When setting out to create their own skateboarding game, Ubisoft could have settled for yet another boring Skate or Tony Hawk's Pro Skater rip-off. But instead of doing that, they went a whole new direction, creating a game that is equal parts Footloose, George Orwell's 1984 and Lords of Dogtown. Unfortunately the end result isn't nearly as exciting as the bizarre story would lead you to believe, but at least Shaun White Skateboarding doesn't require a gimmicky fake plastic accessory to work.
Apparently Shaun White, the world famous Olympic gold medalist, has been arrested and is being held in a maximum security cell. To make things worse, a ruling class called the Ministry have taken over and brainwashed an entire world into believing that things like skateboarding and fun are evil. They've set up transmitters, removed all of the color from the world and plastered propaganda all over the skate-less world. Who wants to live in such an oppressive world? The main character certainly doesn't, which is why he (or she) spends the entire game fighting the power, saving Shaun and reminding an entire city what fun is all about.
The story couldn't be sillier. It's filled with plenty of over-the-top moments that no other skateboarding game would dare to do. When you're not taking down zeppelins and influencing the brainwashed citizens, you'll spend your time taking out surveillance cameras in hopes of curbing the Ministry's influence. And that's just the start of the nuttiness. There are entire chunks of the game where you skate INSIDE your head, and oddly enough that's not the craziest moment you'll encounter while trying to save Shaun White.
What sets Shaun White apart from the competition is how the player goes about transforming the world around them. The player does more than just add color and shake people out of their daze, they'll also be responsible for creating objects to trick off of and literally reconstructing the world around them. You change the environment by performing enough tricks to build up a little flow gauge. Once you've maxed it out, you can trick off of a specially marked location and the game will rebuild a building, blow out a wall and much, much more.
While the environmental changes can be a little jarring at first, it's really nothing more than a way to show your progress. Usually when you remodel the world it opens up a new place for you to visit or something else you can do, so in that sense it's no different from either Skate or the Tony Hawk series. At the same time, you'll be too busy questioning the inexplicable air skating and custom rail creator.
That's right, I said air skating. As you progress through the game you are given what can only be explained as magic powers. These powers allow you to extend a railing your grinding on to allow air skating. I'm not kidding. Much of the game involves you steering these railings through the air to reach important locations. And that's not all you can do. By the end of the game you will have the ability to raise and lower entire chunks of land just by skating over it. Plus, players will be able to save themselves from a nasty fall by creating objects to grind on right out of thin air. These magical powers make absolutely no sense at all, but they bring something new and fun to the skateboarding genre.
With its mind control and magical abilities, you might expect the gameplay to be just as daring. Unfortunately it's nothing more than a refined version of Electronic Arts' Skate series. You use the left analog stick to push off and move your character, while the right stick is dedicated to tricks and ollies. These controls work well enough, but they never become as complicated and deep as the Skate games. Thankfully players can earn points to buy new tricks, but even then it's hard to get past how basic all of the moves are.
The shallow gameplay helps illustrate the half-assed feel of the overall game. Too many missions involve you doing nothing more than scaling a top location or taking out flow-zapping pylons. And when you're not doing that, the game usually just makes the character perform a bunch of simple tricks in order to earn enough flow to move on. The problem here is that the world isn't interesting enough to play around in and there aren't enough moves to keep things exciting for long. I tried my hardest to show off my awesome skills, but I had just as much luck doing the same two tricks over and over in a half pipe. The missions simply don't offer a compelling reason to experiment beyond your comfort zone.
The other problem is that the mission structure doesn't mesh well with a skateboarding game. Too often you're asked to perform tasks that are only made more difficult by standing on a moving block of wood. Players can get off their skateboards, but their movement is limited to running around (no jumping, climbing, etc.). For a game about skateboarding, there are more than a few missions where the board feels secondary.
To the game's credit, there are a number of optional side challenges to complete. In these events you will try to earn points doing specific moves or tricking off of a chosen location. These challenges are a nice diversion from the repetition of the main quest. Unfortunately they are a little too easy and not diverse enough for my tastes, it's yet another potentially awesome idea brought down by second-rate implementation.
Although the different locations are all linked together, I wouldn't call it an open-world game. Each area is limited to a large box with invisible walls and poorly marked exits. As you progress through the story you'll open up new areas in that box, including the ability to quickly warp to other (more interesting) levels. In a sense, this is no different from Tony Hawk's American Wasteland. Sadly, the levels we are given also feel like they were ripped out of a five year old Tony Hawk game.
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but you get to skate in a giant city, through an amusement park and, gasp, even an old factory. To be fair, it's hard to think of a suitable location that hasn't already been mined in a Tony Hawk game, but these Shaun White Skateboarding levels feel especially lazy. With the exception of skating in the air, nothing is added to these generic locations to make them feel specific to this new skateboarding franchise.
Not to pile on, but nothing is helped by the game's bad graphics. Not only are the levels generic and disappointing, but they are visually unappealing. Even after you've added your influence to the world, the colors are too muted and the art design is just plain ugly. The character models are also disappointing, especially the way they animate. The supporting characters are laughably bad, and not just because of their horrific voice acting. No amount of air skating is going to make up for the murky visuals and crummy soundtrack.
On top of having a mediocre single-player campaign, players are also invited to play one of several multiplayer events. But just because people were invited, that doesn't mean they showed up. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get into an online game. So I could only learn about these online modes from afar. Needless to say, if they are at the same quality as the single-player adventure, then I can understand why nobody is logging on. It's worth pointing out that the game supports split-screen multiplayer.
Although it certainly has some interesting ideas, the execution in Shaun White Skateboarding is all wrong. The story could only sustain my interest for so long, thanks in large part of boring level designs and ho-hum gameplay. If this skateboarding game is any indication, then maybe Shaun White should stick to what he's good at.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
If nothing else, Shaun White Skateboarding is interesting. It's full of crazy ideas that no other skateboarding franchise has attempted. I'm talking about magical powers and air skating. Unfortunately, these abilities are the only highlight in this disappointing extreme sports game!