Outspark's snowboarding MMO Project Powder was released last week, but how does it stack up against the competition? Sam "azerian" Maxted investigates.
As you may have noticed, I've been playing some of the more obscure, different and downright random MMOs lately. Not all of them have been good (and some of them have been pretty awful), but one of them was definitely worth a try. In the hope of adding to this number I've been playing Project Powder, a snowboarding game released by Outspark earlier this month.
The game clocks in at a download-friendly 500MB, although you'll need to download a number of patches to get into Project Powder itself. There are three characters for new players to choose from, and the only thing that can be customised at character creation is their hair colour. I don't know about you, but I find this slightly disappointing. I'm used to customising my character's face, build and appearance, so its omission here is somewhat surprising. The characters available are an adult male, a teenage male and a cute girl.
Players find themselves in a tutorial after creating their character, and while it's skippable it contains plenty of useful information. However, while it does teach you the basics of snowboarding, it doesn't give any details on how to navigate the game's menus, explain the power-ups used during races, or even mention how to upgrade your equipment. These are things that players will need to experiment with themselves, as certain elements aren't even included on the game's website.
Performing tricks fills the Boost gauge at the bottom of the screen.
But on to more important things; the game itself. Project Powder is an MMO in the loosest sense of the word, as it contains no persistent world. Instead, the game consists of a main lobby, from which players can join groups of up to seven others to take part in a series of races. The first game mode available is Race Mode, which provides a pure racing experience, relying entirely on the player's skill rather than on the power-ups contained in other game types. Battle Mode, meanwhile, is still a race but features the aforementioned power-ups which take the form of everything from speed boosts to weapons. Some of the available weapons take skill to aim, which helps to ensure that better players are rewarded, while still giving the less experienced a chance to win. The last game type is Coin Mode, in which players need to collect coins scattered around the track. This isn't a race as such, as the first player to reach the bottom of the course won't necessarily win - it's the player who's collected the most coins by this point who'll emerge victorious. With that said though, being ahead on the slopes definitely helps, as the leader will be the first to reach each new set of coins.
On selecting a group of players to join (or starting your own), you'll be placed in a small chat room. A nice touch here is players' characters appearing on-screen and being controllable in a small area. Characters perform emotes while speaking and it's possible to take part in snowball fights while you wait for enough players to start a game. The room's creator will have 14 courses to choose from at this point, although some start out locked, two are mirrored versions of other courses and not all courses are available in every game mode.
The pre-race chat room is well thought out and helps to keep players entertained.
The controls are pretty much as you'd expect once you get into a race, with the arrow keys used to control movement and spin tricks, the space bar used to jump and keys on the left-hand side of the keyboard being used for grab tricks and activating power-ups. Performing tricks during a race fills your character's Boost gauge, which can be accessed to give a burst of speed. Unlike in other games, you can access your Boost power at any time - you don't need to wait for a full bar before being able to use it. There are also tactics involved in deciding when to use your Boost - will you activate it on a straightaway, or before a jump to get more airtime on your next trick?
Overall, Project Powder feels like an attempt at cloning the SSX series of games, in a multi-player setting. Unfortunately, the quality that EA put into these games isn't duplicated here, with the end product feeling unfinished. A look in Project Powder's in-game shops only serves to confirm this, with some of them being completely empty as I write this article. There's very little substance to the game right now, with the only quests and objectives available in this "MMO" taking the form of single-player tasks accessed through characters' "Trick Trees". Completing objectives listed here rewards players with higher-scoring tricks to use in races, as well as other bonuses such as increased EXP gains. Even though most of the Trick Tree's challenges cost money to access (making saving for equipment upgrades difficult), the amount of EXP gained from each race means you'll really need the bonuses on offer here.
As with other free-to-play MMOs, the game makes its money through micropayments. The best looking and most effective pieces of equipment are only available to players who shell out real money on the game, giving them an advantage on the slopes. Not only that, but most of the upgrades - both from in-game money and micropayments - are only temporary. In other words, equipment upgrades are rented rather than being permanent, so anyone playing the game for an extended length of time will need to keep paying a fee in order to maintain their equipment.
The equipment on offer to non-paying customers is rather limited.
Some of the design decisions that have gone into Project Powder just seem plain wrong. The lack of an open world really hurts the game, and the music doesn't help matters either. The game opens with a guitar-heavy rock track, but can switch to a remixed version of Christmas carol "The First Noel" once you get into a race. This track in particular is totally out of place and doesn't fit with the rest of the game's music.
That's not to say that the game doesn't have its saving graces, though. As I said, the chatroom system is a nice touch, as is the inclusion of negative value coins in Coin Mode. However, this isn't enough to keep the game from feeling distinctly average. In its present form, Project Powder's a mildly entertaining diversion that seems to be lacking in ambition. If the game had a larger budget and included an open world, it could have been so much better. As things stand, however, it's just a missed opportunity.
SAM "azerian" Maxted