There are a certain kind of people who enjoy extreme sports. The adrenaline rush, the possibility of death, the ability to pull off insane skills at insane speeds. It’s not my cup of tea, which is why I’m here talking about video games and not jumping off a cliff somewhere with little more than a rope to keep me from certain death.
Mark McMorris Infinite Air captures that thrill it must feel when you launch yourself into the air, do a flip and land sweetly on the snow. It is pretty good at portraying the excitement of extreme snowboard, but it does have a pretty major issue…
It’s not very good at being a game.
Conceptually, Infinite Air straddles an awkward middle-ground between simulation and arcade, and would be far better off shooting for one or the other. It’s doesn’t require the precision that would make it really difficult to master, but it also doesn’t really allow for free-form boarding and ridiculous skills. I could see value in both, but currently it’s a big pile of meh.
In terms of the visuals there is nothing really to complain about. The snow looks fine, and you leave a trail behind as you speed down the mountain, which is cool. What customization there is of your avatar is minimal – a few boards and different clothes – but they all look the part. You’re never going to get that ‘wow’ moment has you glide over a ridge and see the view, but everything serves a purpose and nothing looks out of place. The music is pretty repetitive, though, and even after an hour of playing you start to get sick of them.
But what about the gameplay? That’s what we’re here for, that’s why snowboarding fans will look at this game.
On the whole it’s ok, but only once you figure out how it all works yourself. The tutorial feels like the game is explaining it’s mechanics to you late on a Friday afternoon with one eye on the pub. You learn how to move, and what buttons make you jump, but that’s it. No examples of how to time your jumps. No explanation of how best to land your jumps, or that it matters. No explanation that landing well adds to your multiplier and stacking sends it back to 1. Those things are kind of important. But even what appeared in the tutorials didn’t feel like it helped overly much.
Once you are a few hours into the game and you’ve figured everything out, then you start enjoying it, but until then it is a boring and frustrating slog, fighting against the controls. They will probably lose a number of players early on through a pretty rookie mistake.
The main game mode is the circuit. You complete courses and the challenges within to unlock new courses and gear. The gear is purely cosmetic, unfortunately, so there is no progression in that sense. But these challenges are where the game does shine. Landing the perfect jump and seeing those points pour in is a great feeling, and there is replayability, as you redo them over and over to complete the other challenges. It’s a good thing too, as with roughly 30 courses, you need to get a bit more out of them.
Then there is the free roaming. I don’t really understand the point of this, but there is a small open world you can board or helicopter around in. You can hone your skills, but do little else. You can, however, encounter courses that other players have made, and compete against real-world people to try to get the highest score. It is a cool community engagement system, and you too can create and upload courses, as well as edit the world itself. Sadly, there really doesn’t seem to be much point or progression to be found.
Once you’ve beaten the challenges and got better at the jumps, spins and grinds, you’re not left with much else to do. Most sports games have some sort of career, where you can build a team or follow an individual through a story or tour. This game doesn’t have that. Your avatar is as good as he was the moment you booted up, so there’s no progression there. Your skill has improved, but there’s nowhere to go with it. You can’t race your friends, because it’s not really a racing game. You just do some jumps then put down the controller and turn it off… which is if it hasn’t made you rage and turn it off before that.
There are a few basic issues to frustrate players.
One is lazy level design. I don’t want to be too harsh, because a lot of effort was put into crafting the levels, but I’m not sure how much was put into testing them. In order to jump you have to have held down one or both of the triggers for a few seconds as you lead up to the ramp. At several points there are little bumps just before the ramp, resetting your charge and sending you over the edge without any trick whatsoever, floating down the hill looking stupid and getting no points. Then there are the times where you fly perfectly off a jump, get a really great spin happening, and them slam into the trunk of a tree they’ve put smack in the middle of the track. It’s maddening.
But not as maddening as Infinite Air’s biggest issue. Perhaps the reason I’ve been in a slightly harsher mood than most games I’ve reviewed.
No I don’t mean when you fail a landing and sprawl across the snow, I mean when the game decides it’s had enough and you hit the blue screen of misery.
Bare in mind, I played on the ps4 and I haven’t seen any indication of this happening on other platforms, but still. The main culprit was when I was holding R2 when landing on a rail. Considering holding R2 earns you more points by having your guy hold the board, and considering landing on rails earns you more points, this is a strange issue to have gone past all their beta testers and to have survived the first patch. But it happened over and over and over and over. Sometimes the game just crashed going down a normal slope. I have never played such an unstable game. In the worst session I experienced about half a dozen crashes, which is completely unacceptable. If I wanted to look at my home screen I would have bloody well not loaded up the game.
Not only are these crashes annoying, but also they break your rhythm and can nuke a good run just before you finish. And even so I’ve probably only deducted a couple of points from the score due to them.
So with limited depth, an unnecessary learning curve, no progression and horrendous stability issues, it’s even more frustrating that at its heart Infinite Air is actually quite fun. Screaming down a mountainside, landing a massive quadruple backflip, even slamming head-first into a rock, the core of the game is a hoot. But with little to keep you coming back, and far too much to make you leave, Infinite air will most likely vacate my hard drive for something a little bit better soon.