there yet, but it’s well on its way.