Shaun White Skateboarding First Look PreviewBy Jake Gaskill - Posted May 25, 2010
Skateboarding might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of multi gold medal winning snowboarder Shaun White, but he's actually an accomplished skater. Regardless of where you know him from, White possesses baffling abilities to pull off mind-blowing tricks while the sun dances through his flowing, fire-red mane. Ubisoft has an established history with White, and that relationship has yielded three snowboarding titles to date. And while Shaun White Skateboarding takes the series into a decidedly new direction, the essence is still very much intact. At least, that was my impression after watching the game in action recently at Ubisoft’s pre-E3 showcase.
The demo level on display was designed to show off as many of the game’s features as possible in a five minute time period, so I can’t really speak to how the actual levels will be laid out, or how the various elements will interact once they are expanded into full levels. However, what I did see were some rather surprising and inventive ideas at work.
First off, the game’s story plays out a bit like THQ’s de Blob, in that an evil entity known as The Ministry has seen fit to rid the world of all manner of fun, color and creative expression, and replace it with a sterile, mundane shell of a society. It is up to the player, accompanied by Mr. White and the other rogue boarders that make up the resistance group, The Rising, to bring joy and vibrancy back to the world the only way they know how: gnarly shredding.
Pulling off tricks in creative ways will restore color and add visual flair to your immediate surroundings. The clothes of computer characters will transform, billboards will color in, and in some cases, the environment will transform, as was the case when one particularly nasty trick caused a giant tree to sprout in the middle of the street. Ubisoft didn’t share many details about the story, so how the whole bring-fun-back-to-the-world narrative will play out in terms of the mission structure or settings isn't clear, but the foundation is solid enough to keep me wanting to know more.
One of the game’s primary gameplay hooks is the game’s on-the-fly shaping mechanic that basically lets you create your own skatepark as you skate. See, there are portions of the world that are highlighted in green. Skate over these sections, hit a button, and you’ll instantly be able to transform the object. So if you land on a railing that has the magical green goo on it, you’ll be able to stretch that portion of the rail in any direction you want, all while you continue to skate on it. Pass over a green block and you can either pull it up to create ramp, or in some cases, you can push it down to create an underground passageway. It might sound a bit confusing, but it all makes sense when you see it in action, which is no small feat since the mechanic itself is so wild.
Not only does the shaping mechanic let you create endless rails and improvised vert ramps, it also lets you connect various portions of the maps to create super long runs that start on street level, stretch up onto telephone wires, onto roofs, back down around lamp posts and finally back to a rail on the other side of the stage, all without a single break in the action. Granted, the visuals and animations on the PlayStation 3 build were a bit on the placeholder side in some cases, but the essence of what Ubisoft is trying to achieve with the game in terms of giving players the ability to transform the game world on the roll came across perfectly.
The controls themselves look much simpler than those found in EA’s Skate series. Tricks are handled with the right thumbstick, but since I didn’t have any hands on time with the game, I can ‘t really say how it feels to pull them off. Still, there will be over 80 maneuvers to master, and when combined with the enviro-shaping mechanic, it’s doubtful the word repetitive will ever cross players’ minds.
I was very pleasantly surprised by Ubisoft’s approach to Shaun White Skateboarding. The game benefits greatly from having a world-class boarding expert as its titular star, even if the board and its famous rider are trading the snowy slopes for the flattop, but Ubisoft has taken this technical foundation and layered on an ambitious and delightfully amusing ability to mold environments to create a skating game with a style and voice all its own. Whether the game will be able to put its compelling pieces together into a equally compelling package is something we won’t know until the game ollies onto shelves this fall on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii.