Review: Shaun White Skateboarding
My initial plan for writing this review was to first introduce some details about Shaun White and his snowboarding game, and how it compares to his newest game, Shaun White Skateboarding. I was going to tie that all up with some sort of witty, snarky comment about the quality of that game, and then go right into the details with a perfect segue that would impress the fellow readers and make them appreciate my skills as a writer.
But you know, I don’t think I want to waste my time racking my brain on a game that seemingly lacks any semblance of brains whatsoever, so I’m just going to say this right off the bat: Shaun White Skateboarding is not a good game, by any means whatsoever.
Before I get to that, it would probably be better to detail the few good things about the game. Structurewise, Skateboarding is your standard open-world skateboarding game, much like the current skateboarding benchmark, the Skate series. There’s plenty of strategically placed blocks, bowls, ledges and rails on which to pull off tricks, which gives the player some sense of freedom.
In addition, Skateboarding also introduces the concept of shaping one’s own rails, roads, and ramps. Throughout the course of the game you’ll find green, glowing rails and areas on the ground that you can shape into your own liking. While the roads and ramps aren’t too useful, the special rails can be shaped to connect onto other, previously impossible-to-reach ledges, which not only gives the player access to “secret” areas, but effectively extends one’s grind time and rewards the player with more points.
Points are measured in “Flow”, a motivation to keep on stringing together tricks and combos. There’s three levels of Flow, and when each is successfully reached, it gives the player the ability to unlock parts of the stage and “colorify” the world around you. Level one flow might convert common city streets into ramps, level two flow might make a vert ramp bulge out of the side of a building, and level three flow might make halfpipes and bowls appear out of thin air. Reaching level three Flow is quite satisfying, as every time you land a trick you send out a huge shockwave that brings color and life to the world around you. Little things like cars rocking back and forth and trees swaying around when you land a trick in level three Flow is admittedly satisfying; I found myself landing tricks just to see cars rock like an earthquake just hit.
To get Flow, you need some sweet tricks, and Skateboarding has a pretty robust assortment of grinds, kickflips, and grabs. The trick system in this game is similar to that of Skate‘s trick mechanic, with the right analog stick doing most of the work. Holding the stick in any direction and then flicking it to the opposite direction initiates a unique kickflip. Holding the R2 button while doing these motions activates further tricks, while the L2 button activates manuals on the street, and plants and stalls in a vert. That’s just the basics of it, as there’s still different kinds of grinds, complex tricks, and other variations of the kickflips, but you get the idea: there’s a whole damned lot of tricks you can do.
Everything sounds pretty good, right? You’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, this doesn’t sound like a terrible skateboarding game, what’s the big deal, hater?” Well, that’s perhaps the number one problem with Shaun White Skateboarding: at its core, it’s barely a skateboarding game. Let’s start with the story: you’re a faceless, nameless character living in a city controlled by a corrupt, fascist government limiting everyone’s freedom, and you’ve been inadvertently chosen to end this tyranny once and for all by hacking computers around the city and committing questionable acts to bring down “The Man”.
…Wait, my bad, that’s the plot for Fallout: New Vegas. Let’s try this again: in Shaun White Skateboarding, you’re a faceless, nameless character living in a city controlled by a corrupt, fascist government limiting everyone’s freedom, and you’ve been inadvertently chosen to end this tyranny once and for all by hacking computers around the city and committing questionable acts to bring down “The Man”, with a skateboard.
No, friends, that’s not an editing error, that’s really the basic plot for this game. You’re some guy living in a tyrannical society where some corporation’s made everything grey and colorless. When Shaun White, the apparent last hero on earth, gets kidnapped, you take up his skateboard (which can apparently make everything colorful and vandalize buildings with SICK TWISTED graffiti) and join a resistance movement to rescue White and help him remove the corporate influence once and for all. What part of that, pray tell, is a skateboarding game?
