We’ve always found it weird that PCs and consoles, despite being a form of home entertainment commonly associated with all the negative aspects of being a geek have always played host to such a large number of sports games.
After all, computer games could be used to let you experience anything – so why confine yourself to something realisitic, like playing football or snowboarding?
Regardless, there are hundreds and hundreds of sports games out there waiting for gamers of both the hardcore and casual variety to have a tinker with. And while some sports games do edge closer to the escapist fantasies, there are still those which play closer to real life, for whatever reason.
Of those two extremes, Shaun White Snowboarding plays very much like the latter rather than the former; it’s more Snow Boarding Simulator than SSX.
Keen to avoid the stodgy trappings of being a simulator title though, Ubisoft has bought a licensed face and name on board, lightened up the controls and gameplay just a little bit and tried to become the Tony Hawk of the gaming world. It’s a lofty aim to say the least – hasn’t Amped filled that gap even without the annoying and ever-so-punchable face of a teenage millionaire?
Still, Shaun White does have one thing going in its favour at least – and we mean the game, not the person who is made totally unredeemable from his first annoyingly-voiced appearance. That one thing then is the ‘Open world’ buzzword, which is here powered by the Assassin’s Creed engine.
It’s this focus on an open world that Ubisoft has sought to make the cornerstone of the Shaun White experience. From the outset you’re given total free reign to explore the multiple routes up and down the mountains, crossing over between paths as you go. When you reach the bottom you can either get a helicopter to drop you off back at the top or hop on a chairlift – freely able to drop back onto the slopes from whatever point.
This open mountain approach isn’t anything wholly new of course – some of the more recent Amped games have taken a similar tack. In previous snowboarding games though if you weren’t limited by invisible walls then you were limited by the gameplay; you wouldn’t be able to go back uphill for example. Here though, that’s not an issue. You can not only walk around at your leisure, but you can use the simple interface to set markers to warp back too.
Unfortunately though, getting around the mountain isn’t always a totally streamlined experience. You can shuffle up and down the mountain on foot, but doing so can be a fiddly and slow experience and on more than one occasion we saw physics bugs crop up in the process, sending our custom-made boarder flying across the treeline. Damn you, Havok!
The helicopters and chairlifts are handy and well-fitting mechanics too, but each has its holes, such as needing to wait until you get to the bottom of the mountain to use them. Speaking of the mountains, it’s worth pointing out that the game isn’t chock-full of levels either. There’re plenty of competitions to do and routes to explore, sure, but only four mountains. Each one is supervised by one of Shaun White’s friends and each one is referred to only by continent or country for the most part. The Japanese supervisor is especially eyebrow-raising he’s introduced using the subtitles “HERRO!”
The fact that there are only four mountains isn’t as big a deal as it might sound on its own, mainly because the ranges are truly quite massive and there’s at least five or six routes distinct trick-tracks down each slope, but it does unfortunately open the game to other flaws. Trekking out to certain points to start an event can be a bit of a chore for example and it isn’t eased by the lack of a truly detailed and helpful map.