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Skiing Racing 99 (PC) Review

Background Info

Skiing is one sport which has been mostly ignored by the PC gaming industry. Aside from the little gamelet included in Windows 3.1, Skifree, I can't think of any title featuring this popular activity. Last year, Sierra Sports brought us Ski Racing, and it was not very well received - in fact, it was solidly panned by many. I didn't get a chance to try the first release, but as a Colorado native who has spent many weekends on the slopes, I was eager to give Skiing 99 a shot. Here's what I found.

Presentation/Graphics : 55
In a word - unimpressive. The menu screens are nice looking enough, but the in-game graphics are pretty primitive, not something I expect in late 1998. The skiers are ugly in any of the assorted uniforms, the snow spray isn't real good, and even with draw distance at the maximum it's hard to see very far down the hill. One exception is the backgrounds, nice mountains and skies - too bad it doesn't add much to the overall effect. All in all, just looking at the game doesn't bode well for the rest...

Presentation/Audio : 85
Another bright spot for Skiing 99 is in the audio department. The music is pretty good, and the sounds of skis cutting through snow are well done. The crowd sounds, complete with ringing cowbells, are well done and appropriately placed. I did, however, get a little tired of hearing Picabo Street say "That's gonna leave a mark" or "Sucks to be you!" after I crashed. Seriously, a little humor probably helped me enjoy this game to the extent that I did - I really can't lodge any complaints in this department.

Interface/Options : 85
Overall, a pretty good effort here. All menus are mouse-driven, highly visible, and easy to navigate. The only real problem I have is burying the player setup menu inside the race menu - not very intuitive. Selections for Hot Dog (or free skiing), Pro Training (a practice mode with audio hints and tips), Single Player, Multiplayer (hot seat only, but a patch should be on the way), a VCR to replay saved replays, Options, and a link to the Skiing 99 website(which doesn't work) are available. This is probably the strongest feature of Skiing 99.

Gameplay : 70
Frustration set in really fast on this one. There, I've said it and feel much better now. Once you've set your control and graphics options, picked out your ski suit and equipment, gotten to the mountain of your choice, and stepped into the bindings, prepare to be humbled. I honestly had a much easier time learning real skiing than I had with this game. Subpar control and the inability to see very far ahead may have a lot to do with it, but Skiing 99 is almost ridiculously hard to do well in. I love the idea, but it just doesn't seem accessible to the average guy.

Enough whining - here are the good, and not so good, things I noted:

Event and mountain choices are good - all four alpine events (Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super G, and Downhill) are represented, and some world-class mountains can be found. Locations for competitive events are modeled on 6 real world resorts, including Aspen, Garmisch, and Val d'Isere. You can ski one event on one mountain, or all four on every mountain in a full season. There is also a Hot Dog mode, which allows free skiing, jumps, stunts, and all, on two fictitious mountains. At least there are no fences to hit then.

Even with all the equipment (skis, boots, and such) available, I saw little, if any, difference in control or performance when changing brands. The product descriptions mention flex, edge technology, etc., but I couldn't tell the difference. Maybe it's just me, but a slalom ski shouldn't perform comparably to a dedicated downhill ski.

Multiplayer is limited to hot seat play on one PC - a little behind the times, but there is a patch to allow modem, network, and Internet connections in the works.

Difficulty : 45
As you probably know, I think this game is a little too difficult as it now stands - a lot of gamers would grow frustrated and uninstall the game before getting the hang of it. The training videos (featuring my favorite skier, the aforementioned Picabo) are nice, but focus more on real skiing, and not enough on the game. The manual (online and paper) really offers nothing to help, so you're on your own. It took me longer to make one decent run here than it took me to turn a decent lap in Grand Prix Legends, and to me, that's a little too high on the difficulty scale.

Overall : 63
I was truly hoping to enjoy this game, and eventually I might - with many hours of practice and controller experiments. I think it's an honest attempt to recreate the feeling you get on the slopes, and the atmosphere is pretty good, but poor graphics and sloppy control stop Skiing 99 well short of the mark of excellence. Sierra Sports has done much better in the past, and I hope there is another Skiing title in the future. As for the present, unless you absolutely have to own a skiing game, I can't give this one a high recommendation.

By: Scott Moore 12/11/98

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