SURF

User Rating: 8.8 | TransWorld Surf PS2
The world of surfing games is truly evolving. Angel Studios made the first big step in that evolution by creating TransWorld Surf on Xbox. Getting a real world feel on a sport that's constantly evolving on a medium (waves) that's never quite the same has been a treacherous endeavor, and Angel's path has shown the world it can be done and it can be fun. After having reviewed TransWorld Surf on Xbox last year, I have calmed down a wee bit about the game, and I've realize that I probably over-rated the Xbox version a bit. The time I spent playing it (80+) proves that it's a great surfing game, but perhaps compared to other games of its ilk, skateboarding, snowboarding, BMX, etc., TransWorld Surf may not be a great game. Perhaps a good surfing game. Now that we have a happy version of TransWorld Surf on PlayStation 2, I'm happy to say that this version isn't simply a port, it's an altered, improved version in many respects, it's got an exclusive locale, more multiplayer aspects, and from a strict gameplay perspective, it's a better game. Graphically, however, it doesn't compare to the Xbox version. The difference isn't worlds apart, but it's very noticeable. Anyway, the game still rocks in my humble opinion: It's deeper and more fulfilling. More importantly, you can actually finish it without hurting a loved one. Just kidding, sorta.

Gameplay
TransWorld Surf delivers the first true fully encompassing surf game to consoles. The game offers a powerful 3D engine, more specifically an excellent wave generation system, in which several kinds of waves offer various kinds of experiences. With a Tony Hawk style approach to surfing, Angel Studios' game enables players to paddle into the surf, catch waves, string together combos and earn high points for rewards, such as new cheats, new surf locations, competitions modes, and more. Just as in the Xbox version, players can enter in to a Career mode, which spans 10 beaches, with two times of day to surf each break, as well as a competition mode; a Single Session (a single location session), Free Surf (no time limits, just goofing around), Multiplayer, and Turorials (which is a decent but not great mode for beginners). The Multiplayer mode is good fun for two players, and the addition of the Surf Tag game is great fun: A game of tag, in which you're a shark viewing the game from underwater. Sick but good. The Career mode is the crux of the game, mainly because it's filled with a wide variety of challenges, but it's especially important to play if you want to surf all 10 locations. By meeting goals throughout the game players earn points (a total of 80), and with each new milestone, new locations are opened up. The beach locations highlight real world breaks famous throughout the world of surfers. They include Kirra Point, Fort Point, Tavarua, Hossegor, G-Land, Huntington, Pipeline, Witches Rock, Teahupoo, and Todos Santos. The Todos Santos, Mexico, level is the new break, special to the PS2 version, and it's filled with a large broad-walled wave that's excellent for cutbacks and barrels. Players can also get to grips with several surfers, including a handful not in the Xbox version. The roster features Rochelle Ballard, Shawn Barron, Taj Burrow, Jason Collins, Tim Curran, Shane Dorian, Christian Fletcher, Andy Irons, Taylor Knox, Cory Lopez, Dan Malloy, Fred Patacchia, and Chris Ward. Each has his or her own special move, which can be used when the trick meter is maxxed out. The karma meter is kind of neat, too. Players earn good karma by not snaking waves and not hitting animals, and if instead they do these things, they lose karma, which in turn decreases their point-earning ability and makes them more vulnerable to sharks in the water.

What's nice about Career mode is that players get to surf the same location at different times of the day, which visually affects the game, but also offers new challenges, meaning that each location is essentially two levels in itself. The challenges range from real world surf tricks, such as linking a certain amount of combos together, to more arcade-style goals such as freeing dolphins, jumping gun boats, or clearing rocks or bunkers. Photographers will catch you pulling off special moves if you're in the right place in the right time, and by getting caught on film enough, a competition mode opens up for head-to-head (i.e. human head to computer head) gameplay. Win a competition and you earn newer, faster boards, which are critical to use in later levels.

