When you're attacking the slopes in Ubisoft's upcoming Shaun White Snowboarding, barriers are pretty much a thing of the past. In addition to sporting absolutely massive mountains on which you can carve to your heart's content, you'll have access to a vast majority of the game from the get-go. It's just one of the surprising things about the upcoming snowboarding game, from which we're anticipating more each time we see it.
In addition to checking out the unique Wii version earlier today, we had a chance to see the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game and hear from the Ubisoft Montreal developers who are behind the project. It seems like one of the goals for the project is to give as much to the player as possible in the early goings. Accessibility is key in Shaun White; as a result, practically the entirety of the game's four locales (Alaska, Park City, Utah, Europe, and Japan) is open from the start.
Each of these locales is split into several distinct areas, each of which will present a different boarding experience. The peak, or top of the mountain, will be the most dangerous of the bunch, with jagged cliffs, steep drop-offs, and the ever-present danger of avalanches. Further down the mountain is the back country, tree-lined and slightly less precarious. Here, you'll be dodging trees (or grinding on them, in some cases) as you make your way through challenges or races with your friends. The final part of every mountain is the resort area; you're likely to see more NPCs boarding around, as well as more man-made objects you can jump or grind.
With such sprawling areas to attack, the developers at Ubisoft are working hard to make sure that getting from one spot to the next is as simple as possible. Consider the chair lift, for example. At the bottom of a slope, you can choose to grab a lift and ride it to the top. But you don't have to sit in the chair while the lift slowly meanders up the hill; at any point you can jump off and hit the snow running, or warp to the top if you like. That flexibility extends to simply getting around the mountain. In addition to easily warping back to the starting point to try challenges multiple times, you can walk around. That might sound minor, but the ability to hop off your board and walk a few feet up the mountain should be welcome if you miss a challenge's starting location, or if you simply want to slow things down for a minute.
But enough about walking around--what we really want to tell you about are the friggin' avalanches. When on the peaks of mountains, you'll need to be careful not to trigger avalanches in some sections. If you do, you'll need to do your best to escape a thunderous rolling mountain of snow and ice, which you can try to avoid and outrun. The closer the chunks get to you, the tougher it will be to stay vertical on your board. As cool as avalanches sound in the game, they look even more impressive, with massive chunks careening right next to your character as he or she desperately tries to keep out of the way.
The single- and multiplayer experiences in Shaun White look to be as integrated as possible; indeed, some of the NPCs you will run into when on the slopes might turn out to be friends if you're playing in an open, online session. Developers showed off the multiplayer portion of the game and the drop-in, drop-out nature of the gameplay looks to very smooth. Beyond racing or taking part in challenges, you'll also be able to bet in-game cash on specific challenges; beat your buddy, then take his cash into the shop to upgrade your clothing or gear. The developers currently have 16 players working online and are hoping to bump that number up to 32 by the time the game is released later this year.
Visually, Shaun White is looking impressive indeed, and it's fascinating to see what the Assassin's Creed engine can do in the fast-paced world of extreme sports. The draw distances are incredible, resulting in some truly impressive vistas and a number of different camera angles (including a first-person cam that looks to be bad for those with a queasy stomach) will give you a lot of great looks at the action. The deep snow trails that your board leaves are very cool too, as are the snowballs you can toss at your opponents as you fly down the slopes. Stay tuned for more Shaun White Snowboarding coverage in the near future as we follow this game's run to release.