Liberating a monochromatic, Orwellian city from the clutches of comformity and an omnipresent threat of an all-seeing Big Brother doesn’t sound like the sort of afternoon most skateboarders would opt for, but in amongst breaking the game’s eponymous hero from a prison cell (regardless of his wrongdoings) that’s exactly what you’ll be doing in Shaun White Skateboarding. The oppressive atmosphere and desolate blue hues are all tongue-in-cheek of course, and are, for the most part, pushed back with nary an ollie or a kick flip – it’s a means to an end, a way of setting the game apart.
Not that Ubisoft could have tried any harder: right from the off SWS sets the scene in an introductory subway station, your skills with previous skateboarding games left on the train as brand new controls battle with a broadly simplistic physics engine and a series of goals that rarely stray into traditional, familiar territories like high scores. Instead, as you’ll quickly establish, in this game you’re meant to free the entrapped, rescue the blighted and bring back colour to a four-part locale that’s had all aspect of life sucked out by the governing Ministry, a seedy entity kept under wraps safe for its overwhelming azure cast.
With White’s ethos firmly established, at the very least there’s the gentle threat of something new, something we’ve not really played before. And with each trick’s accompanying bass-heavy thwap and colour emitting splash providing a compelling reason to play off every solid surface you’d think Ubisoft would have left the innovation there, but as you gradually unpeel each area’s true visage (graffiti replaces tired bricks, modded cars swap in for grey sedans) the game offers up more and more lines for you to follow, many of which play off the game’s existential subplot.
I’ll explain. As you liberate each section of the game there are rails and paths that appear, and automatically generate ahead of you as you grind them or ride them, providing access to previously unreachable areas and gifting you the chance to continue combos that would otherwise have run dry. Similarly, there are also sections that you can control as you pass over them, changing the height with the left stick in order to create ramps or simply slopes. Neither way really offers up more than a simple kicker would, but the idea’s fresh and the glowing green neon fits the visuals nicely.
With an exposition based route through the game naturally forcing you down a slightly more linear route than we’re used to (despite the side mission tactics employed by the various Challenges dotted around) SWS manages to save its better, more interesting trials until later in the game, but it’s fair to say that the first few hours of the game suffer from poor pacing. The controls don’t help – the game sits uncomfortably between Tony Hawk and Skate, with both analog sticks in use but never really distinctly split between skater and board and forced alongside trigger buttons that don’t always function as expected.
Likewise, the animation can be a little limp and it’s actually quite difficult to bail, reducing the risk / reward structure normally so rewarding in other genre titles. Indeed, the game’s particularly easy and stress free when you’re not wrestling with the buttons, especially if you skip the top tier of each Challenge and settle for silver throughout. Still, the graphics aren’t bad at all, the frame rate’s nice and smooth for most of the game and the process of converting the environment to colour, however piecemeal the approach, never gets tiring.
Ubisoft have tried with Shaun White Skateboarding, and for that you’ve got to give them credit. The game’s peppered with a few minor annoyances (why do I need to balance when going back over generated rails the second time when I didn’t the first, for example) and the control structure takes some serious investment to get the most out of but the fact is that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong here, the ideas are sound and when the game finally kicks into gear it’s actually really good fun. If skateboarding games are your thing, and you’re looking for one with a substantially fresh idiom, Shaun White might be just the ticket.
- The story mode is unique and often quite clever
- The script is sharp, even if the lip-syncing isn’t
- There’s enough new ideas to warrant your attention
- The controls are woolly and inconsistent
- The pace is a little subdued
- You’ll probably only play it through once
There’s fun to be had here, Ubisoft have obviously tried to differentiate themselves from the pack and although the license is mostly superfluous you can’t fault them for having a shot. If the mechanical nature of EA’s Skate series turns you off and you’re fed up with direction Tony Hawk’s games are headed, Shaun White might be a breath of fresh air. Just don’t expect it to be all skate parks and vert ramps, this is a third person story-based game with you at the centre, it just so happens that in this case you’re balancing on a bit of wood with four wheels attached.