Stoked First Look
Snowboarding goes realistic with weather forecasts, backcountry terrain, and helicopter drops.
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When Amped decided to go flashy and over-the-top with its third installment, things began to look grim for the realistic action sports genre. At that point, the Tony Hawk series still had plenty of momentum as it continued to grow more eccentric with each passing year, and it seemed like anyone hoping for an action sports game with more of an eye on realism than extreme style was out of luck. But then Skate came along and breathed life into the genre, leaving the door wide open for games that aimed to offer an authentic representation of their board sport of choice. Following in its footsteps is Stoked, a game that's aiming to do for the mountains what Skate did for the sidewalks.
Stoked's sense of realism begins with the way it forces you to keep an eye on weather conditions. The game has what developer Bongfish calls "dynamic time and weather systems," which use an in-game weekly calendar to forecast what the conditions will be like on a particular day. You take a look at a calendar to see that it'll be clear on Tuesday, dumping on Wednesday, or whiteout conditions on Thursday. It's not an Animal Crossing-style clock, either; these are abbreviated days that don't force you to skip work and school to stay home and snowboard.
The weather conditions play a large role in the way that you'll be tearing down the mountains, too. Rock surfaces that might be exposed when it hasn't snowed in a while will be covered in the white stuff after a decent snowfall, and slopes that were tracked up will be turned into powder. Then again, it works both ways. If it's really coming down, you might not be able to see very far in front of you, so there's equal parts benefit and drawback to the dynamic weather system.
If you don't like what you see, you can easily switch mountains in search of better conditions. Stoked will offer five different mountains: Almirante in Chile, Fuji in Japan, Diablerets in the Swiss Alps, Shuksan in Washington State, and an Alaskan slope titled quite simply as "Alaska." Bongfish is particularly proud of the fact that each mountain is more than just a face; you can snowboard down every part of the mountain, from the front side to the back side and everything in-between. Once you've got a pilot's license, you can even fly a helicopter to drop you off at any point on the mountain, ski lifts be damned.
The Skate comparisons extend to the control scheme as well. You'll control your boarder's body with the thumb sticks, whereas the left and right triggers determine what you'll do with each hand during a grab. Pulling down on the right stick will take your character into a crouch, and the snappier you pop it up at the lip of a jump, the more air you'll get. Then, while flying through the air, you can twist with the left stick and tweak your grab with the right stick. Grinds are simply a matter of landing on the rail in the ideal position; there's no dedicated grind button.
As you progress through the game, you'll be automatically classified as either a stylish boarder or a hucker. Stylish riders are the ones who go for slow rotations in the air, making their jumps look smooth and effortless. Huckers go all-out, jamming as much rotation as they can into each and every jump, crouching long before they take off to maximize lift. This classification system is like a branching path that will unlock new talents depending on which side you go down. Huckers will find speed boosts on the slopes, whereas stylish riders can earn the ability to unstrap a binding to do one-foot airs.
Like in most action sports games, the ultimate goal in career mode is to be sponsored and get your name out via stylish footage. In terms of sponsorships, the game offers 30 real-world snowboarding brands ranging from Burton to Dragon to lesser-known, obscure companies. Your sponsor sends you on a media tour through the game's five mountains, having you take footage of yourself in the style of Absinthe Films, the snowboard video company that Stoked has teamed up with for the game.
You can also take photos any time you want, no matter if you're in career mode or just free-riding. This extends to multiplayer, as well. Although they're still determining the maximum number of players for each gameplay mode, you can camp out beneath a jump at any time and snap a photo of another player going big. We're not sure if there's any sort of content-sharing system that will let you share photos with other players, but this sounds like an awfully interesting feature for budding filmmakers.
Stoked is looking like a game with some pretty cool ideas behind it. Visually, it lacks the polish of the big studio games that it's drawing inspirations from, but there could very well be enough interesting features that snowboarders might have to think twice about which game to pick up this winter. You can expect the game to arrive in November.
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