Shaun White Skateboarding is attempting to breathe new life into the skateboarding genre. It's definitely different – its story-driven approach and emphasis on creativity immediately set it apart - but is it different good or different bad? We head to Ubisoft for some hands-on time to find out.
Above: You don't have to play as Shaun White – you can fully customize a male or female avatar to your liking
For the single player, we're told that Shaun White himself insisted that the game be story-driven. Having too much story might seem like a misstep in a skateboarding game, but with the help of Family Guy writer John Viener, it looks like Shaun White Skateboarding is actually doing it right. Here's the set-up: the city of New Harmony has been brainwashed into mindless drones by a government group called the Ministry, whose basic belief seems to be that fun isn't fun. Total lack of personality is the ideal in New Harmony, and its citizens shuffle about town humorlessly in an almost zombie-like state. It sounds like a serious situation, but the 1984-esque totalitarian regime is almost adorable in its ridiculousness, as evidenced by the numerous propaganda posters that display during load times and are plastered across the city("Conformity! It's great!").
With the help of New Harmony's ex-mayor and your trusty skateboard, you set out to restore the city to its former glory. As you skateboard around the monochrome streets (somewhat reminiscent of the nameless city in Mirror's Edge), you can bring sterile environment back to life by performing tricks to "influence" those around you to snap out of their stupor. When you perform a trick, either by hitting X or using the right analog stick, as your skateboard hits the ground it sends a shockwave of color out around you – trees blossom spontaneously (ahem, totally like in Okami), people are suddenly wearing hip clothes, and some are even reading books! Truly, your skateboarding prowess is an inspiration to all who see.
Above: The latest trailer gives you a sense of the before and after transformation of the environment
The cooler the trick you pull off, the more it boosts your flow meter, and the higher your flow meter the bigger the shockwave of influence you'll send out. You can't just skate around idly though, since your flow meter constantly drains when you're not doing tricks.
Special green shapeable rails appear all over each area too – when you hop on one, you can direct where it goes to reach higher areas like the tops of buildings. Once you've shaped the rail, you also need to worry about maintaining your balance so you don't fall. Like with real skating, balance is key to performing all kinds of tricks within the city's environments too. Using the analog stick, you carefully watch for visual cues as your skater leans and puts his arms out for balance, and gently correct left or right to keep him (or her) from falling. It took some practice for us to get the hang of, but the natural animations of your character make it intuitive. There's also no penalty for falling or messing up a trick, so experimenting with the environment and trying things multiple times doesn't get frustrating.
Above: Shape green rails however you like - just make sure not to lose your balance
Lastly, we also got a sneak-peek of Shaun White Skateboarding in 3D. If you have a 3D capable TV, you can play Shaun White in 3D, as we're told it supports pretty much every 3D TV on the market. While by no means essential to the game, it does seem to nicely enhance the feeling of scale and "bigness" that Shaun White Skateboarding is going for. Flying up a huge vert ramp and shooting into the air definitely looks impressive in 3D, to the point where it might even make you a little uneasy if you have a fear of heights.
Above: Verts start small near the beginning of the game and get much larger
So far we're liking what we're seeing, not just as skateboarding fans but as fans in general of interesting sandboxy worlds with lots of stuff to explore. Expect more details on Shaun White Skateboarding in the coming months, especially since we haven't seen the multiplayer at all yet and it promises both co-op and versus modes. Stay tuned.
Aug 10, 2010