HeadGames Publishing has a penchant for calling the same activity by three different names, creating an impression that a game has more substance than it does -- Extreme Rock Climbing is a prime example of this tactic. Three of the game's four modes, Practice, Solo Climb and Free Climb, are essentially the same with the only differences being equipment choices. In Practice mode, 99 quantity each of powder, biners and Power Bars is provided. Solo Climb gives you six inventory slots for powder and/or Power Bars and, in Free Climb, you can add biners to the Solo Climb choices. Capture mode is only slightly different from the first three in that you have to reach flags posted at different spots on the wall and then hit "G" to effect the capture.
The company is also master of the "fun-for-five minutes" game and Extreme Rock Climbing is certainly no exception. The 12 climber models are unique and great to look at; some have tattoos or headbands, some sport cool outfits, and all are buffed out. They also have great names, quotes to demonstrate their attitudes and different zodiac signs, ostensibly to help you select an appropriate on-screen alter ego. All these attributes are cosmetic, though, since their skills are identical and your selection has no effect on climbing prowess.
What makes the game fun for five minutes is its uniqueness. After choosing your character, you select one of the ten surfaces to climb, ranked in difficulty from easy to "X-Treme!" The only "X-Treme!" choice, a mountain face, is a bit longer climb than the others but no more difficult to master than the easy practice walls. Thus, exploring the games features while making your way up one of the surfaces takes about five minutes. With each subsequent repetition, the fun factor diminishes quickly.
Besides the equality of the climbers and walls, the game is even easier due to an abundance of equipment available and the simplicity of the "Climb Bar" interface. At first glance, attacking a high wall would seem to require a wise choice of equipment to prevent using up your inventory of biners, powder or Power Bars. Unfortunately, even this strategic element is dimmed since the game allows multiple uses for each of the items, thus nearly assuring that even on the tallest walls, you'll usually have more than enough equipment to reach the top.
The Climb Bar interface, once mastered, makes climbing a wall relatively easy. The efficient construction of the Climb Bar does, indeed, give you a sense of momentum while working your way up each wall with conservative grabs but, in the end, there's not enough variety or challenge involved in achieving the next handhold. The reward for reaching the top is a quick graphic that shows you pulling yourself up and standing there. This isn't much different from the reward when you fall -- you watch yourself either dangle for five full seconds from your last biner or, if you don't have any biners established, start fresh with no damage from the bottom of the wall (no matter how far you fell).
The lack of variety, strategy and challenge makes Extreme Rock Climbing a game with very limited staying power.
Graphics: Sadly, graphics are the game's best feature. The models are nicely detailed and interesting to look at but the walls are bland, uniform and unrealistic in appearance. One nice 3D effect occurs when you've set some biners but then fall all the way to the ground. While climbing back up, you can see the rope leading to the top biner in the foreground and your character climbing the wall in the background.
Sound: Typical HeadGames synthesized selections -- one for the menu screen and one for the climb. The voice you hear when moving the mouse over the different mode selections is pleasant and low-key. Sound effects are virtually nonexistent, however, with the exception of hammering and a winding sound when attaching a biner.
Enjoyment: Lack of variety or significant challenge affects the fun factor. The game incorporates some novel ideas but execution is poor. A multiplayer option would have made sense as would additional varieties to the traditional "climb the wall" model (other than the simple and basic Capture mode) to spice things up a bit.
Replay Value: Repeatedly trying to top your best times should have been enough to add replay value. Because the climbs are so easy, though, and there is no multiplayer action against friends (same computer or Internet), the game doesn't offer enough to make you want to revisit it after a session or two.
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