Shaun White Snowboarding Review
Written : Friday, November 21, 2008
By: Dan Webb (GT: Webb x360a)
Snowboarding games used to be ten to a penny ... ok, not that prevalent, but it’s been over 3 years since we’ve had one and all I can say is; what took so long!? Shaun White Snowboarding is the latest franchise from Ubisoft and looks to take advantage of the Far Cry 2 and Assassin’s Creed engines by bringing you a sandbox snowboard title of epic proportions. How it shapes up, well, it meant us taking to the slopes for countless sessions to find out.
Beautiful and realistic vistas to get lost in.
The premise of Shaun White is simple, you snowboard to your heart’s content; do whatever you want, whenever you want and in whatever order. You delve right in to the detailed character customisation upon firing up the game; dressing your snowboarder up as if they’re your own play thing. Everything you can see on your boarder can be changed; from the boots and the bindings to the gloves and the goggles; all with proper licensed snowboarding sponsors as well. It wouldn’t be snowboarding without my white rimmed Oakley’s.
If I hadn’t put more than a few hours in to the title, I’d definitely be blaming the controls for letting the game down, but in actual fact, the controls and such seem a lot more responsive after you upgrade your board. The starting board makes it hard to get any real sort of air and pull off any decent grabs, actually making the game a real chore to play initially. I find it a weird choice by Ubisoft Montreal to place new gamers in the hands of such ineffective equipment, it’s not a very good advert for their game and it’s true what they say; first impressions are everlasting.
The game comes in to its own if you can look past that and get a decent enough board; then grabs and flips are a reality and the snowboarding game you wanted is then coming to life. It seems to be the game’s selling points that just don’t seem to work. The whole sandbox snowboarding offers the game very little structure and ultimately offers no direction for the player. It’s as if offering you all those choices like that overwhelms the senses and doesn’t really bring you in to the game; meaning you always feel out of your depth. Even the tasks that are on offer are fairly repetitive offering you no incentive (other than cash) to participate. You’ll even spend the first few hours sent on a mind numbingly boring collection mission for Shaun White himself, not one of Ubisoft Montreal’s brightest ideas. It’s this non-user friendly start that ultimately kicks the game off in a less than ideal manner.
The snow zebra takes down his foe with a well placed snowball
There are 4 mountains in all, each with 3 sections which are all open from the start. The three sections offer players totally different environments to get stuck in to; whether it’s the forest like back country; the steep and dangerous peak; or the half pipe and grind rail ridden resort. The destinations in themselves are fantastically built from a visual standpoint with the ice palace in Japan being an artistic central landmark for that mountain. They are real locations you can believe in, but a lot of the design early on means that with the slow boards, you’ll find it difficult to pick up speed and you’ll even lose it in a lot of places.
The trick sets and movement can take a little time to master meaning the game most definitely has a really steep learning curve. The controls in themselves are setup across the two joysticks; I’d like to say like Skate-esque, but they’re not that ingenious. You use the right trigger to get some air with the left joystick corresponding to rotations and spins; and the right joystick controlling grabs, a direction for grabbing each side of the board. The vast majority of moves are not even possible when you first start out which again would frustrate a new player; they take time and patience (and a better board) to pull off.
All in all, the first two hours of Shaun White are absolutely brutal and chances are if I hadn’t been reviewing the game, the controller would have been put away for the night way before then. Not only is the learning curve brutal but until you get your super powers (snowboarding sim? Ha!) and enough money to upgrade your board, Shaun White will be likened to chewing glass. However, when you do get that board and the upgrades; the slow and awkward sections of the mountain now seem like the perfect boarding haven and the game truly comes in to its own. Unfortunately for Ubisoft and Shaun White, a lot of people won’t get that far and the game will suffer as a result.
Shaun White is essentially a game with so many ideas that they seem more trial and error than anything. A bit like throwing a deck of cards against a window and seeing what sticks which ultimately has mixed fortunes for the title. On the one hand, the game has some fantastic ideas such as being allowed to take the board off, letting you to waddle up the mountain with the board on, the helicopter navigation, jumping off the chairlift (I’ve always wanted to do that when boarding) and the ability to set markers quickly. And then on the other hand, the whole free roaming snowboarding adventure seems to work against it; and the whole crevice thing in the peak sections, seem no more than a gimmick to me and rather detracts away from the game’s potential. It’d be a better game for sure if it had more structure and offer something to actually engage the player.
