Shaun White Skateboarding

Bring Balance To New Harmony
by Meagan Marie on Oct 06, 2010 at 06:15 AM
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release: Fall
Rating: Teen
Platform: Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3

It’s an ambitious move to take on competitors in a well-established genre, more so when big-hitters like Skate 3 excel in their presentation and suite of features. Last year Tony Hawk Ride attempted to bring something new to the action-sports table by drastically changing the nature of play, and failed miserably. Will Ubisoft Montreal have any luck pushing the boundaries in their newest title?

The Ministry Says: “Conformity, it’s great! It’s safe!”

The stage is set with Shaun White’s detainment. As the leader of “the Rising” – a group of rebels attempting to counteract the damage done by the Ministry – White has been public enemy number one for some time. The news of his capture would please citizens of New Harmony as it scrolls along the news tickers – if “emotion” was still a word in their vocabulary. But it isn’t. The Ministry has made sure of that.

White himself doesn’t seem concerned with his capture. Instead, he seems interested in you, the one tasked with taking his personal effects and locking them away. White seems to know more than you do, and upon touching his prized skateboard, something inside you awakens. A disembodied voice instructs you to escape the facility. Jumping down a conveniently-placed maintenance shaft, you do just that, and enter New Harmony with fresh eyes.

The Ministry Says: “Don’t push yourself! Be average!”

Before the Ministry took over New Harmony, skateboarding was the lifeblood of the city. Now everything is boring, lifeless, and safe. Stepping into a subway, you are greeted by the body that belongs to the distinguished voice that lead you here. A white-haired gentleman named Jonah introduces himself, and makes obvious that he has a firm grasp of the situation. Obviously more than you do, anyway. He believes that you are the one that will inspire creativity and reinvigorate New Harmony. Starting now.

The transformation begins instantly. Jonah instructs you to perform simple tricks within the subway station bring it back to life. A few ollies and a short grind along a bench do the job, turning the enclosed space from desaturated and dim to an interior washed in color and urban art. Moving to an adjacent room, Jonah now shows you how to influence the world on a bigger scale, introducing the concept of flow. Flow is a measure of success in the game, and the currency in which you influence the world around you. By skating a large rail and performing some simple street tricks, we built up enough flow to cause a ramp to burst from the surface of the street. The ramp then allowed us to reach a brainwashed denizen of New Harmony, and with our flow meter maxed out, another trick woke him from his stupor. Time for bigger and better things, says Jonah.

The Ministry Says: “Verts are not okay. Verts are against the laws of nature.”

Now it’s time to really stretch our wings. Jonah tasks you with influencing groups of people instead of a single passerby. This mission highlights the transformation and terraforming techniques in a greater capacity. These mechanics give you purpose in New Harmony, more so than simply viewing it as a giant playground. Instead of aimlessly wandering around looking for a perfect line or a hidden vert, you are drawn to lifeless sections of the city, pondering how to best reach an area and restore its luster.

Strings of tricks fill your flow meter and will open abandon shops, return a courtyard fountain to working order, and bring back the pulse of New Harmony. Ubisoft Montreal does a good job of making this awakened world appealing – aside from populating the idyllic new city with Stride gum billboards and the occasional Wendy’s locations. While sponsorship is obviously a large part of the skateboarding culture, the commercial angle is a bit of an eyesore. 

Your basic roster of tricks goes far even the first few minutes you are unleashed in the city, a shockwave of color and sound emanating from your board with every ollie. At first, a maxed out flow meter influences anything with a yellow hue – people, objects, and more. It becomes apparent, however, that some areas are above your influence. Gifted another segment to your flow meter, more impressive tricks are needed to max out and sustain your flow. Now, you can influence larger objects and more stubborn people. Maintaining this level of flow requires you to trick often, looking at every environmental object as an opportunity.

Soon, your job of reviving New Harmony turns to reshaping it. Offering more guidance, Jonah introduces shaping rails and verts, one of the more unique aspects of play. Translucent green rails beckon, tempting you to grind along them as they unfurl through the air. Similarly, outlines of verts appear in tucked away corners or abandoned alleyways, waiting for you to skate them and solidify them into reality. Later on, you are also given the ability to shape roadways on your own accord, determining where they will take you within a set space. Chaining together these rails and roadways brings verticality to the city, opening up new areas for you to explore.

The Ministry Says: “Color affects mood, so it’s bad, too.”

A new area brings a new quest, as Jonah asks you to use your level two influence to awaken his longtime friend Bob. When you do, Bob reopens his skate shop and park for your use. Now he is available to dish out any number of jobs, such as converting Ministry propaganda by wall riding across them or using shaping rails to reach speakers spewing Ministry garbage. The open-ended nature of the game allows you to influence and restore sections of a district you missed, take on area-specific challenges, and hunt down various collectibles along the way. You can also pause at any time to examine the extensive library of tricks and test them out in your urban playground.

The setlist of moves at your disposal is impressive – full of ollies, grabs, vert moves, flips, and more – but the skating itself is significantly more forgiving than in EA's Skate franchise. Taking an arcade approach to the game, rails are somewhat magnetic, allowing you to pull off grinds for as long as your momentum allows. Accidentally bailing from your board isn’t common, and it takes a gross miscalculation on your end to blow a trick. Considering how accessible play is, it seems an even more glaring omission that the player can’t jump while on foot. I found myself tricked between objects once or twice, hoping to step or jump over a knee-high obstacle. Being forced back on my board to try and break free seems unnecessary and restrictive.

The ambience and constant metamorphosis of the city is by far the greatest draw to Shaun White Skateboarding, and the strongest leg on which it stands against its competitors. Your purpose in New Harmony is clear. How you go about setting it free is up to you.

Shaun White Skateboarding hits shelves October 24.