The action sports genre has become a pretty popular place to be lately. While we've seen, and will continue to see, a deluge of skateboarding, snowboarding, and BMX games, the area of surf games remains fairly barren. There has yet to be a definitive game that can be referred to as the "Tony Hawk of surfing games." Developer Angel Studios is looking to change all that with its Xbox surfing game, TransWorld Surf. We recently received a preview build of the game and are pleased to say that it's coming along nicely.
In the past, developers have struggled with finding a control system that was both flexible and intuitive enough to really immerse players in the sport of surfing. Angel Studios has obviously been paying attention to the mistakes of others, as TransWorld Surf is looking to have the best control system of any surfing game we've seen yet. A variety of wave-face, lip, and aerial tricks are at your disposal, all of which are accessible through a control system very reminiscent of Tony Hawk's. You can perform three different floaters (the surfing equivalent to a rail grind) by positioning yourself near the top of the wave, pressing a direction on the left control stick, and pressing Y. Aerial tricks function similarly when you use the shoulder buttons as trick modifiers. TransWorld Surf is also the first surfing game to really pull off tube riding. As the curl begins to envelop you, the camera will swing down tight behind your surfer, who will crouch down and place one hand in the water to help maintain balance. There isn't much you can do inside the tube in terms of tricks, but minding your speed and trying to keep your surfer from getting rolled will likely keep you occupied enough. Overall, the control is tight and responsive, and the variety of tricks available to you keeps things interesting, though we did encounter the occasional physics hiccup in this build.
Further drawing from the Tony Hawk well, TransWorld Surf includes a trick combo system that lets you chain together a series of tricks for bigger scores. Taking the fluidity of surfing into consideration, the game has a looser definition of a trick combo than its skateboarding brethren and gives you combo points for simply pulling off a series of tricks in succession. And variety counts, as you are awarded with combo multipliers for keeping your trick selection diverse.
The latest build of TransWorld Surf contains four primary modes: pro tour, single session, free surf, and multiplayer. The pro tour mode is broken down into two sections. The goal-based portion charges you with a variety of goals, such as scoring 10,000 points, pulling off big combos, performing specific tricks, and freeing the dolphins trapped in tuna nets that you'll find scattered through each level. The second half of pro tour is a competition mode, in which you and three computer-controlled surfers compete for the biggest score on a single wave. The single session and free surf modes serve as practice areas for the pro tour mode, giving you the opportunity to hone your skills with and without a time limit. The multiplayer mode includes the free surf and competition modes, as well as "king of the wave." In king of the wave, up to four players surf on the same wave for four minutes, with the simple goal of staying on their boards longer than their opponents.
From what we've seen so far, TransWorld Surf is set to be one of the best-looking surfing games out there. The textures on the water look clear and varied, and the game easily has the most realistic curls in any surfing game. It's possible to determine which beach you're surfing at just by the size and shape of the waves and the color of the water. The spray off your board looks good, though the droplet effect that occurs on the lens of the camera when you make a big splash, while cool, is just downright silly looking. The surfer models look good, and their smooth animation lends more realism to the game. The frame rate at this point is fairly solid, though occasionally the game chugs a bit when there's a lot of action onscreen.
The only component of TransWorld Surf that appears to be incomplete is the sound. The environmental sound effects are there, but the soundtrack is not yet in place. However, the sound that's there is impressive, with good ambient beach noise, convincing wave roar appropriate for the size of the curl, and other smaller touches, like the fizzing of sea foam as you pass over a wave.
While the surfing genre hasn't garnered the respect that the other more prominent action sports subgenres have attained, this looks like the game that will break that trend. There may not yet be a definitive surfing game out there, but if this build is any indication of things to come, TransWorld Surf is certainly a contender for the title.