Infinite Air, Limited Audience
Sports simulations aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Extreme sports have a different appeal, however. Where most team sports titles have a strong competitive aspect, extreme sports are generally solitary and the real challenge is set by the individual. It’s a great basis for replayability, and snowboarding has been underrepresented in the genre. There have been a ton of different titles like SSX and Amped that were fun but more fantasy than sims. Infinite Air with Mark McMorris looks to set the bar high and is often being compared to Skate did for skateboarding. While the similarities exist, it’s a different breed of game. It’s hard to knock a game that’s this expansive and looks to set its own bar. It doesn’t entirely work, but it’s impressive to see the amount of ambition this game holds.
Immediately after the loading screen you’re thrown right onto the mountain with no instruction. A tutorial and menu exist but you’ll have to find them yourself, which is strange for a game this new. It’s not the end of the world, but if any game could take it down a notch and teach player’s what’s what before starting this is the example. The controls aren’t very intuitive, which we will dig through later, but considering the long history of extreme sports games, there’s a general template of controls to fall back on. Even with the advent of stick controls in Skate there’s a specific way to do things. The other noticeable aspect is how few features were on the mountain. The map is gigantic and there are a ton of ways to create new terrain. However, from square one, it’s not what’s expected.
Here’s where Infinite Air starts to drops the ball. The controls do not make for a fun experience. Notice it’s not that they’re bad or unrealistic, but they don’t work for what players want out of a game like this. The tutorial is unhelpful in that it will tell you how to do everything, but it doesn’t necessarily make it easier. To spin or flip, one or both triggers needs to be held as well as a direction. The character will wind up and the amount of spin will depend on your timing. Hold it little or too long your spin will be weak. Release the spin right at the full extension and the character explodes with insane speed. It’s a realistic idea, as in real life you won’t be able to stop mid-air, but after several hours it never seems to get better. The best way to alleviate the random nature of the flips is to spin flat as much as possible. Most of those are relatively easy lands, but that’s preventing an entire aspect from being explored.
Once you get past the controls, it’s challenging to find spots on the mountain to ride. Infinite Air pulls travel off well, however, with the one-button immediate in and out of a helicopter to travel around the mountain. It’s quick and precise, if your favorite spots are saved. It made the mountain less intimidating and gave There are some premade lines and snowboard parks to discover, but to unlock the full potential of Infinite Air you’ll have to get cozy with the editor. It can be intimidating to deal with terrain editors and Skate 3’s skatepark editor was a choppy mess. Thankfully, it only took a minute or two to get acquainted and while some of it can be irritating, it’s mostly drag and drop. The second I started throwing up spots all over the mountain and creating new terrain I felt the vast nature of the map and had a lot more fun. Despite the realistic nature of presentation, the editor allows you to put obstacles anywhere. I spent a good hour making a gigantic jump and trying to land on a tiny box set mid-air with nothing to support it. That was the most fun I had playing Infinite Air. You can get other players’ maps, too, which means there’s little excuse to get bored with the terrain in the game.
The learning curve is going to throw off the audience completely. The flips and controls may be realistic, but that’s not what this game needed. It’s a cool idea and it makes for a challenging game, but there needs to exist a level of attainable fantasy. Take the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series. Those games have a solid audience because people that can’t play instruments can immerse themselves in the fantasy. They’re close enough to guitar/drum/whatever playing, but they’re not exactly lifelike. Infinite Air needed to find that sweet spot between fantasy and reality. Needing to know how much to wind up a spin and flip is realistic, but it feels too random for players to want to invest.
It’s hard to recommend Infinite Air but honestly it’s up to the individual if they want to try it. If you’re an avid snowboarder or a fan of extreme sports games, it’s worth putting some time into. For newcomers to the sport or genre there are other places to look first. Infinite Air is huge and contains the most ambitious design I’ve seen for a video game in a long time. The reliance on community and practice is a huge risk, and It’s unfortunate how much this will hold back the audience. Infinite Air is not a bad game by any means, but the lack of accessibility keeps it from setting the bar for snowboarding games.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Xbox One, PS4 ; Publisher: Maximum Games; Developer: HB Studios; Release Date: October 25, 2016; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PC review copy of Infinite Air with Mark McMorris provided by the publisher.