Reviewed: October 28, 2010
Released: October 24, 2010
Shaun White may be best known for his Olympic Medal-winning snowboarding skills, but he has also made quite a name in the skateboarding world as well. So it is only natural that with a couple of snowboarding video game titles under his belt, that “The Flying Tomato” would come out with a skateboarding title as well. |
But after the rocky road the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series has taken over the past decade, the gaming world has become quite jaded with skating games. As a result, any new series that wants to achieve respect has to offer something awfully impressive, and Ubisoft Montreal attempts to do so with an off-kilter storyline, spontaneous terrain modification, and on-the-fly development (“shaping”) of grind lines. The result is a game that is equally magical and frustrating, but in the end completely addictive.
Shaun White Skateboarding tells the tale of an oppressive totalitarian regime called “The Ministry” which has taken over control of the city of New Harmony and zapped the color and fun out of everything and everyone, leaving behind a dull gray world devoid of any fun and excitement. The group has a particular penchant against skaters, and has plastered propaganda posters all about discussing the evils of skating, and even went so far as to track down and jail the skaters it sees as being bad influences on the calm society, including Mr. Shaun White.
In the midst of the oppression, the gamers’ character is befriended by a secret underground society of skaters, who travel about the world performing tricks that instantly add color back to the world, and dynamically transform the world into skating lines and obstacles – with the eventual goal of breaking Shaun and the others out of captivity.
The storyline is a bit heavy-handed and over-the-top, but it is told in such a tongue-in-cheek way that it is actually quite enjoyable to watch in a goofball sort of way. True, the Tony Hawk series featured the same style of corny cutscenes, but the storyline was always more of a laundry list of side quests that were all quite ancillary to any character development – with Shaun White however, the story is more intertwined in the actual gameplay and keeps the action on a linear path. I am not saying that one is necessarily better than the others, but it is nice to have a cohesive (albeit weird) set of events that directly progress the story.
The missions range from the incredibly easy to the near-impossible with absolutely no rhyme or reason as to how they progress – one mission might have gamers smashing 15 “de-influencer” posts with ease, the next requiring gamers to perform a certain trick at a certain location using a full third-level “flow meter” – something that is almost impossible to negotiate with a flow meter that requires constant filling.
The controls in Shaun White Skateboarding are largely dual-analog stick combos similar to EA’s Skate series, but tweaked to be a bit more forgiving. The result is a bit more visceral than simply pressing combinations of buttons, especially when it comes to grinds, but the execution of certain controls like pumping and kicking are very difficult to master and make skating vert a real chore.
What is a blast is the on-the-fly shaping of the grind lines – a mechanic that I have never experienced before. It is very had to describe in words, but basically the game marks certain rails that end with green arrows – when the rail is completed the gamer keeps skating on the now-extending arrow and the gamer can adjust up, down, right, or left to reach adjoining rails or elevated levels to find new skating lines and find hidden treasures. It is a bit awkward at first, and I found myself constantly switching back and forth between inverted and normal controls without feeling totally comfortable with either, but I did eventually come to a certain level of control to where I could go where I needed.
Visually, the game is fairly lackluster by today’s standards, but there is no denying the on-the-fly terrain modifications and re-colorization effects are absolutely fantastic to watch. Otherwise, the character models are stiff and limited in motions, and the levels are bland and unimpressive. There are a number of areas where characters catastrophically clipped into the scenery forcing a reset, and the framerate came to an absolute crawl on more than one occasion – both signifying that the game could have used a little more time in the oven in terms of the graphics.
I have to note that Shaun White Skateboarding is the first game I have experienced to have options for 3D visuals. We currently do not have the capability to view 3D on our HD sets, but I did experiment with the settings and found that you could choose any of 3 or 4 methods for achieving 3D, so it appears it will work with any of the commercially available 3D sets.
While the graphics leave a bit to be desired, the sound quality is top-shelf, featuring some of the best sound effects and soundtrack tunes to be found in a skating game. And given the corny nature of the script, it was pleasantly surprising to hear voice acting that actually sounded really solid. The multiplayer options are fairly basic, with a simple Go With The Flow mode that has gamers trying to maintain the fullest flow meters, a king-of-the-hill styled “Ministry vs. Rising” game, and the on-the-fly modification challenge called the “Shaping Battle”. Again, after playing years’ worth of Tony Hawk multiplayer games, these modes were nothing special, but they do add value to the game.
In closing, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with what I found in Shaun White Skateboarding – it would have been easy for the folks at Ubisoft Montreal to simply throw together a skateboarding game and slap Shaun White’s name on it and make a million dollars. Sure, Shaun White Skateboarding is still a bit rough around the edges, but the interesting take on the genre shows that Ubisoft plans to make a sustainable franchise out of the game, and for that they deserve credit.