Ok, so if you haven't seen me mention it in the past couple days on the site somewhere, I've been rather excited to get my hands on Shaun White Snowboarding
for the Xbox 360. The last snowboarding title for the 360 was at launch with Amped 3, and for me, that is entirely too long. As well this title, using the Assassin's Creed engine, has boasted some impressive videos and screenshots for me to drool over while I waited. The past couple days have proven to be the tougher to get through as a few of the initial reviews begin to roll onto the web. I generally just read reviews and shove them aside as I like to form my own opinion thank you, and with that I bring to you my first blog entry in The Gaming Exposition
, hopefully it helps enlighten you on whether or not this particular snowboarding game is for you.
Well first, when I put the disc in and loaded her up I'm greeted by a familiar friend, the Ubisoft logo, this time with the added flare of a neat snowy effect, how nice. Now I generally like to take a smoke break and watch the loading/startup/initial video sequence so as usual, I did this first thing.
.... .. Ok, now that the important stuff has been taken care of, let's get down to business. As soon as you press the start button from the main screen, you're taken through a short video of one of the mountains while Shaun White voices a lil forward/preface for the game, it does have a touch of humor to lighten the mood if need be, this sort of humor is found throughout the game as well, even the manual appears to be written by Shaun himself
After this short vid, you're taken to where you create you personal snowboarder, you can choose between male and female to start. There are 16 faces to choose from for males and 7 faces for females. No customization options to any of the faces. You're given $4,000 to start with and you have to buy your gear. There are free options in each category as well so money doesn't have to be spent right away or you can spend it all on one item to start if you'd like. You can purchase different boards, bindings, jackets, pants, boots, gloves, hats, goggles and even backpacks. Accessories and clothing in this game is definately not lacking. There are thousands of combinations that you can create so your character will certainly be unique on the slopes even though his or her face may resemble another boarder
After you've created your personal snowboarder, you may start riding. First thing you'll notice is the loading screen. I thought I was in the matrix right away as I saw my character and just white, but then realized during the loading screens I have a half-pipe to ride in void of any background whatsoever, cool enough for me though as it gives me a chance to practice a pretty difficult part of the game, that being the half-pipes while I wait on the loading times. I tinker with the controls a bit pressing each button before I head down to the half-pipe. Pressing B, I pick up some snow in the form of a snowball and throw it upon release of the button, nifty! Pressing Y while stationary, and my rider unclicks his bindings and gets off the board to walk around, really nifty! The game loads fairly quickly and tells me to press A to continue and not being one to wait, I do so without even trying the half-pipe, but great that its there during loading times even though it does really feel like the matrix with its white/void background.
A beautiful view of snowy mountains in the background greets you straight away with a message instructing you to get on your board and fasten your bindings, it also informs you that you can take the right path ahead for a quick tutorial, or the left path if you feel you already know what you're doing. Of course I took the right path, but first lets talk quickly about the hud.
Your camera view is directly behind your boarder, and this can be controlled with the right stick, as well while you're riding with the right and left bumpers to get a side view as you fly down the mountain. In the bottom right is a radar of sorts that shows you locations of certain things close to your proximity. In the bottom left corner is the d-pad controls so let me briefly go over those. Pressing right on the d-pad will bring up your music options which can be your own set playlist from music off your 360's hard drive, or can be one of several set playlists in the game. You can also stop the music, fast forward, & rewind. Also let me note here that the soundtrack in this game is simply fantastic. Pressing down on the d-pad brings up your special options, allowing you to set markers you can warp to at any time, access the save replay editor and setting a betting quest, which is a multi-player function allowing you to create your own challenges, apply a wager to it and challenge friends. Pressing up on the d-pad will access your multi-player options and pressing right on the d-pad will access your chat functions, as well as being able to turn off Proximity of other players. The multi-player of this game operates very much like Test Drive Unlimited and Burnout Paradise to give you an idea. So other than the radar and your d-pad menu, the hud is clear of nothing but beautiful powder and snowy views. Now, on with the game, lets get through this tutorial.
As you head down the right path, the game interjects for a moment to give you pointers on how to ride and explain some of the controls to you. You go through the normal, ollie this, ollie and spin this, ollie and grab, grind etc. The usual if you've been through this type of game before. It is quite brief though as you reach a large jump towards the end it takes you through a short cinematic as you bail and Shaun comes to your rescue, then proceeds to give you your first mission, telling you to collect 12 Euros scattered about the mountains, then to come back to him. Sounds easy enough lets get on with it. Starting down the mountain immediately in front of you is your first Euro, alright! Checking my lil radar thing I noticed earlier I see two more Euro icons behind me up the mountain a bit it seems and several other icons of other sorts scattered about as well. Not knowing what these are I just continue down the mountain trying to get a handle on the new control layout that differs a bit from other games of this genre prior. I'm able to pull off several daft manuevers if I say so myself and well... bail many many... many times.
