Sled Storm doesn’t complicate matters by forcing players to learn a variety of commands to guide the sled or to perform tricks. It’s a simple matter of accelerating, steering, and getting comfortable with the shoulder buttons for leaning into turns and tricking after jumps. That’s basically it, although players also use the analog stick while the sled is in midair to adjust its angle for a smooth landing. Like SSX, performing tricks increases the boost meter (referred to as the “storm” meter) for much-needed turbo power at the end of a race.
Computer opponents use “catch-up logic” to keep races competitive, and the difference between first and sixth place can be as little as six seconds. This is a cheap and sometimes frustrating system, but never annoying to the point of giving up. While the AI and action is far from realistic, the high-speed nature of the races and wild courses make competing fun. It’s okay to crash several times within the first two laps, since the catch-up AI works in your favor as well. The idea is to race a perfect third lap and then boost your way across the finish line.
The courses are filled with so many potential shortcuts, side paths, and landmarks that it’s often easy to get distracted. An interesting feature is that Sled Storm marks many of the shortcuts with danger signs, meaning the potential for wiping out increases exponentially the longer you stay off the beaten path. Another interesting aspect is not all of the shortcuts are, well, short — they may actually take longer to go through them than it would just to stay on the main route. The Practice Mode is almost necessary to familiarize players with the sheer variety of twisting paths and uphill climbs so they can determine the best route to the finish.
The courses, ranging from a haunted amusement park complete with a working Ferris wheel to a track built around an active volcano, look like they should be a part of the SSX series, with huge ramps, banked turns, barriers to break through, and scary drops to maximize points earned from tricks. Of course, few are courses you could actually race down in real life, and the vehicles often feel more like motorcycles or ATVs than snowmobiles. Sled Storm is also a pure racer, so driving skill is not required to succeed. Braking is rarely necessary unless you’re trying to find a specific shortcut.
Some will obviously take offense to the cheap computer opponents, rewarding players for biding their time and then making their move at the end, while others will be disappointed by the basic Championship mode. The biggest knock is there isn’t cash awarded after each race to upgrade individual sled parts, buy new clothing for the riders, or acquire additional goodies one expects from an EA SPORTS game. The objectives are clear-cut as well: just place within the top two or achieve a certain score. Players never have to perform specific tricks on a course, they can’t try to knock out the competition, and cannot earn different medals for achieving a variety of high scores.
While previous games in the EA SPORTS BIG lineup offered more in the way of customization and extended play value, Sled Storm is still an enjoyable racer that uses its speed and responsive controls to draw players in. It offers plenty of intense moments across expansive courses, a fun two-player mode, and always challenging computer opponents (by design rather than actual skill). Sled Storm may not offer an avalanche of features or a gust of realism, but it won’t leave thrill-seeking players, especially those burned by Arctic Thunder, out in the cold with its high-powered action.
The courses are well detailed, and the environments offer mist, swirling snow, and other effects, but the riders and sleds are ordinary looking.
The voices of Gene Okerlund and Matthew Lillard offer commentary during the races, but it’s repetitive and not very funny. Music is boring.
The computer AI will give some players fits while others will appreciate the challenge. While the seven courses are huge in size, a few more would have been nice.
The Championship mode is not as deep as it could be, and players can’t race a friend in the Rival Challenge mode. The only thing to keep racing for is to unlock new sleds and characters. Fortunately, the action is fun.
The black-and-white manual offers a breakdown of the modes of play as well as a few tips.