I don’t know what happened, but even with the talent of Shaun White and the ok base that was Shaun White Snowboarding, the first skateboarding game foray for Shaun White and Ubisoft is a major disappointment. Shaun White Skateboarding does take some risks in an attempt to break from the norm, but ultimately the game is ruined by a rigid mission structure, a story that is neither funny nor silly in a good way and is plagued by skateboard gameplay that isn’t really fun or that engaging. If you’re a longtime gamer of skateboarding game then it’ll be hard not to be disappointed by Shaun White Skateboarding considering it could’ve been something different and a potential successor to the Tony Hawk arcade style of gameplay.
Visually the game doesn’t disappoint as seeing color and life brought back to the world is at times breathtaking. The city of New Harmony is designed very nicely and doesn’t feel like it was a city built as a skate park. The escape mission blew my mind.
The story had a lot of potential but just fails miserably. Skateboarding game enthusiasts will probably grow bored with the controls which at times are too casual centric or just feel unresponsive. The mission structure is terrible as it has you doing things like destroying surveillance cameras or zeppelins. Shaun White Skateboarding as a whole doesn’t really stay true to any of the themes of skateboarding, the biggest of which is individuality and creating a style in how you skate. Online mode is dead community wise.
Ever since I was a kid I simply adored skateboarding. I don’t know what it was about the sport that captivated me but I just enjoyed the hell out of it whenever I saw it in action. Perhaps it was seeing films like Back to the Future or even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which both heavily featured skateboarding that served as my gateway to being in love with the sport. Then once the X-Games rolled around my appreciation for skateboarding reached new heights as seeing pros like Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist and Andy MacDonald do their thing in the half-pipe blew my mind. At times I wondered if I was maybe born in the wrong part of the country as a place like California probably would’ve made me a skateboarder compared to the streets of my native Chicago.
Having never skateboarded in real life, mainly because I’m a burly dude, I resorted to video games serving as my key outlet to getting my extreme sports action on. The Tony Hawk video game series was something I loved until things went haywire but recently EA’s Skate franchise has taken the mantle of being the best skateboarding game out there thanks to its realistic take on things and that controls for the most part do an excellent job of mirroring what skateboarding is all about. Now Ubisoft has hit the streets with their own skateboarding title featuring the wildly popular Shaun White. While Shaun White may not be at legendary status just yet, the dude definitely has enough rep to carry his own game; hence we have Shaun White Skateboarding. But sadly, Shaun White Skateboarding never shapes up to be the game it could’ve been and instead is stuck in an identity crisis that is both annoying and highly frustrating.
When Ubisoft finally lifted the veil off of Shaun White Skateboarding back at E3, I think we were all shocked by what we saw. Instead of a “standard” skateboarding game, we had a game that took players off of the street and allowed them to grind rails that went skyward and bring color and life to a dull world. In the originality department Shaun White Skateboarding definitely deserves props or at least a commendation as it indeed is unlike anything else we’ve played in the skateboarding genre. But sadly its originality eventually falls short and isn’t enough to mask a game that at its essence doesn’t represent a single thing that skateboarding stands for.
In its first attempt to really set itself apart, Shaun White Skateboarding has a story. And by story I mean it has a legitimate story with a narrative element throughout compared to the tales from the Skate franchise which have been “dude, build your skating empire bro.” The story of Shaun White Skateboarding revolves around the Ministry, a bleak organization/corporation that has brought “tranquility” to the city of New Harmony. To the Ministry bringing peace and harmony means taking the individuality out of everything, taking the soul out of everyone and generally not allowing any free will. New Harmony is essentially a bleak totlaritian world completely devoid of color – just think of a more modern version of George Orwell’s 1984 minus the torture involving rats on the face. After Shaun White is snatched by the Ministry it’s up to you – a former Ministry hive mind employee to use your skateboard and bring life back to the world.
One of the many cutscenes that are groan worthy.