After a few minutes down the slope I finally reach the bottom and am greeted with a message informing me that I can get back up now using the chair lift or the helicopter, and the mountain is mine to free roam as I please. As well it informs me that there are many challenges and competitions all around the mountain, and that I can press the back button to access my trail map which looks very similar to a real trail map you would get from a ski resort. Using the right stick in the map I can scroll through the different map markers as well as relocate to many chair lift and helicopter locations scattered around the mountain on the fly. The euros I need to find however are not marked on this map, so I decide to relocate to the highest point on the mountain and see what kind of view I can find. So alright then back up the mountain shall we?
I took the helicopter to get to the top so I got a short cinematic of a helicopter flying and then was literally dropped in on the location of my choice, which happened to be the peak. Absolutely breathtaking is all I can say, I immediately try and come to a stop before I fly down the mountain too far, I then unsnap my bindings, lets have a look around. Apparently there is a challenge right here as well, but its a multiplayer King of the Hill challenge so we will have to tuck that away for later. The view from here is really.... quite incredible. Well anyways, lets find these Euros and get on with the game already.
I begin to carve my way down the mountain really enjoying the simulation feel of this title and its gorgeous scenery. Using my handy radar, I'm able to find another Euro relatively quickly, then shortly after fall off the mountain into an ice chasm to my death. This respawned me back where I found the Euro (later finding that when you die it just respawns you where you last stopped on your board or a short distance away if it has been a long time since you stopped). I continue down the run, carving this way and that, doing a few rails and grabs, maybe a bail or two. Overall doing pretty well and getting the hang of this new control scheme fairly quickly. The sense of speed is incredible when you really start to fly, as well the camera pans out on the really steep drops to give you a feel for whats about to happen at the right times
Takes my breath away that's for sure. Zooming down I notice on my radar I've passed my other Euro to collect for this mountain, but not wanting to waddle on my board back up or even unsnap the bindings and walk, I just simply continue on down the slopes enjoying my new found toy. Getting to the bottom again after a very long ride, this mountain is absolutely enormous, I decide to take the chair lift this time and waddle my way over to it, finding my way into the chair lift I'm immediately put into the chair and just begin my lift up the mountain. You actually get to ride the lift up the mountain, or you can skip it if you'd like, taking you to the top of that particular chair lift instantly (their are a few lifts for each mountain linked together to get you up to the peak over various slopes). Even better, you can 'drop' from the chair at any point up your ascent just like you'd want to be able to! Taking the lift from bottom to top can also be good for a break if necessary as it takes 10 minutes or so to do it. While riding on the chair lift the view is first person and you can move your head around in all directions except behind you, as your head would then twist off and you would die so, that's a good thing. This is also a time to really enjoy the fantastic job the developers did on the graphics of this game, snow clouds from wind off the powder, other boarders going down the slopes etc, as well as the sky and lighting which is truly incredible. When I arrived at the top it was simple enough to find my third and final Euro for this mountain using my radar but after I found it the game really didn't inform me of anything new to do. So I took the closest lift back up and had another go down the slopes! Seriously a joy for me so far! The replication of actually going to a ski resort and having a day at the slopes on your favorite snowboard in your favorite kit.... well they did an excellent job at making you feel exactly that in this game.
I found my first challenge after some extensive carving of the back country first
I ended up getting the lowest rank and earning me $55 on my first go, not bad I thought so I continued on. Found another challenge after some more free riding and this time it was an air trick challenge where only air tricks counted towards my score. Had to run this twice in order to get the lowest rank, but earned me $110 for doing so. After this I decided to just enjoy the mountain for a bit, having a quick break on my next chair lift run taking in the sites, I happened to spot a wicked line I thought would be fun as I rode up the mountain on the lift and decided, yeah let's drop, hit the right trigger and bam it shows my rider drop off the lift in third person (the lift ride itself is the only first person part of this game) and does a good job shifting cameras to the view as I quickly hit the powder and descend down to that line I spotted. Wow, aced it just like I envisioned.. ran back down to the chair lift again and took it back up to the top this time quick with the push of a button. The first freestyle challenge I tried was near here so I headed to that as I felt I could now perhaps advance my score total to the next rank. It took me a few tries but I did get it, as everything is very simulation in this game, you may find it difficult to get the high score totals at first but the satisfaction when you do is well worth the effort. Let's try a few more events on the mountain. Looking at my trailmap I map out which lifts I should take to get to the events I wanna try first and then head to my desired destination. Doesn't take me too long, I did have to ride a bit of a horizontal line to get to the next lift over that went further up the mountain, and if you enjoy snowboarding in real life then you'll enjoy all of this as they replicate it perfectly, going horizontal is a tricky carve as it should and when you have to stop where your board won't glide, you'll waddle with your board strapped like you would or you can unsnap the bindings and carry your board to where you wanna go. The way your rider runs in the snow having to pick up his feet and then when he runs on hard surface is excellent, it all looks and feels extremely real. Anyway, up the next lift with the push of a button and off I go, there was another two competitions up here I wanted to check out, I checked my trailmap to try and map out my route again to make sure as when on a mountain this size it is very easy to take the wrong slope and get lost.
