Shaun White Skateboarding First Impressions
We swap bindings and boots for trucks and wheels in our first look at Shaun White's foray into video game skateboarding.
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Though Shaun White has been more often associated with snowboarding in recent years (a common side effect of earning Olympic gold and starring in two video games), he's also an accomplished skateboarder. This is a fact Ubisoft wouldn't mind having you remember this fall when Shaun White Skateboarding is scheduled to hit store shelves, though the game won't lean heavily on White's skateboarding accolades. Rather, the focus is on his approach to skateboarding and his belief that skaters see the world in a different way. A bench isn't just a place to sit; it's a potential touchpoint for an athletic expression of creativity (substitute appropriate skate lingo at your discretion). Shaun White Skateboarding hopes to encourage players to embrace this point of view, and the skating mechanics aim to enable players so that they have a creative influence on the virtual world around them. We watched as sidewalks grew into ramps, rails snaked skyward, and drab areas transformed into vibrant ones in our first look at this new contestant in the skateboarding genre.
The demo we saw took place in an urban area that looked a bit like a miniature Times Square. Benches, railings, and curbs were plentiful, but the whole place was colorless. The world of Shaun White Skateboarding is controlled by the Ministry, an organization that values conformity over originality and decorates all of its urban spaces with shades of gray and oppressive propaganda. Though in the proper game you will play as your own created skater, our demo featured a character model with flowing, curly red locks and tight jeans: Shaun White himself. After being furtively encouraged to stir things up, our demoer kicked his way out of an alley, rolled into the drab city square, and jumped into the air.
As soon as he landed the ollie, we began to see the creativity our demoer had mentioned. A small shockwave rippled out from the landing point, giving the nearby sedan a bright red paint job. With another jump, the dour pedestrians came alive with vivid skin tones and stylish clothing. They also deviated from their routine walking patterns and took notice of Shaun--perhaps beginning to see the world in a more skaterlike (or at least less conformist) way. With a few more simple tricks, the whole street took on a different look, thanks to subtle changes, where the street turned a warmer shade of gray, as well as bigger changes, where the dull propaganda turned into brazenly colorful posters. Each jump was accompanied by a musical flourish, and once the street began to come alive, a gentle soundtrack kicked in. The gradual spread of music, color, and light is one of the big ways that Shaun White Skateboarding hopes to make you feel like you are actively changing the environment, and during our demo, it seemed to work to great effect.
Of course, the changes are all in the visual presentation. Each trick fills a three-tiered momentum meter at the bottom of the screen. A fuller meter means a bigger radius of influence and more tricks at your disposal. With more than 80 tricks slated to appear in the game, Shaun White Skateboarding wants players to have the skills of a pro skateboarder at their fingertips. You can perform tricks by getting dexterous with the analog stick, but for those who find all those thumb gymnastics a bit tiring, you can also perform a trick by simply pressing a button. The move selected will depend on your position and your momentum level, and it should look very believable. Shaun White and other pro skaters consulted on the detailed animations that went into each trick, down to the subtle shifts in foot position that precede each individual trick.
As your momentum grows, more skateable elements open themselves up to you, and opportunities for creativity increase. Areas highlighted in green can be altered by skating on them, and it didn't take long for these highlights to appear all over the place. One line in the middle of the road became a translucent quarterpipe as Shaun skated over it, allowing him to pull off an impressive trick. A central area of the plaza was entirely painted green, and as Shaun skated into it, the whole area sunk into the ground, creating a ramp that led down to the subway tracks. Shaun smashed through a glass plate advertisement as he leapt over the gap, hit a quarterpipe, and was back on his way across the gap up to the street level. The subway remained altered by his passing, but when he came back to the same area later, he was able to reform the ramp so it sloped upward into a big jump.
While the subway provided some measure of flexibility, rail grinding is where you can truly exercise your freedom. Many rails in the area ended in a highlighted green arrow. If you grind onto that arrow and a green rail, it will extend in the direction you are going, continuing your grind. Using the analog stick, you can steer that rail in any direction you choose. Want to link to a bench on the other side of the park? You can. Want to spiral up into the air until the rail runs out? Go for it. See a movie marquee that is just begging to be ridden? By all means.
Not only does this rail grinding mechanic offer an intriguing sense of freedom, it allows you access to higher places that are otherwise inaccessible. As a result, levels boast an impressive degree of verticality that is easily accessible from the ground. Our demoer chained together a few different rail grinds and tagged a number of buildings in the process. Each transition yielded a host of options, and he chose on the fly whether to continue upward to higher landings, traverse across the square to other buildings, or dip back down to bench, lamppost, or mid-street quarterpipe. His passing continued to have a profound effect on his surroundings, and we watched as a rooftop morphed into a halfpipe, a large tree burst out of the sidewalk, and a boxy skyscraper deconstructed down into a stylish example of funky architecture.
By the end of the demo, the urban square was almost unrecognizable. Vibrant colors and lively pedestrians filled an environment that had, for lack of a better term, been skateparked. If skateboarding opportunities had seemed few and far between at the beginning, they were now everywhere we looked. It was an impressive realization of the philosophy behind the game, and it looked like a lot of fun to boot. Only time will tell whether these mechanics can hold up over five large districts of skateboarding, but with an experience system, extra challenges, and bigger mechanics yet to be revealed, all we can do is wait. Be sure to check out the embedded demo and trailer above and stay tuned to GameSpot for more on Shaun White Skateboarding as the Electronic Entertainment Expo approaches.