Shaun White is one of the most popular faces on the snowboardning circuit and one of the most recognizable faces with the long red hair, when you can see it of course. His style is that of none other and he always amazes the crowd with over the top performances at competitions across the world. So it only makes sense that a developer would use his popularity to create a brand new snowboarding experience on the Xbox 360 console. What surprising is that it was Ubisoft who took on the task. Known most for their Tom Clancy series with multiple IP's and continually churning more titles out, I found it quite shocking that Ubisoft through its hat into the sports ring. Especially the extreme sports genre. So with that being said, how did Ubisoft do for its first try at snowboarding?
Well, the last snowboarding game we had on the 360 was Amped 3. It was received with both jubilation and disappointment so it was pretty much a guarantee that Shaun White Snowboarding (SWS) would be under a microscope from the minute it was announced. Ubisoft employed it's Assassin's Creed game engine to SWS due to its vast and open world vision. While there is still a lot of work to be done with a sequel, the engine seems to work well for the vast mountain landscapes. You can go anywhere your little heart desires on the mountain face and the environment seamlessly generates as you proceed down the slopes. Very little to know transition in loading times from point to point appears which makes getting from point to point painless. Shaun White himself even appears throughout the game promising to teach you the ways of focus as you achieve more reputation and unlocking new events and areas for you to explore.
You'll be treated to all sorts of licensed gear and a host of customizable options to create your character including various clothing style, boards, etc. There are 4 vast mountain regions for you to explore and they truly are vast with plenty of jumps, cliffs, halfpipes and rails to combo out your tricks. The regions are as follows: Park City, Europe, Japan and Alaska. Each has its own distinct landscape and environment. Scattered across the regions are hidden icons which you collect to unlock new items, and you'll can also see the challenges and competitions on the mountain by viewing the map. Each challenge is color coded for difficulty. New events open up as you complete challenges and find hidden tokens across the mountain.
While the game looks pretty good and plays pretty good most of the time there are some major trouble spots in the game that due cause quite a bit of frustration. A lot of this frustration is due to the camera angles coinciding with the control system. The control system is fairly straightforward as it has been with most snowboarding games of the past. Your main buttons you use are the thumbsticks and the right trigger and thats really the extent of the control system. Most of the other buttons have small functionality and very little to do with the snowboarding aspect of the game. For instance, the B button throws snowballs and thats it. The D-Pad is used as a hot key of sorts to change music, set up multiplayer, etc. Again nothing to do with the actual snowboarding trick and maneuvering.
So back to the frustrations. As I stated most to the frustration is due to the camera angles and at times almost unresponsive controls. You'll find yourself getting caught upside down off of a ramp with no ability to right side yourself because the camera is turning at a certain angle. Now of course you can adjust the camera using the bumpers, but doing so usually results in giving up on the trick at hand. There are times when the camera gets stuck in a downward angle and you cannot see whats ahead of you without tweaking the camera somewhat. Again, you either lose some speed or focus from having to adjust your view. The right and left stick combination to pull off tricks and tweak them works good most of the time, but there just seems to be times when the game does not respond or react to the controls and you usually end up taking a face full of snow.
SWS is a blend of the Amped series and SSX Tricky. Some over the top antics can be performed at times as well as down to earth tricks. For some this may be disappointing but I think it really is a good mix of sim and fantasy. I mean seriously, this is a snowboarding game and it should be fun, not a simulation in my opinion. Let me do 2160's while jumping off a huge cliff into a ravine at top speed. Sure its over the top, but the game really should go one way or the other and not try to be in between fantasy and simulation.
When it all boils down to it, I really have to say that this game is truly meant to be more of a hang out with your friends online experience than single player or even online competitive play. There is no real direction as to what you are to be doing throughout the game. You'll run across icons in single player that represent competitions where you will earn reputation and cash to buy new board, clothes and accessories. But really you'll have to identify them on the map and take a chopper to the closest drop off point or take a ski lift and work your way to the icon using your map. But the lack of any kind of distinct linear storyline really hurts this title in the single player aspects and that is one of the main reasons I really think that the game was geared as a hang out and board with friends on line experience.
That brings me to the multiplayer aspects of the game. You can drop onto the mountain with friends or others folks online at anytime. Just a press of the D-Pad and you can be riding with live opponents down the slopes. You'll be able to race, compete in some challenges and competitions or just hang out and carve your way down the mountain socializing. There are 3 multiplayer only game modes for you and your friends to enjoy King of the Hill, Rat Race and Betting Challenge. While the extra modes are appreciated they still really don't add a whole lot of excitement to the game which is unfortunate. Maybe a paintball style mode riding down the slopes would have been cool especially since we know that Ubisoft knows how to do the FPS genre.
One of the higher points of the game is its licensed soundtrack containing great songs from the past to top songs of the present day. I have to admit that its a good time carving down the slope to the likes of Blue Oyster Cult or Pat Benetar. As for other sounds in the game, nothing really stands out as a wow factor and they are all sounds you would expect from a snowboarding game. I guess really there is only so many ways to make kicked up snow sound. But as I said, the high point is in the soundtrack when it comes to game sound.
Overall SSW is a decent game and you'll find some fun for a while with both single player and multiplayer. You'll also find frustration at time when you are stuck and have to get off your board to try and get going again or maybe the camera just ends up getting completely turned around on you. I have to give props to Ubisoft for taking on this project and it shows huge promise for the next installment for sure. If you are in the market for a snowboarding game then this is probably right up your alley. Its hard to suggest the game to the casual gamer unless you have a lot of friends with the game. I look forward to SSW2 and what Ubisoft builds upon, but unfortuantely the bottom line is that this title just falls a little short in to many areas. For some reason the game just lacked a fun factor for me, and I have always enjoyed snowboarding games in the past. This game felt like almost a chore to play it and as I stated before it's fairly confusing at times to try and figure out what's next to progress deeper into the game.
Suggestions: A more linear storyline with objectives and cut scenes would definitely help this game get to the next level in the eyes of gamers. You just get lost in sorts as to what you are supposed to be doing next and where you should be going.