You can't set waypoints which is something I thought perhaps they could have added, but it does add to the realism quite a bit so I actually enjoy it more without this mechanic as well at times. I decided to horizontal carve the mountain and waddle-walk my way to just above the point of the two competitions I wanted to try.... and happened to find a rather large cliff with yellow warning signs and a fence....
Well let's see what happens shall we?
I totally over shot my two competitions with this massive air I got, like the ice chasm I expected death but was rewarded with a sloppy landing and then coming really quickly to a stop as I slid on my backside with the board carving the snow like brakes, I ran into a house for some added assistance.
Unfortunately I did overshoot my two competitions by just a bit and had to waddle-walk my way to them up the mountain... this took me a minute. I set a marker once I reached them using the d-pad like I mentioned earlier since I wanted to run the other competition after this one and it was close by. After I got the lowest rank score, earning me another $120, I warped back to my marker. This acted just as I'd hoped and put me on the board standing horizontal ready to go, pressing the right trigger sets your guy in motion from this position in a way that is very true to what you do in reality, a joy for myself really. The score total for this next freestyle challenge that I had to get was a bit higher than what I've come across before, but much to my surprise I got it after just two jumps as this challenge started you before a really impressive jump into a downed tree rail-slide, another jump after that with some wicked air and I had my challenge score already for the low rank. I had a lot of time left on this challenge and continued my run. I ended up getting the next rank from the lowest which was a much higher score than anything I've previously done. I decided to take a quick smoke after this.
Oh and $180 was my reward, excellent.
I wanted to move on to a different type of challenge after this and had a look at my trailmap and found one I thought would be fun, then mapped my way to the spot. It was a death race, my first race oh boy. It was also just further down the mountain so it was only a quick ride down the slopes to get there. I did have to be very careful however to make sure I didn't pass it up though, but there was a chair lift drop off nearby so getting back would have been easy none the less, sometimes passing up your desired destination happens and if you have to walk or waddle uphill, it can take a minute. To me this is all part of the realism of this game and is really spot on as well an important element that adds to the effect of making you feel like you're there.
The races in this game can be really intense, as the snowball mechanic I mentioned earlier with the B button really comes into play. You can hold the button down and the longer you do the better your aim will be, but it also slows you down so can be a detriment to your racing success as well. When hit by a snowball you immediately take a tumble to the floor. Its pretty tough to hit people though if they are any distance in front of you, next to you, and let the snowball fight ensue!
In my first race I managed to do a really sick jump off a cliff landing on the roof of a building with a wicked rail-slide. I hit this spot-on much to my surprise and was zooming down the mountain quite a bit ahead of the rest of the pack. There was one or two AI with me however and we had a snowball fight to the finish, most of the time missing each other as we zoomed down the mountain. I ended up actually beating him by a NOSE of the board right at the end, photo finish. Great way to start my racing career.
My time placed me mili-seconds behind the second place rank for cash reward, so I ended up with third on that but it did put an impressive $670 in my wallet.
Just 00:00.44 quicker and I would have gotten that rank with $808 to spend. Oh well, it was a blast anyways, just means I have a lot to accomplish in this game for later on. Sounds good to me.
I wanted to try a different mountain, but the game didn't tell me if I'd unlocked any so I had been just boarding around having a blast for now. However, I desire the sights of another location and wanted to continue my Shaun quest to pick up those Euros, figured he might give me something for it you know. So I pressed pause to see what this menu had to offer. Let me break it down for you now.
