Winter Challenge. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Clayton Walnum
It's one thing to sit back and watch the Olympics on TV and quite another to don that ski parka and participate. Of course, few of us have the constitution required to survive the grueling rigors of the Olympics, and fewer still have the skill to win. Thank goodness for computer software, which--much like great books--lets us embark on adventures not otherwise possible.
A case in point is Accolade's new sports title, Winter Challenge. In this omnibus collection of snow-and-ice contests, you get to ride your skis, bobsled, or skates to victory, competing against the world's best athletes in a struggle to bring in the Olympic gold. And although you'll stay warm and snug in front of your monitor, you can participate in a slew of winter events, including downhill skiing, the giant slalom, ski jumping, bobsledding, the luge, the biathlon, cross-country skiing, and speed skating.
As with the real Olympics, the goal of Winter Challenge is to snag as many gold, silver, and bronze medals as possible. But also as with the real Olympics, you must be well trained before you join the competition. To ensure that you've honed your computer Olympic skills to their keenest edge, Winter Challenge provides a training mode in which you can practice each event until you've mastered it.
Luckily, with Winter Challenge's superb graphics and smooth animation, training is a joy. As you rocket down the slope, speedskate around the rink, or soar through the air after a jump, you'll swear you feel the wind in your hair and the bitter cold nipping at your ears. Unfortunately, although the graphics are convincing, the sound effects are sparse. Still, digitized crowd sounds add much to the game, as the audience bemoans your failures and cheers your victories.
After training, you're ready for the Olympics. First, you choose ten opponents from around the world (any of whom may be human players, with the others controlled by the computer). During this process, you can create your own athletes, if you like, by selecting their countries and faces and then typing in their names. When your opponents have been selected, the tournament starts with an animated opening ceremony, in which white doves and hundreds of balloons stream up from the stadium among the ubiquitous flashes bursting from the audience's cameras.
During a tournament, you can play the events in any order. But unlike in the training mode, you get only one shot at the highest score. No event can be repeated in a single tournament. And although there are three skill levels for the computer-run opponents, you'll need to spend much time in the training mode before you'll be ready to take on these world-champion athletes.
Although you get only one try at an event, the instant replay feature lets you review that event as often as needed. Working much like a video recorder, the replay option even lets you save an event as a film for later viewing. While viewing a replay, you can fast-forward, fast-reverse, and freeze-frame, as well as view the film at the regular speed, either forward or backward.
If you're fascinated with the Winter Olympics but get numb fingers and frostbitten toes in the snow, Winter Challenge offers a chance to experience the thrill of Olympic competition vicariously. Winter Challenge may not be the real thing, but at least you don't have to train for a lifetime before you can begin to play.