What Shaun White Snowboarding is aiming to achieve is that rare blend that should guarantee commercial success: a combination of something that videogames do well (racing across the side of a mountain at high speed) and something that very many people want to buy into (the contemporary gaming hip of extreme sports). This kind of fusion occasionally creates a masterpiece: see the Tony Hawk’s series or SSX Tricky. In this instance, however, it has created a bland little game that sits securely in the lumpy, grey middle ground of the happily mediocre.
Shaun White is a freeform snowboard ’em up with a wide range of different locations that you can explore (in a downhill fashion) across four mountains. As you play you follow a vague series of goals defined by ‘Shaun’s Challenge’ and go on to collect a ton of random achievements that will boost your wallet, allowing you to modify your basic appearance. In this way you try to improve your boarding skills, doing fancy jumps and grinds of the kind you might expect to find in a skating game. You can also pick up your board to run around on foot, throw snowballs at people, use ski-lifts, and generally make the most of your alpine holiday.
All this is fine, but there are nevertheless two critical problems with SWS. The first is that the environments, although filled with potential for exploration and snowboarding action, simply aren’t that stimulating or varied. The main four mountains are all very similar, and you find yourself doing very similar things after about an hour of play. This alone seems to defeat the point of its open-ended structure.
The other problem – which is rather more significant – is that this is a very complacent PC port from console. Although keyboard and mouse controls are there, it constantly refers to gamepad buttons in the in-game prompts, which is just unacceptable. We’ve talked about this elsewhere – the latest Tomb Raider required you to do nothing more than plug in a pad to get the relevant controls on screen, unplug to pop back to the mouse and keyboard. This is the minimum we should expect from games in 2009: it’s just basic housekeeping. This lack of effort permeates the game from the core design upwards, and it’s disappointing.
This is one of those situations where, even if you were an absolute devotee of the sport, we can’t see you having any kind of fondness for the game. Despite having apparently been developed in the Assassin’s Creed engine, the world is not beautiful. Nor is the snowboarding particularly exhilarating. The sensation of speed is pretty good, but there’s no sense of risk or danger. Even the most horrendous wipeouts get shrugged off. With no visceral thrills and little reward from exploration, this becomes something of an empty shell, or perhaps a wonky snowman – likely to vanish from memory with the first rays of sunshine.
Jan 2, 2009