The first selection is the Player Log, which allows me view all the competitions on this mountain and the medals I've received for them, as well as view the online leaderboards for each challenge. It also tells you the rewards and goals for each challenge as well as a small description of each. Pressing the left and right triggers here will change mountains, there are 4 mountains here to choose from and I notice the scores and goals for the mountains I have not visited yet, are not posted. The description of each challenge however is. The next selection on the pause menu is Shaun's Quest which shows your progress on collecting the Euros/Coins scattered about the game. There appear to be 12 Euros for each mountain that will unlock different focus abilities. There are four focus abilities in all so that's 48 coins total to collect throughout the game. These can be anywhere on the mountains and are sometimes a trek to get to, all in good fun though if you ask me. I will speak on the focus items in the next paragraph. The next selection on the pause menu is your Inventory, from here not only can you change all your gear on the fly but you can purchase it as well. Now with such replication of a ski resort I would have expected a shop down at the bottom of the mountain, and there are boards to look at down there but apparently buying something is as easy as a press of the start button. This is all fine by me. You can also press Y to access the Gear Set screen which appears to be some sort of DLC tool that will be used to purchase more gear in the future, the current gear set shown is 2008-2009 so who knows what to expect for this feature later. Or perhaps I'll unlock even more gear later in the game I'm not sure yet, the amount already shown is really expansive so it won't bother me either way. Next in the pause menu we have the Replay Editor, which takes you out of your career into whichever replay you chose to edit/view. I had one to choose from somewhere so I checked it out, it was me horizontal carving/waddling over to that cliff earlier, didn't realize I recorded that but ok. From here you can play/pause, set markers and toggle the UI on and off. Not much to editing other than clipping the video to what you want to see. No different camera angles or effects, so a bit lacking what we've seen in skate but still not a bad effort and effective. You can also upload your replay's to online. I've yet to tinker with this however I'm sure its similar to anything we've come across in the past. Exiting the replay editor made me come to realize it does take you out of your career so I had to jump back into that from the menu. Next on the pause screen is Ride With Friends, from here you can quick match, custom match, host, host private and check leaderboards. While quick match and custom match allow you to play in other peoples games, pressing Host will take you right out of the pause menu turning your mountain into an online mountain. Host private does the same but private so only friends can join. Leaving the created session is as easy as pressing pause and hitting leave session which is now an available option from the Ride With Friends menu. Which just takes you out of pause and turns you mountain back into a single player domain, pretty seamless. Leaderboards menu just lets you view all the leaderboards for every challenge on all the different mountains while in a paused state. Finding your own score seems to be much easier from the Player Log than from this screen however as you can't seem to sort by anything but top players from here. It does sort by weekly, monthly and all-time though. The next setting in pause is the option menu, from here you can turn vibration on and off, change the brightness, invert the Y and X axis, turn the radar on and off, turn the subtitles on and off, as well as swap the grab and shifty controls if it feels more appropriate for you. You can also turn the tutorial tips that pop up on and off from here and change all the sound volumes for music, speech, sound fx, ambience, and interface/menu sounds. As well you may change this storage device from here with Y. The game controls themselves cannot be changed with the exception of the grab/shifty swap option so hopefully you can get used to them. I know for me it didn't take but a couple of minutes but for others this can be a chore as they are slightly different from any game prior of this genre but not so much so that it isn't too difficult. The final selection on the pause menu is Destination, from here you can change mountains on the fly which is what I wanted to do in the first place so lets hit up Europe the next mountain on the list.
I mentioned the focus items a minute ago so let me go over those really quick. I haven't unlocked these myself in the game yet but the manual mentions them as such. You activate focus with the X button. There is a speed boost focus which helps increase your speed better when tucked forward. Also there is a power check focus, which is a body check like move that allows you to destroy new obstacles and helps in finding new locations as well as some coins. The last focus is the jumping focus which increases the amount of air you will get when focus is activated and you jump.
So again the half-pipe matrix loading screen to tinker around in, trying to improve my lackluster half-pipe skills, while I wait on Europe to load up. It does and as I zone in I'm given a message explaining that each challenge is given a difficulty rating the same as you'd see on slope difficulties in real life. Green circle, blue square, black triangle and double black triangle. It also told me that I have a lot of cash just burning a hole in my pocket and to goto my inventory and spend that dough!
I really came to see the differences in the mountains however so I jogged over to the helicopter and decided to take a drop from the peak.
I must say the resort itself at the bottom looked a lot different as well as the mountain as I gazed upward in amazement. My trailmap showed all of my challenges again and the different lifts locations etc, everything looks good so far. I also noticed for the first time it was snowing, not sure if the weather changes or that's just here in Europe but I'd imagine the former, however at this time I'm not entirely sure as I did just load into a new mountain. Well on to my helicopter then...
