Shaun White Snowboarding

Ever since EA’s great SSX series swanned off On Tour back in ‘05, then maybe experimented with a spliff or two and ended up losing the plot somewhat, we’ve been bereft of any decent ‘boarding sims. After all, 360 launch title Amped 3 might have been genuinely rib-tickling in the humour department, but as a recreation of the adrenaline-pumped, massively baggy-pantsed sport it left a lot to be desired. But, after a three year hiatus, there’s an avalanche of loveliness coursing down the peaks toward us, and at its head stands snowboarding prodigy Shaun White – out to do for the white stuff what Tony Hawk did for ollies and kickflips all those eons ago. Boarding icon White isn’t simply a pretty face to slap on the box to ramp up sales. Instead, he’ll actually act as a ‘friend and mentor’ throughout the game, hanging out with players to impart his zen-like wisdom, teach new tricks, take you to visit (and unlock) new parts of the mountain and even indulge in the odd snowboard fight. The big flirt.

In truth though, SKATE is possibly the more valid comparison. Featuring a Himalaya-full of sweeping mountain ranges to explore, Ubi want to furnish the game with an unparalleled sense of freedom – whether it be leaping across ravines, competing in lightning downhill races or racking up big scores in half-pipe compos. Even though games like SSX 3 provided sprawling mountain ranges to romp through, they pale in comparison to the scale and ambition of Shaun White. From half pipe arenas packed with boisterous spectators at the foot of runs through to uncharted slices of wilderness where you can go to simply get away from it all.

Visually, the game looks downright stunning – no surprise really given that it’s running on the powerhouse Assassin’s Creed engine. The crisp powder of the snow, the soaring vistas, rocky outcrops, insane level of detail on the riders, the sheer primal scale of the mountains – if this doesn’t turn out to be one of the prettiest sports titles ever made, we’ll eat our beanies whole. Gameplay-wise, we’re hoping it hits that sweet spot between the best SSX installments and the N64’s delectable 1080° – that is, an arcadey blast with just enough sim-style depth on its side to keep us hooked. Ubisoft are keen to stress that you will be putting your life on the line at times – especially when roaming the off-piste wilderness – but whether they can live up to such lofty claims (Can you die horribly in a boarding game? CAN YOU?) remains to be seen.

But it’s Ubisoft’s community vision for Shaun White that’s making us throb where we shouldn’t. Not only will you be able to record great swathes of your on and off-piste exploits using the game’s filming tool; just like SKATE, you’ll also then be able to upload your ‘Greatest Hits’ (best times, most spectacular wipeouts, biggest airs) online for all to see, admire... and possibly mock. As this is an extreme sports game, it’s almost a given that character customisation (what Ubi deem ‘reflecting your own inner rider’) will play a whopping great role. Ergo, Ubi have also licensed every major snowboarding clothing and equipment brand for that truly authentic feel.

Perhaps best of all, Shaun White’s multiplayer potential sounds nothing short of – yes – gnarly. Unlike SKATE’s eight-player open world, Ubi are aiming for a full 16 boarders haring around the mountain at any one time – teaming up to search for new lines, going head-to-head in compos or chilling out together and scoring bitchin’ snow tans. Finally, a snowboarding odyssey to get stoked about – backed by an iconic figurehead, a huge publisher and, most importantly, an engine developed by the gods themselves. Consider us both surprised and intrigued.

Jul 21, 2008