Not everything is hit and miss with the title; the soundtrack is quite possibly one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a game to date and not once will you have the urge to reach for your custom playlists. Whether you like a bit of Bob Dylan, Faithless, Blue Oyster Cult, MGMT or even a little bit of Heart, the soundtrack has it covered. It’s this blend of music from all eras and backgrounds that compliment the sport of snowboarding to the nth degree. Whoever sat there are thought out this playlist needs a pat on the back, a warm cookie, a cold glass of milk and the ability to create playlists for all sports and racing titles!
Where the game truly does excel is in its online mode; a mode where the whole free roaming sandbox snowboarding does work. Tear up the slopes with a bunch of friends, up to 16, and take part in the mountains races and events with your own boarder. Just be careful not to break the rules because for the remainder of that race, you’ll be kited out in a monkey outfit; I made this very mistake in my first gate race. Hooray for positive starts. The great thing with the online is that you can do whatever the hell you want; free ride with mates, get involved in competitions or just throw snowballs at each other ... The mountain is entirely yours, and lag free. Definitely a mode I’ll be going back to after the review.
Errrr, Mister, you can't park that here.
Once you work out the achievements, the list isn’t that bad, it’s actually pretty good, but to work them out is reminiscent to cracking the Da Vinci code with your eyes closed, either that or you’ll need a PHD in cryptic snowboarding terminology to work them out. The list will have you completing challenges across all the mountains and performing some pretty insane stunts but they are hugely satisfying when you achieve them; especially Doctor Air (performing an incredibly “sick” air trick). The only issue I really have with the list is that the achievements are prone to glitches; not in the sense that they don’t unlock, but in the sense that you’ll fall through the map or get stuck in scenery and randomly get one. All in all, the list is actually really decent with plenty of thought gone in to it and you’re looking at 30 hours minimum for the full 1,000 with my only gripe being the clarity of the descriptions. Special mention must be given to Airmail (hitting someone airborne with a snowball) ... I’ve never been called a jerk before by an achievement list before ... Today is a happy day *wipes tear from eye*
Chances are that unless you’re a pretty big snowboarding fan like myself, you’re not going to like this at all. And if you are going to like it, you’re going to have to put the hours in to get over the painful beginning. The game may not offer you much with competitions and challenges to win a new player over; it’ll be the online mode for sure and the ability to upload your replay clips direct to the Shaun White website that will win the vast majority of fans over. It’s not a bad snowboarding game by any means, in fact, it’s pretty enjoyable, but to get to the enjoyable aspect, you need to punch your way through an unforgiving learning curve with equipment that isn’t suitable for an amateur, yet alone a professional. With a little bit more direction and structure, Shaun White could very well become a decent snowboarding franchise in a few years, but it’ll have to work through its growing pains to see that day.
A flawless soundtrack that without a shadow of a doubt is one of the best sports tracks ever to be created. Plenty of diversity and a good mix of tunes compliments the snowboarding genre impressively.
Picturesque vistas with some fantastic landmarks and diverse areas available on each mountain. Victim to the odd case of clipping at times and falling through the map; otherwise fantastic.
Steep learning curve, unsuitable opening equipment means that the game isn't very user-friendly from the offset. Work through that and you'll have an enjoyable snowboading title to sink your teeth in to.
A openworld, sandbox snowboarding title that lacks some serious direction and structure, offering the gamer no real story or incentive to work through the challenges. Some great ideas otherwise and navigating the mountain is as easy as its ever been with the chairlifts, helicopter drops, ability to set starting markers on the fly and at last the ability to take off the board and run to around till the cows come home which truly adds to the accessibility.
Pretty decent and well thought out list that only requires the inns and outs of the snowboarding lingo with a little bit of guess work thrown in. A few odd glitches with achievements popping up when you fall through and get stuck in scenary but these are few and far between.
A title that will be cast aside by most because of its unreasonable and unstructured start. Enticing gamers in with some mundane tasks and unsuitable equipment is not the way forward, but after that, the title becomes a joy. A fantastic online mode with upload video abilities will surely be what wins the fans over and I'll definitely be seeing some of you on the slopes in the coming weeks and months. An admirable start for a franchise that can only go forward.