Shaun White Snowboarding
Does Ubisoft's extreme sports effort thrill or leave us feeling cold?
360, (PS3, PS2, PSP, DS)
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By Will Freeman
Considering their apparent focus on the outlandish, extreme sports games have real a knack for delivering rather dull experiences. Perhaps faster than in any other field of gaming, innovation is quickly mimicked and diluted by pretenders, and spread thinly across the increasing number of bone breaking pastimes that litter the backdrop of mindless pop-punk music videos so beloved by MTV.
For that very reason, games that focus on the likes of snowboarding and BMXing need a saviour every few years to jab a shot of adrenaline into their hip and keep things feeling fresh. Most recently that role fell to EA's Skate, which saved the genre from its accelerated descent into the mindless button jabbing that the once innovative Tony Hawk series eventually spawned.
Skate was a game so superb, and so highly regarded by both gamers and genuine sidewalk surfers, that it was inevitable that its grass roots, buttons-free approach to game design would quickly be aped by other developers eager to apply the formula to another board sport.
First off the line is Ubisoft, with the internally developed Shaun White Snowboarding, which gets its name from the sport's current foremost celebrity, who takes the form of a young, red-haired upstart who is painfully talented, successful and likeable.
Sadly, the game Mr White has put his name too simply doesn't have a chance of enjoying his kind of status in the virtual sphere, as Ubisoft's release is largely a disappointment. Somewhere beneath the soft pisté there is a genuinely brilliant game trying to break out, but a lengthy catalogue of design flaws and shortcomings put Shaun White Snowboarding at the near-opposite end of the quality spectrum from Skate.
Predictably, Ubisoft's effort provides a loosely free roaming gameplay model that allows players to explore several enormous mountainsides at their leisure, picking and choosing challenges as they glide across the slopes, which is exactly where things start to go wrong.
What a good free roaming game does is gently guide you, and give meaning and substance to the way you explore, letting you feel unrestrained while keeping you loosely reined. What Shaun White Snowboarding does is, almost immediately, dump you in a wilderness of fairly indistinguishable scenery and leave you there alone.