Sunday, January 8, 2012

KGB Top 5: 12 Inches of Snow

We here at KGB like to arrange things. We also like Star Wars, apparently. But this article is about videogames that feature snow in them. Because it's winter. Even though there's no snow outside. Oh well.

5. Ando Prime- Star Wars Episode I: Racer

While I'm hesitant to include this on the list, mainly due to the fact that there's another Star Wars entry on this list, it'd be a shame to not mention the wild ride that is Ando Prime. Star Wars: Racer was a fantastic game, and one of the very few highlights of the Phantom Menace Media Blitz of 1999. A truly thrilling game, Racer was far better than it deserved to be, and for its time, looked and sounded amazing. I played Racer on the N64, and along with Rogue Squadron, I really felt like those two games were pushing the N64 to its limits. Very few other games accomplished the sense of atmosphere and speed that Racer acheived.

Ando Prime is a frozen wasteland of a planet. This makes sense seeing as how the backgrounds used in the podracing footage in Episode I, supposedly taking place on Ando Prime,  was actually created using surplus film from the creation of Empire Strikes Back. The track featured in Episode I: Racer is a wintry thrill ride, carving its way through 10 foot tall snowbanks, gliding over a frozen lake, and winding its way through a rocky canyon. All the while, the sound of frozen air whipping past you provides a nice sense of both the incredible speed and low temperatures the pilots must feel. Now if only you could kill Sebulba once and for all.

4.  Tall Trees- Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption features one of the most "alive" worlds in videogames. Every single nook and cranny of the expansive wilderness feels as if it were an actual place, with an ecosystem, food chain, etc. Strangers pass you by on their horses, off on their own adventures. You truly feel as if they have lives, of their own, and the story of John Marston, is but one of thousands of tales that are taking place in the world of New Austin.

For the first two-thirds of the game, RDR features the usual standard "old west" setting: cacti and tumbleweeds, small villages separated by large expanses of desert. It is not until the last act of the game when the player in introduced to West Elizabeth. A large, modern city; West Elizabeth is a stark contrast to the primitive villages of Mexico and New Austin. Brick buildings line the streets of Blackwater, and the first automobiles share the cobblestone streets with horse and carriages. Northwest of Blackwater, Tall Trees is the most remote area of Red Dead Redemption. A mountainous area, it is spider-webbed by narrow trails and shaded by huge pines, Tall Trees is an extremely unique feeling place.

Tall Trees is the only area of RDR where you'll find snow-covered terrain, and the sight of the white powder is a jarring one when you first come upon it. In addition to the landscape, another unique identifier of Tall Trees is the various wildlife you'll come upon. Elk and bears roam the woods, and they don't take kindly to trespassers. In addition to the wild boar, bighorn sheep, beavers, wolves, and coyotes, these woods also hold a dark secret: Sasquatch. That's right, in the expansion pack Undead Nightmare, old Bigfoot himself roams the forests of Tall Trees, and one of the first missions in the game is to hunt him down. Although it turns out Sasquatch may not be such a bad guy after all. 

3. Cliffhanger- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

The Call of Duty series is big on bombast. Especially the mega-hit Modern Warfare series. Huge explosions, rocket blasts, and drone strikes are not out of the ordinary for any CoD mission. Sometimes, however, a missions requires stealth, patience, and precision timing. These quieter moments provide a nice contrast to the Michael Bay-ness of most of the rest of the game, and these missions are usually some of the most memorable from the series as a whole. An example of this is the "Cliffhanger" mission on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The player must travel with "Soap" to infiltrate an enemy base amidst a blinding blizzard. 

