A few years ago, you couldn't enter a video game store without seeing an extreme sports game plastered with the name of a semifamous snowboarder, skateboarder, or wakeboarder. With the exception of the Tony Hawk skating series, that trend seems to have diminished recently. It's not completely dead, however, as evidenced by Ubisoft's upcoming Shaun White Snowboarding. The publisher is teaming up with the Olympic and X Games gold medalist for a new snowboarding game, which is due for release later this year on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii. We had a chance to see it for the first time at a recent Ubisoft press event.
Shaun White Snowboarding will let you tackle the slopes in four different locales: Japan, Europe, Park City, Utah, and Alaska. The latter was the only mountain shown during the event, which featured a mixture of huge jumps and cliffs on the upper elevations, gradually turning into more of a slalomlike course as you continued down the mountain toward the tree line.
At first blush, the game seems to provide a slightly more realistic take on snowboarding than snowboarding games in the past have done. Sure, there are still high-flying jumps and lots of tricks to pull off, but, at least in the build we saw, everything seemed to be a bit toned down from the SSX games we've all been playing for the past few years. There were neither neon signs to blast through nor any turbo boosts that we saw; it looks to play it pretty straight. That isn't to say that the game is completely free from spectacle, however. In fact, the visuals we saw in Shaun White--which is being built with the same engine used in Assassin's Creed--were impressive indeed, with big, realistic-looking player models and environments that were massive to say the least. The game will also have lots of gear and equipment to unlock from officially licensed manufacturers; some of which will affect your rider's attributes.
The surface your boarder is on looks to play a big role in how your board reacts to your input--producers told us there's been a good deal of focus during development on ensuring that different conditions will all feel unique. Riding on hard-pack snow, for example, will make carving difficult, while on power, there will be more sliding as you make your way down the mountain. And when it comes to those icy stretches, you'll be lucky if you can move your boarder at all; best to just hang on and hope for the best.
As you make your way down the slopes, you'll earn combos for pulling off tricks, and though the controls for those tricks aren't finalized yet, we do know a little bit about the combo system. As you nail successive tricks, you'll earn a combo multiplier that will earn you more points the longer you keep the multiplier alive. Should you crash, your combo will be reset and the game will keep track of statistics, such as biggest combo or longest session without bailing.
While the event shown during the Ubisoft demo required the player to follow Shaun White down the snowy slopes, there will be a number of different types in the full game, including chasm jumping, death race (where players can chuck snow balls or body-check one another while blasting downhill), and trick-based events. Better yet, the game will be online; though the developers are still trying to determine whether the game will have support for 16 or 32 players online. There are other similar design decisions still in the pipe: For example, the European and Japanese locales might be based--like the Park City course--on real locales, or they might be completely fictional.
Because we didn't get a chance to actually play the game ourselves, it's tough to get a full view of where Shaun White Snowboarding is heading. Visually, the game is looking great and the online multiplayer for possibly as many as 32 people sounds like it could be great fun. Still, the key for any sports game-- especially an extreme sports game--is the controls, and we look forward to seeing how the game progresses in the coming months.