Shaun White Skateboarding Hands-On Preview – Under The Influence
Written Saturday, October 16, 2010 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Remember when Neversoft ruled the skating roost, completely unchallenged with its Tony Hawk Pro Skater series? My, how times have changed. With Hawk's games now considered the runt of the skateboarding litter in comparison to EA and Black Box's superior Skate franchise, there's a small gap in the market for an audience looking for a skateboarding title to plug the void left by the old school Pro skater games, which asked only that you rack up the points.
Enter Shaun White Skateboarding, which will inevitably draw comparisons with the original Tony Hawk games, except rather than completing objectives without any sort of a story (Hawk didn't even attempt a story until THPS4), your character is dropped straight into the middle of an oppressive urban dystopia called New Harmony. Everything in the city is controlled by the omnipresent Ministry, who keep the citizens buttoned down and the buildings and streets resolutely monochrome.
Colour, expression, creativity and imagination are strictly prohibited in New Harmony, so it's up to you, with the help of enigmatic silver fox Jonah, to tear up the streets and smash the system using the power of skate. Starting by creating a character, you hit New Harmony with an extended tutorial, which slowly drip feeds you new instructions, usually long after you've already worked them out. Tasked with lifting the de-influenced people of New Harmony out of their stupor while injecting colour into the dreary environment by using your skateboarding influence, you'll meet a variety of characters along the way including Bob, who owns a skate shop where you can purchase new threads, boards, trucks and wheels.
You begin with just one level of influence, which can transform anything or anyone marked with a yellow glow, but soon you'll gain extra levels as you skate through the city, bleeding colour into the black and white areas by pulling off tricks and earning points (or rather 'flow') to increase your influence bar. Even pulling off a basic ollie results in a pulse of colour emanating from your board and if you tally up 100 points, you'll receive the ability to create new ramps in designated yellow areas.
After a while, you'll gain additional levels of influence that enable you to create even more ramps and influence even the greyest of New Harmony's corporate minions. Reach the second and third level of influence and you can then transform blue and purple areas by earning 750 and then 1500 points, respectively. Points gradually elapse like a timer however, so you'll need to keep on pulling the trick while simultaneously making your mark before your points run out.
There's less of an emphasis on stringing together trick combos however, and with sticky controls, sluggish movement and an occasionally somewhat jerky frame rate, it's probably just as. If it's a similar level of arcadey speed and fluidity that you're looking for, you won't find it in this current build of the game. Ubisoft Montreal would do well to address this issue and speed up the game, because at present, the game is infuriatingly slow and a little on the unresponsive side at times to boot.
This is especially frustrating if you're engaging in another of Shaun White's gimmicks – shaping. With shaping, you can conjure grind rails, ramps and makeshift streets into existence wherever they're marked in luminescent green. Jump on a rail and it'll wind through the air to a predetermined destination. Head up a marked vert and it'll smoothly sweep upwards creating a new ramp. Later on, you'll then be able to do freeform shaping, which lets you control the direction of where the streets and rails go, and even reset them and start over. It's a nice idea, which might make exploring New Harmony more enjoyable if it's developed further in the finished game.
Until you gain the ability to reshape though, you're stuck with the rail's designated path, so if you happen to fall off, getting enough momentum to get back on track is nigh-on impossible. Still, you can put together some decent skating lines, popping tricks along the way, but again, the lack of momentum is a real sticking point, meaning that you can never really get a good run going and you seldom catch any huge air. While this might be realistic, it's completely out of whack with the game's bold arcade accessibility and OTT style.
For a game that involves fighting against conformity, Shaun White Skateboarding could do with pushing the envelope a little further. There is something strangely compulsive about turning a blank canvas into a bustling, lively and vibrant society - sort of like getting a fresh colouring book and covering it in crayon - but it doesn't do anything else particularly new or interesting with its mechanics. Its story and environment has potential, but until Ubisoft tighten up the skateboarding itself and speed things up a lot, Shaun White Skateboarding will likely leave a bitter taste in the mouth with pure frustration and annoyance rather than the 'flow' that it so often bandies around.
Shaun White is scheduled for an October 26th and October 29th release in North America and Europe respectively.