Starting out with a breathtakingly cinematic climbing sequence, Roach and Soap crest over a mountain ledge and quickly snipe two oblivious enemies. Then the player must make a mad dash to cover, using the piercing snow as cover from enemy sight. Moving quickly from cover to cover, Roach picks off enemies with quick headshots, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake as he makes his way further into the base. The usual Call of Duty bombast creeps in towards the end of the mission, when the player is cornered by Russian troops. Facing certain death, explosions rock the base, and Roach and Soap use the distraction to make a getaway. 
This leads to the climactic sequence, and it is a white knuckle thrill ride. Sliding down an icy hill, the player finds snowmobiles ripe for the taking. Naturally, this leads to a pulse-pounding snowmobile chase, in which the player must avoid rapidly approaching trees, all the while trying to shoot the Russians who are pursuing them on snowmobiles of their own. While it may be "just another turret sequence" to some, it's moments like this that give the Call of Duty series their reputation as highly-polished action masterpieces.

2. The Whole Damn Thing- Icewind Dale

Based in the Spine of the World Mountains that were made famous in R.A. Salvatore's legendary Drizzt novels, Icewind Dale takes you to a howling, frostbitten land on the edge of civilization.  There, you create a party of adventures and embark on a perilous journey through this inhospitable region.  IWD will take you on an incredible journey that will severely test your strategic thinking.

IWD was made by Interplay's own Black Isle Studios, who later went on to form Obsidian, which may as well just be a humongous anus, for all the shit they pump out. Anyway, IWD looks and plays a lot like Baldur's Gate, the biggest difference being the environments.  Black Isle really went all out, creating high resolution (for the time) art that truly reflects the bitter iciness of the game world.  From snow-capped mountains to frozen lakes to more bizarre areas like an entire aquarium that's been frozen, IWD is always throwing something new at you, something that further hammers home the feeling that you are almost always in hostile territory.  This makes the few breaks you get all the more welcome, as the peaceful areas of the game really make you appreciate them.  IWD's greatest triumph is that it constructed a sense of atmosphere that many games only dream of.

1. Echo Base- Star Wars: Battlefront

Also known as "the Hoth level" to the uninitiated, the battle for Echo Base from The Empire Strikes Back
is one of the most iconic scenes in the entire film series, if not in all of film history. So iconic is this epic battle that it's been featured in a metric ass-load of Star Wars games.  How many? Like a million, that's how many.  The difference between those games and Star Wars: Battlefront, though, is that Battlefront gave players an unprecedented amount of freedom when it came to how they could partake in the battle.

Well, as you can see, pretty much all I want to do is fly a snowspeeder. Poorly. But that's not all I could have done! I could have gone out as a soldier and fought in the trenches.  I could have hopped on a tauntaun and pulled hit and run strikes against the Empire's control points. If I wanted to (I didn't), I could have switched sides and played for the Empire! Had I done that, I could have taken control of the quick AT-ST "chicken walkers" or the ominous AT-AT transport walkers! And that's why Battlefront's version of the Hoth battle is special: because I could choose my part in the battle.

Other games usually confine the player to one role in the battle, usually flying a snowspeeder. That's cool and everything, because you get to fly around and even take down an AT-AT (which I totally did!). However, those games take control away from the player, forcing them to destroy x number of enemies or some such nonsense. Battlefront only tells you to fight, and leaves the details to you. It is the video game equivalent of you re-enacting that battle on your floor with your action figures, and for that reason, it rules.

Christopher Linendoll thanks Rock for his help with this article. He can be reached via Twitter, or found in the hummus section of your local grocery store.


  1. Sorry for the weird double-spacing guys. I honestly have no idea why it does that sometimes. Google's CMS is a bitch.

  2. I find myself fighting with the editor an awful lot, although the transition to Firefox has mostly eliminated my headaches.

    That said, I love all of the winter posts. This season is the best.

  3. Yes, strangely it seems to like Firefox the best. I kind of want to play Icewind Dale again....

  4. I imagine Rouge Squadron as being like the other X-wing games except you can occasionally see the reflection of your pilot (a la Metroid Prime) and he will have FANTASTIC makeup.

  5. Also, I never wrote up mine (lol) so here's why I pick Phendrana Drifts from Metroid Prime

  6. Ahh fuck Pat, I always do that. Goddamn words.