Different isn't the word for the view from up here in Europe, oh my god was I high up (wait until you see Alaska). There were two challenges up here, another king of the hill multiplayer event and a freestyle challenge for me to try. It's freestyle 3 so the point total to get lowest rank was hefty, but I imagine coming from this high up, I'd have plenty of attempts to make that score. On my way down I was greeted with my first avalanche
The vibration kicks in and you hear the rumble of the mountain behind you. A meter comes up on the hud to tell you how close you are to your doom as the avalanche races down behind you. I was pretty quick and doing some impressive jumps getting my freestyle score for the challenge. The rumbling went away and I came to a stop to turn around and look behind me. Incredible.... I continued down the rest of the timer on the event and finished with my $215 worth score, lowest possible but I did stop to gaze up the slope for a good bit of time.
I wanted to retry that and see if I could get killed by the avalanche so I went ahead and hit the retry button from my final score for the event screen. The avalanche ensued and I slowly carved back n forth down the mountain. Enveloped in a cloud of snow I raced in it for a good few seconds, then my controller vibrated violently and my event came to an abrupt ending.
Even though I retried my best score from before stayed posted so I just continued on from that to see what else we could find. Right below me a bit was another challenge I hadn't tried called precision riding, this is basically a slalom of sorts where you have to pass through gates to achieve your goals, the more gates the more reward. Another avalanche ensued and the camera panned out a bit as it does during an avalanche which actually helped me see a bit more ahead to plan my carve for the most gates. This also really gives you a feel of escaping something as you race down the mountain carving this way and that to make sure you get as many gates as possible while staying in front of your impending doom. I ended getting 24 gates, falling only 3 short of the highest goal possible, not bad for my first precision ride considering I had read on other reviews that this was remarkably difficult because of control issues. I have encountered no such problems as of yet myself. In fact I find the exact opposite I find the control to be really well done. I clicked to my trail map and took notice this time of the Avalanche warnings in red color with their yellow danger signs... no wonder.
The different challenges you'll come across in this game are slopestyle (rails and air tricks), jibfest (rails), big air (one big jump, best trick you can do), collection events to collect items, precision riding (slalom), death race (snowball fight race through gates), ground tricking (ground tricks, manuals and such), air time (total air time over a run), freestyle (anything goes to get points), half-pipe (self explanatory), rat race (multiplayer race usually starts near peak race to the bottom, players can take whatever route they want to finish fastest), king of the hill (multiplayer game from peak to bottom to get the best respect to time ratio (score while being fast). As well after beating all the challenges on each mountain you will unlock an ultimate challenge for that mountain.
Each individual mountain looks remarkably close to what you find in that region if you went there in reality. The amount of area to explore almost seems endless even though there is only 4 mountains total. I wanted to wrap this up now before I give away too much more of the story, I hope you get the idea of what to expect from reading this as that is my goal, I'm not here to form my own opinion as much as I am to tell you what the game is has involved. That being said I have listed below some pros and cons as well as things I think others may not enjoy even though I did.
Realistic physics and environments. Incredible views and scenery as you would expect from the Assassin's Creed engine. Great sense of speed, realism as you carve your way around the mountain. Free roaming of the mountain to go as you please. You can get off your board and walk around. Snowball fights add a sense of humor/fun to an otherwise intense game, but also add their own intensity as well during races. The control scheme though different works remarkably well after you get a feel for it. Camera pans/views are really well done. Avalanche!!! Incredible & expansive accessory/gear collection to buy with your hard earned cash from events. Excellent online setup, everything runs smooth and no hitches thus far. Leaderboards accessible from anywhere. Fast-travel from anywhere if you'd like or take the long chair lift ride for that sense of reality or to perhaps scope out the mountain, or even for a quick break. Helicopter drops from peak locations. The whole feel and sense of realism that you are actually going to a ski resort and having a day of fun in the sun carving down your favorite mountain. The soundtrack for this game is really fantastic. Feels like a next-gen snowboarding title.
No real weather effect changes, it does light snow from time to time but that's really it. Though the control scheme works really well after some getting used to, it is slightly different from any games prior of this genre. Character creation as far as body-type/face etc is extremely limited. Replay editor not as good as previous games that have done the same thing, but a decent effort that does its job.
You may not like:
The simulation/realism of tricks in this game, there are no 24-rotation, with 10 backflips while spinning your board on one finger. AI throwing snowballs at you in races can make it difficult to win at times, until you get out in front it can be rather tough. Can be lots of walking/waddling on your board which though very realistic, can be slow and tedious for some. The game lacks a real 'this is what to do now' type storyline and can leave you feeling flustered over the large free-roam environments.