Thanks to games like SSX, developers have taken a renewed interest in snowboarding games, exploring ways to take the basic mechanics of the sport in new and interesting directions. THQ and the development team at Radical Entertainment have attempted exactly that with Dark Summit, a snowboarding game that still relies heavily on a basic snowboarding trick system for the purpose of unlocking hidden items. But Dark Summit also incorporates a storyline and an objective-oriented system like the one in the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series. Ultimately, this trek into uncharted territory produces a fun experience that will constantly keep you trying to complete new challenges. The new GameCube version of Dark Summit is essentially similar to the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions that came before it. The GameCube version doesn't have quite as much slowdown as the others, though it still has its share of problems.
The most apparent difference between past snowboarding games and Dark Summit is the presence of an actual storyline. While it's shallow compared with the storyline of a typical story-driven game, Dark Summit's is still successful in driving the gameplay along. Essentially, Mount Garrick is the Area 51 of the snowboarding world, and the military has taken over the mountain for a reason you'll later discover in the game. However, the mountain is still regularly used as a ski resort, so the security force--headed by Chief O'Leary--has to keep skiers and snowboarders from entering any parts of Mount Garrick that are off limits. Naturally, you'll have to infiltrate these areas and uncover any secrets that may lie within them. Dark Summit's setting may not be completely original, but it serves the purpose of justifying why this particular mountain looks so odd and why security forces are constantly hounding you.
The storyline also provides ample justification for Dark Summit's objective system. During your run down any of the four enormous tracks, you'll see a series of phone-booth-like structures with large satellites beaming streams of light. It's in these structures that you'll make contact with a mole inside Chief O'Leary's security force, and he'll give you a challenge that you can accept or decline. If you accept a challenge, then you cannot undertake another challenge until the present one is either accomplished or failed. These challenges range in difficulty and, for the most part, are all quite different from each other. One challenge requires you to simply avoid making contact with the ski patrol, which will give chase down the mountain. In another challenge, you might have to follow another snowboarding operative to the location of a bomb and destroy it before it detonates. Other missions, particularly earlier ones, are more trick-oriented and require you to perform various types of grinds, flips, or grabs. Unquestionably, some of these challenges can be frustrating, and there are some challenges that require more than a few attempts to complete, but thankfully, Dark Summit includes a feature that lets you restart a specific challenge without traveling back down the mountain to the same challenge structure. When you complete a challenge, you earn points that are accumulated toward opening another track on Mount Garrick.
There are a few problems with Dark Summit's challenge system, some of which are caused by Dark Summit's large branching tracks. The objectives themselves are occasionally problematic because, at times, it's not obvious where the objective is. An example of this occurs early on when the mole asks you to leap over a large snowplow, but you won't find the plow unless you do a little exploring--which isn't as easy as it sounds since there are so many hidden areas in Dark Summit's tracks. Another problem is the location of the challenge points. Obviously, the location of some challenge points have been deliberately concealed to create a challenge simply out of finding them, but there are some challenge points that are so hidden that it'll seem like you've exhausted every possible avenue before you actually stumble upon them by accident. That's not to say that Dark Summit's track design is poor, but you can't help but think that portions of them were thrown together haphazardly. This is especially evident when you happen to fall into an occasional toxic sludge pit that doesn't reset your boarder back on the main part of the course, which is what it's supposed to do.
There are four tracks total in Dark Summit. That may not sound like a lot, but all these tracks are massive and require a few minutes just to go straight from the top to the bottom. When you factor in exploration and the amount of time it takes to complete challenges, you can easily spend a considerable amount of time on the same track before you reach the end. Other than the trees of the surrounding forest, plenty of objects populate these tracks. In fact, some of those obstacles are necessary for completing challenges, gaining entrance into shielded areas, or pulling off complicated grind combinations. But again, the tracks are so large and have so many different paths that it can be difficult to find challenge areas or other operatives within a reasonable amount of time.