A developer best known for unique racing games like Midnight Club, Smuggler's Run, and Midtown Madness, Angel Studios proved that its skills extend past racing games with its Xbox launch title TransWorld Surf, a surfing game that played great and looked even better. Angel Studios has ported TransWorld Surf to the PlayStation 2, though the PS2 version is not as uniformly successful as the Xbox version.
Though it uses several conventions laid down by both Tony Hawk and SSX, TransWorld Surf offers a unique gameplay experience. Your surfer can perform a variety of wave-face tricks, lip tricks, and aerial tricks. Face tricks include cutbacks and bottom turns, which are executed simply by cutting back and forth across the face of the wave, as well as the more advanced snap turns. You can perform three different types of lip tricks, known as floaters, which are the surf equivalent of grinding, and there are also a variety of aerial tricks at your disposal Points can also be scored by riding inside the curl, a relatively simple task, but the claustrophobic feeling you get inside the barrel really makes it one of the most enjoyable portions of the game. Each surfer also has a special trick that can be executed only after you've filled up your trick meter, which is done by pulling off big combos.
Combos in TransWorld Surf are much more forgiving than in other boardsports games. Instead of having to transition directly from one trick to another, a combo can be a set of maneuvers performed in quick succession, with the score being multiplied by mixing up what types of tricks you pull off. The game's physics model generally works well, though you'll occasionally find yourself in a physically impossible position or wiping out for no apparent reason. Considering the complex physics associated with surfing, these problems are almost forgivable, though it doesn't keep them from detracting from the experience. Players who approach TransWorld Surf as if it were a skateboarding or snowboarding game will be brutally rebuffed, as surfing is fundamentally different from those two sports. Thankfully, Angel Studios has made a few tweaks to the gameplay in porting the game from the Xbox to the PlayStation 2, making it easier to catch air and effectively making the game easier to get a hang of.
The different modes of play in TransWorld Surf are the action sports standards: There's a pro tour mode, a single run mode, a free surf mode, and a multiplayer mode. In the pro tour mode, you'll take one of 13 pro surfers through the game's 10 locations. You'll surf each location at two different times of day--with these runs being goal-based--and enter a competition run before moving on to the next location. In the goal-based runs, you're given a set of objectives that must be completed before you can move on to the competition and, ultimately, to the next location. Each level has the standard point objectives, as well as a photo-shoot objective, where you must pull off a trick within sight of a surf photographer hanging out in the water. Other objectives call for you to perform big trick combos or especially long barrel runs. Each level also has an objective specific to the location. As you play through the game, you'll have to free dolphins from tuna nets, scare birds away from the surf, and ollie over boats. These location-specific objectives are usually some of the most difficult to accomplish and don't feel nearly as natural as some of the other skill-based goals. The PlayStation 2 version of TransWorld Surf makes these goals slightly easier to accomplish by placing large, brightly colored icons near the goal. If you have to ride a wave all the way down the line, you'll see a checkered-flag marker at the end of the wave. If you have to scare birds away from the surf, a really big arrow will appear over the appropriate birds. This is definitely a welcome addition, as many of the objectives in the Xbox version were unclear and sometimes confusing. In the competition mode, you'll face three other pro surfers in three three-minute heats. You'll be judged on the quality of your run, with points being docked for wiping out, snaking waves, and running into or spraying another surfer. The variety of play offered by TransWorld Surf keeps things interesting, and while the trick system isn't the deepest ever, it's deep enough and finds an equilibrium between intuitiveness and challenge.
TransWorld Surf is the first surfing game to acknowledge that surfing does not occur in a vacuum. While you're out on the water, you'll encounter debris in the water--man-made and naturally occurring--a variety of sea life, and other surfers. The game has a karma meter, which will move from good to bad depending on how you interact with the surfers and the sea life. If you snake waves from other surfers, spray them with your wake, or generally mistreat the marine life, you're more likely to get abused by other surfers or, worse, eaten by a shark. It's really a minor point, and if you didn't know about it, you might simply chalk your bad luck with sharks up to fate. But knowing about karma and using it to your advantage will make playing TransWorld Surf a more enjoyable experience.
The sound in TransWorld Surf really works well on multiple levels and comes together to produce a truly immersive effect. Each round of surfing is introduced with an announcer breaking down the current conditions of the surf, such as wave size, tide conditions, and the temperature of the water. The environmental sounds are generally great, but it's the smaller details that really do an excellent job of selling the surfing experience. The splash of your surfer paddling to the next big wave, the increasing roar of the water as a curl slowly creeps up behind you, the muffled sounds you'll hear once inside the tube, and the fizzing of the sea foam as you pass over a wave are all expertly executed. The soundtrack is also quite impressive, if only because of the sheer volume of songs available. Instead of falling back on a soundtrack of Dick Dale-style surf-rock filler, TransWorld Surf actually has eight different soundtracks that cover a variety of musical genres. A lot of the songs appear in multiple soundtracks, making each soundtrack a bit more like a mix tape, but there's still plenty of music to go around. Whether you prefer punk rock, alterna-rock, heavy metal, hip-hop, down tempo, or good old-fashioned surf rock, TransWorld Surf has a soundtrack for you.
TransWorld Surf on the Xbox was nothing short of a coup on the part of Angel Studios. It was an Xbox launch title from a developer that had never touched an action sports title before, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the game. Even a cursory glance at TransWorld Surf on the PlayStation 2 will tell you that Angel Studios is trying to recapture that same magic, but has come up short. The surfer models still look good and generally animate smoothly, crouching down onto their boards in especially tight barrels, dipping their hands into the water to help maintain balance, and making subtle celebratory gestures after pulling off an especially big combo. While the surfers themselves have been smoothly translated from the Xbox to the PlayStation 2, the water in TransWorld Surf looks a bit off. From a distance it has an appropriately glimmery, random appearance, though when the water is right under you, it looks more like blue-tinted tinfoil. The form of the wave is as right on as it was on the Xbox, and a lot of the spray effects look pretty sharp. It would seem, though, that all this complex wave geometry and water physics put a heavy strain on the PlayStation 2, as TransWorld Surf suffers from some exceptionally nasty slowdown. It's most apparent when switching to and from the wave selection screen, when there are multiple surfers onscreen, when you're in the pipeline, or virtually any time a large portion of the wave is onscreen, though the game will occasionally get choppy for no discernable reason at all. It would be harsh to say this makes the game unplayable, but it is definitely a very noticeable flaw that detracts from the experience.
It's unfortunate that PlayStation 2 owners have been shortchanged on this port of TransWorld Surf. It's obvious that Angel Studios put a lot of work into trying to bring an amazing-looking Xbox game to the PlayStation 2, and it's a commendable effort. Even with its glaring visual issues, TransWorld Surf for the PlayStation 2 is the most playable and polished surfing game available for the platform, though it's still a hard game to wholeheartedly recommend. PS2 owners should approach TransWorld Surf with caution, and multiplatform gamers should be playing it on the Xbox.