Shaun White Skateboarding Review
Written : Tuesday, November 02, 2010
By: Richard Walker (GT: Redriceman82)
Who are you? That's the first question that Shaun White Skateboarding asks from the very moment it hands you a skateboard, but it's also a valid question that could be asked of the game itself, or more specifically, what are you? Having played Shaun White for hours on end, we still can't figure out what it is exactly and who it's aimed at. On the one hand, Ubisoft Montreal's entry into the skateboarding genre is bold, colourful and interesting, and even has a crack at telling a story of oppression in a strange Orwellian dystopia under the rule of a totalitarian regime called the Ministry. But is it for the Skate hardcore or the more casual player? We're still not entirely sure.
"Upside down skater or wrong way up city? You decide."
Shaun White's backdrop of a buttoned-down society is just an excuse for your created character - who you can build from a limited selection of items and clothing – to step on to the streets of New Harmony to inject a bit of life and colour into the drab monochrome, using nothing but the power of skate. Teaming up with a mysterious grey suited stranger, named Jonah, you steadily assemble a crew of mouthy fellow skaters to form the Rising, as you influence the people one at a time, awakening them from a hypnotic stupor created by the Ministry and its de-influencer devices and the relentlessly grey city.
Transformation is the name of the game then, and it's your job to influence the citizens of New Harmony and create some vibrancy in the city. This is achieved by accumulating 'flow', which comes in three colours and is ultimately earned by pulling off tricks galore. Level 1 flow transforms any yellow objects; while level 2 conjures up both yellow objects and scenery with a blue aura; and finally, reaching level 3 flow enables you to make purple-hued objects and all others erupt out of the ground. As a visual trick, it's consistently enjoyable to see the environment changing around you with every kickflip, grind or grab, but the novelty soon wears a little thin.
Initial impressions were that Shaun White Skateboarding was going to be a breezy and accessible arcade skater in the same vein as Tony Hawk's Pro Skater before it, but the reality is that it falls somewhere between Skate and Pro Skater, with a control system that incorporates both tricks with the face buttons, triggers and right analogue stick. It's also unbearably slow at times and it's almost impossible to gain momentum and maintain it, unless you trap yourself in a half-pipe and spam the hell out of a handful of tricks that are easy to land.
"No, this game doesn't include any zombies... we think."
At its core, the gameplay mechanics are perfectly sound, although they fall a little uneasily on the more difficult side. For EA's Skate series, it's acceptable that it's difficult to master, as the controls and mechanics are tailored to be deep and rewarding, but in Shaun White Skateboarding, the lack of speed and momentum coupled with controls that don't quite deliver, results in far too many instances of frustration when there shouldn't be.
Throw in repetitive objectives, which invariably involve either breaking several items, be it Ministry surveillance cameras or propaganda loudspeakers; or creating enough flow to remove an obstacle or influence someone, and you have a game that should have little to recommend it. Should, we said... Because inexplicably, despite all its inherent annoyances, Shaun White Skateboarding still succeeds in being utterly playable and compulsive. Perhaps the blend of smashing authority and colouring-in appeals to our rebellious nature, or maybe it's because although there's a hint of repetition, there's always something to do and the game does a fairly good job of mixing things up.
Shaun White Skateboarding also drip feeds various shaping objects in translucent green, so there's grind rails, vert ramps, streets and patches of ground that can all be manipulated once you've learned the ability by 'freeing your mind' with Jonah. Shaping is pretty good fun and opens up a range of opportunities to link up rails or create half-pipes and ramps to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. This is all evidence that Shaun White Skateboarding has a lot of good ideas beneath its veneer of story and ultra-rad characters.
Ubisoft Montreal's first crack at the skate genre almost fills the void left by Neversoft's once great Tony Hawk series, but just falls short by holding back on something. Where Tony Hawk Pro Skater was never afraid to go a bit surreal and inventive with its skate parks, Shaun White keeps things relatively restrained, squandering the potential to cut loose in regions of Harmony City, like a fairground later on in the game that's surprisingly sober and straight-laced. Still, there's the odd surprise, like a weird hacking mini-game, where you have to roll a marble around a precarious maze of circuitry.
"Uh oh, he better not drop the ball on this one..."
In terms of multiplayer options, Shaun White Skateboarding actually has a good few game types to sample, with Shaping Battles, Ministry vs. Rising and Go With the Flow modes offering some decent competitive team-based modes to get stuck into. It's a real shame then, that nobody appears to be playing the game online, which means you'll have a real task on your hands trying to get a match up and running. If you do though, there's fun to be had outdoing one another for power ups and tricks. That's before you consider playing split-screen locally too, which is also a good laugh with a like-minded buddy.
Shaun White's achievements are a pretty good bunch, with the majority related to attaining certain milestones or reaching certain points in the game's story. You normally know when they're coming, although some are rewarded for relatively simple actions like taking a few seconds to influence a character, whereas a time-consuming power plant infiltration yields nothing. Perhaps too many are multiplayer related, and as there's currently no-one online playing Shaun White, you'll have to make arrangements with friends to get them. That said, this is a decent-ish list that'll keep you occupied and playing the story, as they pop almost constantly throughout.
Shaun White Skateboarding is actually a decent crack at doing something new with the skate genre, but it's infuriatingly slow and as we've already said, it's rare that you ever pick up a good head of steam for reeling off tricks. As the game's story wears on, you'll gradually get used to its pace (or lack thereof) and learn to put up with it. Bringing colour to New Harmony is strangely addictive and as you gain XP, unlock new clothing items and tricks, you'll find yourself getting irrevocably sucked in. In truth, Shaun White Snowboarding isn’t bad for a first attempt in the genre from Ubisoft Montreal, but let’s just hope that if we ever do see a sequel, that they can iron out the disruptive complaints and kick (flip) some life into the series.
The usual blend of grindy sounds and random pedestrian chatter is complemented by a perfectly serviceable rocking skater soundtrack featuring the likes of Eagles of Death Metal, Franz Ferdinand and more. It's just a shame that there isn't more hip-hop and funky offbeat music like Kool & The Gang's “Jungle Boogie”, which is a highlight.
Shaun White's graphics are solid and the colour coursing through the grey areas of New Harmony is a nice touch. Graffiti drawing itself across walls, ramps bursting through the asphalt and other visual flourishes are handled nicely, although the odd instance of slowdown does occasionally rear its ugly head.
Shaun White Skateboarding feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, as the fundamentals are all evident, but the difficulty in chaining together combos of tricks and maintaining long grinds is a side effect of the game's glacial pace and lack of momentum, which is also at odds with the playful visual style. Shame.
The game's story is well presented and it'll keep you playing for hours. The shortcomings of Shaun White's mechanics don't stop the game from being enjoyable for the most part and there's also additional hours of potential gameplay in multiplayer. If you can find a game that is.
A fairly easy list that keeps the story achievements coming steadily at certain junctures during the 8-10 hour narrative. Reaching the various milestones isn't too taxing, but snapping up the multiplayer cheevos could be an issue unless you can find friends to work through them with.
On paper, Shaun White Skateboarding seemed assured to fill the gap left by old-school Tony Hawk Pro Skater, but a lack of invention outside its transformation and shaping mechanic lets the side down. If Ubisoft Montreal ever get to work on a sequel, it might be worth considering speeding things up and letting the game off the leash a bit more. As it stands though, Shaun White Skateboarding ends up being fun in short bursts, but ultimately a bit of a grind.