The arcade-style goals are rather lame in my opinion, and simply downgrade the actual experience, while about 90% of the real-ish surfing goals usually offer are solid items. A few of them are incredibly frustrating, such as jumping bunkers, while the majority are based on developing your skill as a surfer. These include goals such as earning certain amount of points, shooting the pier, getting a number of barrels, or pulling off special moves. The hardest and most frustrating goals in the game are the ones in which surfers are supposed to jump moving objects, and while these have been softened for the PS2 version, they're still pretty lame goals I wouldn't miss in a sequel.

Cameras, Controls and Changes
As a surfer and a gamer I've had a enormous amount of fun playing TransWorld Surf because it's the first surfing game to deliver a smattering of firsts for the sport: a smart effective camera system; deep, long tube rides; real beach breaks (though not necessarily the exact waves from that location); a good control system, and a radical sense of gameplay. Call it Tony Hawk on a surfboard if you must simplify things, but TransWorld Surf is the real thing, and anybody who wants to play a good surfing game needs to check this out.

While the game is essentially the same as it was on Xbox, meaning that it's got the same design, mostly the same characters, same wave engine etc., the PS2 version offers several improvements that make the game a much more pleasurable experience.

The camera system follows the surfer using a third-person perspective so he or she can see in front of themselves. It's moderately high and never loses focus on the surfer. When getting barreled, the camera swoops under the lip of the wave and sets itself deep in the pit of the barrel, so you can see everything. This is a good camera system, which never makes the player feel like he or she has lost control because of the camera itself. The barrel rides, which were smooth and easy on the Xbox version, perhaps too smooth and easy in fact, have been updated and grown more challenging on the PS2 version. Players can get barreled on any wave they want, but the wave actually sucks the surfer in when he gets too deep in the barrel, or pushes him out just like a real wave would. The added tension creates a dynamic that makes it more difficult to stay in a barrel longer. Added to the new version is an extra point reward for what's called a deep barrel: The deeper you go the more points you score. You won't find a better barrel ride anywhere. What needed the most work on the Xbox version -- which is addressed in the PS2 version -- is the player control. More specifically, the interaction, i.e. collision detection between the wave and the surfer. At its core, the control is fine. But what became quickly frustrating on the Xbox version is the inability to land aerial moves consistently, and to explore crucial segments (the hook) of the wave surfers normally do. To generate speed, players gyrate back and forth, which helps them to launch from the wave into the air. But really, the only way of pulling off substantial aerial moves in the Xbox version was to jump from a floater into the air. Which was lame. In the PS2 version, Airs/Ollies and aerial moves are much easier to pull off from other parts of the waves, so now you can gyrate, cutback and gain speed and launch huge airs, enough to perform 720s in one go, and land them. Furthermore, the game has been paced and explained much better for beginners and pros. For instance, the first beach, Kirra Point, instantly puts surfers on a wave, so they can just go. Second, silly challenges such as spraying birds, jumping jellies and whatnot, has been made more clear because simplistic icons spin above those animals' heads. The game starts off with easy goals and becomes increasingly harder, rather than just whaling on you with tons of hard goals right off the bat. So yeah, the controls have been tempered so to speak, and the goals loosened. The game is now better paced, gives better control, and presents a better overall feel.