That question ran through my mind more and more the further I got into the game. The deeper I got, the less it felt like an open-world skateboarding game, and the more it transformed into some 3D platformer with a skateboarder as its main character, and grinding as his main attack. Quests in this game aren’t about “pull off this sweet trick in this area to gain points” or anything similar; they’re ridiculous Splinter Cell-esque tasks, like “take out all the security cameras in this vicinity”, “destroy all the De-Influencers around this area”, and so on. During the latter half, most of your skating time is spent using shaped rails to connect to specific rails to destroy security cameras, De-Influencers (which sap your Flow completely), and other “enemies”. Shaping rails sounds like a fun concept when it’s applied to a free-skate setting, but when they’re used to shoehorn platforming elements into a sports game, it’s just tedious and mind-bogglingly frustrating.
Additionally, about halfway through the game a hacking element is introduced that further overshadows the skating aspect of the game. There are computer stations around the world, and in order to get power back, deactivate security systems, etc., etc., you’re tasked with getting to these computers and hacking them with some special tool you’ve received from one of your rebel buddies. Okay, no problem, it’s probably some sort of minigame vaguely related to skating, right?
That’s a big fat NO: hacking a computer takes you to a “computer realm” where you take control of a metal ball that needs to be navigated through a narrow floating path made up of circuitboards and microchips, to get to some hole at the end. It’s an elementary 3D platformer at heart, and a terrible one at that. While the earlier levels are simple enough, the later ones are a pain to get through because the camera constantly changes angles as you navigate through tight corners, and thus changes the input of your analog movement. It’s dumb, it’s boring, and worst of all, it’s completely irrelevant to skateboarding. The fact that it becomes a pretty major gameplay mechanic later on only exacerbates its irrelevance.
As expected, with all this non-skating gameplay, the actual skating parts suffer, as well. Ideally, a good skateboarding game should reward you with the most points for stringing together a multitude of difficult tricks and grabs on a vert. According to Shaun White Skateboarding, the most points should be garnered from you jumping on a rail and grinding on it for long distances. Once you realize that all of your tricks give you an insultingly miniscule amount of Flow, and that the only way to quickly increase your Flow is to grind and grind and grind, the trick aspect of skating no longer becomes fun. It becomes, well, a huge grind. It doesn’t help that you don’t even have a full library of tricks to start off with – all of your good tricks must be purchased from a Skate Shop with XP gained from completing tasks and special challenges around the world that’re more tedious than challenging.
I haven’t even touched on the writing and characters in the main story yet, a weird mish-mash of characters and stereotypes with absolutely dreadful dialogue that often borders on pandering. There’s a Hispanic character in particular that almost assuredly sounds like Shaun White himself did the voicework and thought it’d be funny to voice him in a bizarre “Latin lover with an effeminate voice” accent that is so bad, it is very close to bordering on a hate crime.
Speaking of hate crimes, Shaun White Skateboarding even manages to insult after the game is over. This may have just been a sick fever dream after devoting so much time to this game, but after you’ve defeated the corporation and released everyone from their freedom, the end cutscene shows a ridiculously huge zeppelin about to crash into a tall skyscraper. While I can’t find any evidence of it online, I’m pretty sure that’s what I saw, and if that is indeed the truth, wow, Ubisoft, kudos to you for ninja’ing something like that into a game in a post-9/11 society.
And that really speaks volumes about this game. Ubisoft managed to put in not one, but two socially offensive elements into one of their games, and not one person, not one media outlet caught onto it. The apathy for this game really is justified – it’s a product seemingly strongarmed by suits from the ground up to create an experience that they think kids will want and love, and they have failed magnificently. I failed to mention any multiplayer play, but that’s because at any given time I hopped onto the multiplayer, there was a max of four people online, with an average of one other person online with me. That is not multiplayer.
Ultimately, Shaun White Skateboarding is a walking paradox that should be avoided at all costs. It’s a skateboarding game that isn’t really a skateboarding game, it’s a game for the “XXXtreme” crowd that isn’t really “XXXtreme” by any means and it’s a game designed to “screw The Man” that’s very likely been created from the ground up by “The Man” himself.
As Bart Simpson would say, “The ironing is delicious.”
- Title: Shaun White Skateboarding
- Platform Reviewed: PS3
- Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- MSRP: $59.99 (PS3, XBOX 360), $49.99 (Wii), $29.99 (PC)
- Release Date: Available Now
- Review Copy Info: A copy of this game was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.