As cool as the story for the game could’ve been, it does a complete face plant in just about every way. Yeah, the story could’ve been a simple skateboarders unite for the freedom against the corporation, and in some respects it is, but it’s executed so poorly and has so many weak moments that it’s a pain to sit through. Why is the world of New Harmony like this? Who is this older chap telling me what to do with my skateboard? How the hell did Shaun White, the Flying Tomato, get caught in the first place? These are just some of the issues the game has but it goes farther than that. Ok, so the game basically has you bringing back color and life to the world against the dull and lifeless corporation establishment.
Bringing back life to the world is quite a cool feature visually but I have one question: how the hell does bringing color and life back to the world include a Wendy’s and Oakley store popping up? Yes, I guess you know having a Wendy’s isn’t an anti-establishment thing since skateboarders love a juicy burger right? I know it’s a nitpicking thing, but it’s the inclusion of obvious product placement in a story that is attempting to be anti-establishment that just killed the whole thing for me. Stuff like that and the rather dudebro attitude of the skateboarders, who are cliché as you can get, makes Shaun White Skateboarding a failed attempt at offering something unique to gamers. Instead of getting another balls to the walls, crazy ass story like Amped 3 (most underrated sports story ever), we get something that seems like it would be perfect in one of the bad Tony Hawk games five years ago.
Almost shameless product placement.
But the problems with the story are just minor complaints compared to the actual gameplay and skateboarding mechanics of Shaun White Skateboarding. When I saw a developer demo the game to me at E3 I was rather stoked with what I saw. Sure, I was just being shown the basics but I was captivated at the prospect of having verts and ramps suddenly pop out of the world and grind rails that curved and grew as I was on them. There are certainly glimmers of greatness in the game, but everything just falls flat for one reason: it’s not a skateboarding game. Yes, Shaun White Skateboarding isn’t exactly a skateboarding game, or at least not the type one would expect as far as mechanics are concerned. While I was able to pull off all the standard moves one would expect like front flips, manuals, and grabs, the game isn’t built in a way to challenge gamers at their skateboarding skill or inspire them to get better. At the core of things, Shaun White Skateboarding is a mission based game that just so happens to feature skateboarding.
Instead of being tasked with missions or challenges that involved me having to win a race, event or beat a high-score, I had to destroy Ministry propaganda speakers in a downtown area. Yup, Shaun White Skateboarding is the type of game where it consistently doles out boring missions one after another that in no way are grounded in the freedom and creativity that skateboarding is all about. The majority of the missions all set you on one straight path with little or no additional ways in how you can tackle them. In my time with the game I often found myself doing missions that required me to perform actions x, y, z in order to pass otherwise I wouldn’t succeed. There was even one mission early on where I decided to tag a billboard that was a few yards up ahead from the one that was marked on my screen. But upon finally doing the marked billboard, which was a bit tricky since the game performs poorly under specific circumstances, I had to do the previous billboard again. Is skateboarding all about doing a predetermined action with little or no style? It isn’t to me but I guess to Ubisoft that’s what skateboarding is.
But there is one mission highlight in the game in which I found my character escaping from a Ministry helicopter that was chasing me atop the roofs and through the buildings of New Harmony. While this escape mission was a fairly standard on-rails section, complete with a bit of trial & error, the flow of it was good, the action was a bit over-the-top and it just had a certain crazy vibe that reminded me a bit of Amped 3 – the one game that Shaun White Skateboarding should’ve taken more inspiration from.
The terrific escape mission in Shaun White Skateboarding.
I would’ve given Shaun White Skateboarding some slack if the actual skateboarding itself was fun and engaging. While it isn’t an utter mess, surprisingly considering Ubisoft’s other sports games; it’s in a weird identity crisis area just like the story. Ok, so we all know that Tony Hawk was always about arcade skateboarding that allowed you to do a 75,000 point trick like it was nothing; and Skate was about pulling off realistic moves that felt satisfying as hell. Shaun White Skateboarding tries to do a little bit of both but is ultimately too casual friendly for its own good despite having controls that at times aren’t intuitive at all. The controls for Shaun White Skateboarding are somewhat of a paradox, since pulling off certain moves are easy, but then doing a simple thing like a grab requires you to press two buttons and pull off a precise analog stick movement. It’s almost as if Ubisoft tried appealing to both the casual and core audience with a greater emphasis on the casual audience but the end control solution is one that’s workable but is far from offering an easy pick up and play factor.