What needs work in TransWorld Surf is multi-fold, and it starts with the waves themselves. Surfers should be able to get right into the hook of the neck and slash about. There should be more kinds of wave-based moves, not just various kinds of lippers and cutbacks, and the trick system should enable more modifications in air then it presently does. Which means there should be tons more tricks and ways to shred a wave. The list of complaints goes on indefinitely, and that's because this is the first game in what hopefully will become an ongoing series. The waves catch and slow surfers down at the end of a snapback, which is bad. Also, players shouldn’t be penalized in a time-based competitions for choosing the surfer girl to see their waves -- especially since there is slowdown, and especially since the paddling aspect of the game is worthless. Oh yeah, and the paddling? It's worthless. It shoud either be replaced entirely or elimninated. Why put it in when it doesn't benefit the gameplay at all? Also, I still think those dumb animal challenges are for boogie boarders, and they should be eliminated altogether. (Ooooohhhh! Busted. Boogie boarders!) Graphics
What was at first so amazing about TransWorld Surf when I first saw it was the player's ability to pan out far above the surf spot and check out the kind of wave he wanted to surf. The water textures were excellent. The game demonstrated moving whitewater textures, various pretty, reflective water surfaces, excellent barrel formations, foam, spray, wind-chopped water, and clean moving surfer animations. The Xbox version has its problems, too. It suffered from bad slips in the gameplay -- hiccups that stopped gameplay altogether as the information burning off the CD and hard drive caught up to the player itself. It also showed occasional framerate problems that distracted the eye and made for a less than perfect visual experience. The PlayStation 2 version, as we all feared, isn't quite up to the visual level of the Xbox in the visuals department. No, it's not huge leap back, but it's not as pretty and the difference is instantly noticeable. Definitely noticeable. The game doesn't offer the same exact level of texture quality in the waves or the ocean itself, meaning that the depth and quality of the textures isn't as sophisticated nor as pretty. The water looks very average, like that default mercurial water we've seen in the very first PS2 demos ("The rubber ducky demo") and games like Wave Rally. The water looks flat and simplistic while in the non-windy areas, and when in windy areas the texture lacks what looked like bump-mapped ripples in the waves themselves on Xbox, such as in the Fort Point area, offering simple, boring looking water instead. When it comes to watching the jetski girl giving you a lift -- and subsequently showing you the lay of the land -- the engine chugs to a slow, choppy framerate, offering a struggling look at was once instant beauty on the Xbox. That hurts, too. All in all, I would say that the visuals are the biggest and most problematic area of the game. Sound
Musically, TransWorld Surf offers up a slew of bands and songs that can be described as hip, cool and new punk alternative bands, or alternatively, you can describe them as average, run-of-the-mill been-there-done-that surf punk music. The poing being that you've heard this stuff before, and now it's just got a surf beat to it. That's simplifying things a bit...so sue me. After listening to the music for far too long, however, I can honestly say that some of it is good stuff that actually grew on me. All of the sound effects are average and most aren't worth mentioning. The best feature in the game is that players can stop the game and in mid-move, say an ollie, chose any song from any band in the game, test it, play it, switch to a whole separate kind of music, like chill stuff, or slightly reggae-ish stuff, and select it for the gameplay, and then finish off that luscious ollie with that brand new song.

Closing Comments
I love surfing games, and this is the best of the bunch to date. The PS2 doesn't look very good compared to the Xbox version, but it actually plays a whole lot smoother, thanks to better tuned collision detection, smoother moves animations, and a much better sense of speed. In turn, the better sense of speed creates a far more significant aerial/ollie aspect that's superior to the Xbox version in more ways than one. Players can earn huge scores here that were incredibly difficult to attain in the Xbox version, and I bet hard cash that more people will finish this game than the Xbox version. The improvement in gameplay on the PS2 version is significant.

That said, TransWorld Surf has a long way to go, and after my love affair with the Xbox version wilted, I realized in retrospect that perhaps I over-rated that version a bit, which accounts for the difference in scores from site to site.

So, I'll be honest, this is not the equivalent of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater on waves. At least not yet. Granted, there are three versions of Tony Hawk out in the market place right now, and Angel Studios has only finished its first. But still, there is much work to be done. A more hefty set of moves and modifications are needed, more of the wave should be surfable, especially the hook of the wave, and there should be more variety of waves, more breaks, and more moves.

All I can say is that after this review, I'm going home to play some more, which either means I'm addicted and crazy (a theory with has much merit), or that this game is crazily addictive (which has just as much merit).

If you surf, go buy this. If you love extreme sports games, go buy it. And if you just like games, go rent it. It's worth your while.

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