Shaun White Snowboarding (Xbox 360)
The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Shaun White Snowboarding are lifeless. It's not a bad game; it's playable. But like a fully loaded new Buick, the game isn't exciting, and it's also slow, clunky and aimless.
The first sign that things might be bland is that the game abruptly whirls you onto the mountain with little to no explanation as to what's going on. Sure, the game divulges that you're a budding snowboarder working with Shaun White as a mentor, and it's obvious you're playing a snowboarding game. But you're just dumped in the middle of an anonymous downhill run and encouraged to start riding while on-screen text quietly describes the basic controls.
The only other problems are, the riding is slow and the subdued tricks are underwhelming.
Is there an object to this game?
The gist of Shaun White Snowboarding is ... well, I'm not sure. After playing the game for several hours, I didn't know if I was supposed to overtake White as the number-one rider in the world, or just dork around. The game reminds me to "ride my way" in a "world of total freedom." But without explicit instructions as to what's available, the experience feels lost. The laid-back vibe seems well-intentioned, but isn't as focused and fun as it could have been with a little more direction.
You'll eventually learn that the main object is to explore the terrain, collect giant spinning coins which will unlock areas throughout a given resort, and compete in race and challenge competitions to earn money. But money will only buy you clothing and different boards that have little effect on how you ride. And unlike in the PlayStation Portable version of the game, you can't use money to level up your player's abilities for increased speed, better jumping and tighter control.
Since you have immediate access to all four resorts in there game, there's little incentive to engage in specific activities until you grow tired of doodling. Things do pick up as time wears on: You'll happen upon some unique terrain, like icy cavities that must be hurdled or a monstrous bridge that you can rail slide across. But with no map and a confusing radar screen, these areas are difficult to come by, not to mention revisit.
Of all the events, throwing snowballs (especially during races) and outrunning avalanches were two of my favorites. But the targeting controls for snowballs are unresponsive; and avalanches are short, sporadic and not as intense as I would have liked. This is a simulation game, so you'll get what you put into it. What you get just isn't that interesting.
You forgot my ragdoll physics, mister
Shaun White Snowboarding uses the Assassin's Creed graphics engine, but you wouldn't know it. Unlike Assassin's, this world is as bland as they come. The four resorts -- Park City, Japan, Europe and Alaska -- look and feel identical (really big rocks covered in snow). What's more, there are never any changes to the weather to mix things up -- it's always daytime and sunny. The mountain ranges in Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip on the Nintendo Wii, on the other hand, are bright, colorful and diverse, with lots of action going on in the background.
Worse still, player animations and physics are stiff and unconvincing. Excited to see a crash after a gnarly jump? Don't be. Characters will crumple and roll after a mis-landing like something out of a Nintendo 64 game. It's a shame developer Ubisoft didn't put the processing power of Xbox 360 and PS3 to good use here.
Exclusive to the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game is a 16-person online multiplayer mode. Like in Burnout Paradise, the transition between single-player and online is near seamless, with real players quickly taking the place of non-playable characters. From there you can join the same competitions, only with real people. Unfortunately -- like in the campaign mode -- there is little direction here, so the experience feels mostly empty, unless you have a group of friends to play with.
Online play is also buggy. Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions crashed at least twice apiece on me, and there was some laggy screen-tearing from time to time. At one point, I was unable to enter a lift zone, blocked by an invisible wall at the entrance. I had to restart my session to fix the issue. The crashing didn't render the mode unplayable, but you've been warned.
On the plus side, Shaun White Snowboarding features an incredibly diverse soundtrack. You'll find a healthy mix of classics, including Blue Öyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper," Loverboy's "Working for the Weekend" and Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music," as well as modern favorites like Modest Mouse, Stabbing Westward, MGMT and Audioslave. I even discovered a new personal favorite: "Acceptable in the 80s" by Calvin Harris. Hot.
If you like to explore, there is a lot of landscape at your fingertips (even if it all looks the same), including several designated runs peppered with jumps and rails, backcountry powder, and both man-made and natural half-pipes. But again, getting from point A to point B isn't fun, given the lack of speed and exhilaration in riding the mountain and performing pedestrian tricks. You'll have a much better time with the Wii or PSP versions of the game, despite their smaller scope.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.