It was only a matter of time before the massive interactive environments common in the MMO and action gaming genres found their way into the realm of action sports. Shaun White Snowboarding, developed by Ubisoft, provides unrestricted access to entire mountains, allowing gamers to tackle the slopes in any way they choose. We had a chance to check out the cutting-edge boarding game a few weeks back in Park City, Utah, one of the four resorts included in the package.
The game features four of the premier snowboarding locales across the globe: Japan, Europe, Alaska, and Park City. The environments themselves are massive. Using the Assassin's Creed engine, Shaun White Snowboarding can render dynamic elements from up to 20 miles away (you can actually see the base of the mountain from the mountaintop). Objects far in the distance appear larger as you approach them, and the backgrounds never appear to be static images. Each of the in-game environments is unique in its own right, including many of the buildings and mountain layouts from the actual venues (though some obstacles, like additional rails, were added to facilitate more tricking). While navigating the numerous paths open to you can be confusing, Shaun White allows you to set markers on your map, allowing you to plan your ideal route down the slopes.
Traversing up the mountains in handled in one of two ways: using one of the various lifts scattered across the resort to start a more typical run, or taking a helicopter up to the top of the mountain. While the lifts offer you the chance to dismount early, which is cool, the helicopter ride gives you access to areas only the gutsiest boarders would ever try. In addition to hopping 100-foot-deep crevices, you will have to contend with the occasional avalanche. A meter will display your distance to the avalanche, and your cash and points resulting from tricks are magnified depending on how close you're willing to get. Starting from the top of the mountain, the helicopter drops offer approximately five minutes of continuous boarding down the mountain.
Breaking ranks from other games in the genre, Shaun White Snowboarding doesn't use preset trick animations. Instead, through usage of the analog sticks, you will be able to dynamically create all of the most common snowboarding tricks and even create your own variations. The left analog stick controls your body positioning, dictating your movement while on the ground and body contortions in the air. The right analog stick governs everything from board grabs and tweaks to spins. The more tricks you can string together without face-planting, the more cash and points you receive. While mastering the controls does involve a learning curve, the basic controls are intuitive and responsive.
Because preset animations aren't used, the game doesn't run into the clipping issues found in other action sports titles (such as executing a trick animation despite being stuck against a wall). As a result the gameplay feels more like a snowboarding simulation that an arcade-style trickfest. While the in-game physics are good, there are the occasional moments where you may raise an eyebrow or two. Although collision detection is accurate, you character's reactions from the impact are usually minor (this is probably intended to keep the game moving). Other times, your character will refuse to make a one-foot drop simply because the game never intended it.
Shaun White Snowboarding offers both single- and multiplayer gaming. The single-player storyline pits you as a young, up-and-coming snowboarder looking to leave his mark on the sport. Shawn White serves as your mentor throughout most of the game, walking you through basic controls at the start of the game and slowly scaling up to more advanced tactics as the game progresses. As you complete various challenges and win competitions, Shaun will take notice and you will eventually be able to pit your boarding skills against Shaun himself.
The multiplayer experience in Shaun White is another area where the game really shines. The beauty of the multiplayer mode is that it the experience looks and feels no different from the single-player game. Everything is the same, except that you're no longer the only human player on the slopes. You can invite friends to join your multiplayer mountain at any time, and various challenges are scattered around the mountains to weigh your skills against your friends. These challenges come in a variety of flavors including half-pipe competitions, point competitions, and straight races. You even have the option to wager your cash with your buddies during these challenges.
Once you have amassed a good amount of cash from tricks, challenges, and competitions, you can bring up the apparel shop at any point to swank out your character. Options include new boards, bindings, and goggles, as well as a collection of threads that ranges from the practical to the over-the-top to the downright strange.
Shaun White Snowboarding certainly looks to deliver an engaging snowboarding experience. The variety of challenges and massive, open-ended environments, an interactive and intuitive trick system, and a strong multiplayer experience should provide long-lasting appeal for action sports gamers. Shaun White Snowboarding ships November 16.