Shaun White Snowboading

19 Nov 2008  by   Paul Younger
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When you bring an extreme sports game to the table you have to remember the games that have come before it, games that have defined the genre.  More often than not the bar is set high, by games like SSX or Skate, leaving new pretenders to the crown with a difficult job of making a mark in the genre.

This, of course, is always a challenge, and to get a game that works you either have to choose a sport that is easy to work with, one that has already been successful, or one that no one has ever done before.  So instead of opting for a new IP, like Extreme Ironing, Ubisoft decided to take on the mammoth task of recreating an old skool classic in the shape of a snowboarding game.  Enlisting Olympian and X-Games legend Shaun White, it set about creating the ultimate snowboarding experience. Unfortunately, it came up with a game which suffers from an identity crisis.

However, this isn’t evident at first glance. On the surface, things look good for Shaun White’s. The visuals are suitably next-gen, sporting some nice effects, and carving your way down the mountain feels simple and reasonably intuitive.  The left stick is for direction, while the right stick moves your board.  The left trigger acts as a trick modifier, perfoming grabs etc as required. The system is easy to grasp but  doesn’t feel quite as responsive or in-depth as EA’s other extreme efforts, such as Skate. And sometimes the simplicity is eclipsed by frustration, especially when you’re navigating half-pipes with a shonky camera system at work. Navigating your way around the game’s four mountains isn’t issue-free either. The radar offers no sense of depth and you’re constantly trying to find your way around locations that are forever changing.  The open world element really doesn’t help here either because you have no idea whether you need to be above or below your current location. The map is infinitely better, but the fact that you’d have to pause the game to view it out is frustrating.

Your map also fails to tell you which areas are at risk from avalanches.  Being exposed to the elements in this way reminds you that you are actually on a mountain where Gaia can and will throw her full force at you, and you’d better be ready to dodge her rage.  This is where the Assassins’ Creed engine really comes into play offering up some stunning visuals.

Whether you’re outrunning Gaia or slowly meandering down the mountain you’ll notice events scattered across the four mountains (Europe, Alaska, Japan and Park City) which you can take part in.  Of course these come in the usual forms of racing, time-attack missions, stunts and trick-based missions, as well as finding coins for Shaun and a Death Race which combines racing with snowball throwing skills. And they are mostly fun,  except for the coin collection (which we’ll discuss later). Getting around the mountain is either something you’ll enjoy doing or you’ll absolutely hate.  Either take a ski-lift, a helicopter or just warp to the last location you saved.  If you opt for the ski-lift you get to see the whole ride up and can even hop-off whenever you want, which is great if something, such as a coin, has caught your eye.

The missions, as with most games, drive the narrative forward and unlock rewards and skills such as better equipment which help with your overall stats and abilities.  Now this is a major factor in the game, and one which we think will be keen to your enjoyment.  The better your equipment, the better you are on the board.   On this point it’s important to note that just because the worlds are all unlocked and ready to be explored from the get go, it does not mean that you’ll be able to get where you want to from the start.  An open world is only open if you have the skills, equipment and eye to make it to where it is you want to be.  So if you want to carve up better on ice, or get faster on powder, or even do bigger tricks, you need to kit yourself out appropriately.  You will not be able to progress without frustration if you ignore this.
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That said, there are also other side missions which help drive not only the narrative of the story, but also give you an idea of where you are on the mountain and help orientate your position.  Collecting the coins is a great way to learn the mountain, but it’s also massively annoying when you pass a coin which is either way above your or somewhere you can’t see.  This will see you trekking back up the mountain to find a route that will take you to the coin. It’s a tedious game mechanic which has sadly been given too much prominence by the developer.

Even though you can get off your board at any time, or place a checkpoint so you can warp straight back to a location to try a trick or jump again, you don’t want to be doing it in a bid to find coins for Shaun.  You want to be placing markers when you’re playing with friends online, and with the ability to invite people into your game from within your solo run is a great bit of innovation from Ubisoft.  At any one time up to 15 other boarders can be found hovering around your white wonderland, with up to eight people getting involved in some powdery-snowboarding fun.

At its heart, Shaun White Snowboarding isn’t a bad game it just suffers when compared to the genre classics.  We’ve also played the Wii version of the game and, whilst the pared-down visuals are nowehere near the 360 version, the gameplay is streets ahead.

Shaun White Snowboarding delivers a game experience that feels a little confused. It’s not a simulator, nor is it just a fun arcade ride, it’s somewhere in between, and this is the game’s biggest problem.   Although it’s quirky and it has some interesting gameplay elements, I found myself yearning tfor the kind of excitement you get from the more exagerrated titles (eg. SSX Tricky) Bigger jumps, bigger tricks, bigger fun. Realism can be a plus in gaming, but sometimes it comes at the expense of fun and Shaun White Snowboarding doesn’t quite know what sort of game it wants to be.

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