Game Review - by James Allen
Jumping on the bandwagon is nothing new in computer entertainment. When one publisher comes out with a successful game, several knock-offs are inevitable. Don't be surprised to see "The Swims," featuring the everyday activities of fish, in the coming months. Thus, we have Ski Resort Tycoon, where you are instructed to design, build, and maintain a successful ski resort during the winter months. Believe me, after playing the horrid and emotionally scarring Airport Tycoon/Inc/Mogul (please make the pain stop), I wasn't expecting much from Ski Resort Tycoon. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.
Surrounding the development of successful running of a ski resort, Ski Resort Tycoon features two modes to choose from: Instant Action and Challenges. The Instant Action option puts you right at the birth of a new resort at one of six mountains. And the rest is up to you. A completely unrestricted (other than the size of the mountain and your money supply) game is ahead. You can also choose one of several (several=five) challenges, which range from a Tutorial, which teaches you the game basics (100 million times better than Airport Tycoon/Inc/Mogul's), to scenarios where you attempt to build a chairlift to the top of the mountain or build a building to prevent Sasquatch from taking skiers and snowboarders. The scenarios are pretty easy, and really are just a break from building your dream resort. Plus, there just aren't that many, as compared to, say, RollerCoaster Tycoon. One feature that could have added more replay value was a random mountain generator. Granted, you can change the included mountains easily, but coming up with a different starting point every time would have been advantageous. Other than the two game modes, there really isn't anything else for variety of gameplay.
Apparently, graphics nowadays are coveted much more than sound is, and why not? You can post all the beautiful screen shots you want, but sound bytes are less frequently found. With the exception of games like American McGee's Alice, paramount sound effects usually come far and few between in today's titles. Ski Resort Tycoon is no exception. Continuing the trend of having about 10 or so total sound in the game, you'll totally forget there was any sound whatsoever, until you remove some trees and encounter the chainsaw effect once more. If you zoom out far enough, a music mix comes though your speakers, and I have to say, I routinely zoomed back in to avoid it. You'll hear the quiet mountainside, not the screams of joy of your patrons. Sadly, sound is a low point in Ski Resort Tycoon.
There were unquestionably more gameplay features than I expected, even while I was playing. Gameplay boils down to two aspects: changing your mountain, and adding things on your mountain. Modifying your mountain is straightforward, as you can raise and lower terrain, cut down trees, and smooth the topography with ease. If you need an expert run off a certain lift, just make the mountain higher at the location. This is why it is not all that important that you only get to choose from six mountains, as you can change them at your whim. If you accidentally cut down too many trees, landscaping is available. You can add trees, objects, and pathways. I've found that I discover new items all the time in Ski Resort Tycoon. For example, I found the pathways option well after my customers were skiing everywhere. And I just discovered the magic of ATMs! This game is full of surprises!
To take up more space than you intended, you can add many buildings to your game. The building unlocking scheme is much like a technology tree found in Command and Conquer, rather than the research oriented system in RollerCoaster Tycoon. The game explicitly states during your time on the mountain which buildings you need to unlock that mountain lodge you've been dreaming of. This eliminates the need for confusing charts, and makes attaining your goals much easier. The types of buildings include cabins, condominiums, hotels, lodges, diners, bowling alleys (?), restrooms, rental huts, maintenance and safety buildings, and ski schools. Basically, there are many more buildings than you have room for at the bottom of the hill.
The lifeblood of your resort are the ski lifts and runs. Since your ski lift paths cannot be used as a run, careful planning is needed, and it's beneficial to make several runs spoke from a single lift. Since what goes up must come down, you can each of your intended runs for difficulty. To help you determine the skill level of your run, a surveying tool is included which will inform you exactly which kind of run Death Hill is. ing your runs is principal; although skiers will generally ski anywhere there aren't trees. And quite a draw they have: expert skiers were hiking up the mountain to a new run I made even before I opened the lift to that location. Talk about hardcore!
To make your resort the best ever, several statistics are available, including the most useful: what your clientele are thinking (or doing). If they need to use the restroom, you know what to do. This instant feedback is very helpful in planning the next building to construct. Even though the gameplay borrows heavily from RollerCoaster Tycoon, since the aspects of gameplay in that game were so strong, it follows that Ski Resort Tycoon's carbon copy is also good quality.
The mountain is rendered in three dimensions. This leads into a pretty cool feature, in which you can "attach" yourself to any building or snow patron and follow them around your park in 3-D. It's kind of neat to see the downhill slalom they are about to encounter. Albeit, the graphics are somewhat clippy at some points, but it's still neat. It seems that my video card isn't up to snuff (Voodoo 3), because anything over close fog level results in large slow down. I never remember this in games such as Delta Force: Land Warrior (with sight distances near 1 km). Luckily, you can select how foggy the day is in first person mode, which makes the game run smoother, but is definitely less impressive. The only problem with graphics which makes absolutely no sense is the fact that you can't rotate your view while in "build" mode. There might be clipping problems with the mountain, but some of the buildings are hard to see around, and you must place your pathways beforehand. Strange that this wasn't included. Each of the buildings and other structures are realistically rendered, and because I totally hate the cartoonish graphics found in tycoon games such as SimThemeParkWorldUniverse, it's a good thing. Plus, all of the various skiers and snowboarders are given different color outfits, and given the fact the winter outfits aren't exactly the most diverse clothing around, this adds a slightly surprising variance to the mix. Despite some clipping problems in "first person mode," the graphics in Ski Resort Tycoon are adequate and pleasant.
Honestly, I was expecting yet another poor tycoon knock-off, but was pleasantly surprised by Ski Resort Tycoon. Even though the sound and features aren't the brightest in the bunch, the graphics and gameplay save what could have been another Airport Tycoon. If you like the city-building genre, try Ski Resort Tycoon. And at a low price, it can't be beat.