The tricks offered in Shaun White are fine but as I said, there’s something about the controls which makes it a real pain to get anything going. There were a few moments where I found a nice area in the city of New Harmony, which itself is decided rather nicely from a skating perspective, but it takes a long ass time to build any rhythm up. And once I did get going I really didn’t find myself getting that immediate satisfying feeling as I wasn’t being rewarded with a big combo counter or anything. In fact, the main thing on the HUD the entire time is the Flow meter. By pulling off tricks and chaining them together you gain Flow, the one thing required to bring color and life back to the world.
There are three levels of Flow all of which are different colors (yellow, blue, purple). Of course each level is more difficult to attain but here’s the real kicker: if you’re not a skating god all the time your Flow will run out rather fast, more so on Flow levels 2 & 3. At times the quick depletion of Flow and how long it takes to accumulate can make certain missions a chore as it’s required to unlock things like skate parks or to rid the world of further Ministry propaganda. For being the key mechanic in playing the game, acquiring Flow at times can be really bothersome and if you pull off a move that doesn’t go as planned and you bail, all your Flow goes back to zero. Oh and speaking of when a trick goes bad, instead of seeing a gnarly character animation like in Skate, my character would dissolve into a mass amount of mini white balls that, almost golf ball size in shape. It’s as if my character was Derezzed or something like in the world of TRON. It’s an interesting choice over the standard bail animations and keeps things generally “safe and violent free” but it’s an odd one nonetheless.
A segment from an early portion of the game.
As is most often the case with Ubisoft games, the visuals and art style of the game are a key highlight. Taking a stylistic approach to the world and character designs, Shaun White Skateboarding isn’t that dull to look at compared to how mind numbingly boring the missions and narrative can be. The city of New Harmony is broken up in a few key districts, which requires loading, but the actual size of these districts are rather huge and do offer some nice skating opportunities. Seeing the world turn from grey to one that is lush with colors like reds, greens and yellows along with having some remarkable street art and graffiti is seamless and is a cool sight to see. In fact, the street art and crazy objects like a cat sculpture/statue sticking out of the wall is what adds a lot of character to the game since the gameplay and narrative don’t get it done by a longshot.
Even though the city of New Harmony is of an adequate size with a nice amount of skating opportunities, I just wished there was a bit more depth to the city. Once I got acclimated to an area and fully revitalized it, there was hardly anything for me to do aside from a few challenges or arrow collecting. There aren’t any cool secondary missions or one off areas to spend some time in, which really limits the replayability and general pick up and play factor of the game for those looking for a game to play on a lazy afternoon.
Normally when it’s applicable I like to discuss the online portion of a game in my reviews. With how popular online gaming has become this generation, it’s almost a requirement to delve in what a game offers from an online perspective and what it does and doesn’t do right. Well in the case of Shaun White Skateboarding I sadly can’t discuss the online component since there was no one playing at all. Once I hopped into the game and tried to find a match I was met with a nice search result of 0 games found. This is only the second time such a thing has happened to me, the first being John Woo’s Stranglehold in which upon getting it the first day no one was playing online. I don’t know if the lack of anyone playing Shaun White Skateboarding online speaks as to what the game had to offer, but considering I even found people playing the craptacular Rogue Warrior online then I think that does say a lot.
Shaun White Skateboarding had a lot of potential but for some reason the product we received is one that doesn’t know what it wants to be. The game doesn’t know if it should be an off-kilter tale telling a serious plot or if it should be a cliché dudebro adventure that asks its audience to turn off their minds just like the folks of New Harmony that have been wiped of their soul in the game. Shaun White Skateboarding can’t find the balance between being an easy pick up and play game that offers depth in the form of missions or if it should be a skill based game that requires tons of patience and time, just like skateboarding in real life. But what is clear about Shaun White Skateboarding is that in no way does it represent the values of what skateboarding is in any form, especially when it comes to actual skating and how the culture is. It’s nice that Ubisoft tried to do something different instead of giving us a Skate clone, but I don’t think anyone wants to play a dull mission based skateboarding game that only has a few redeeming factors.