7/19/2003 5:13:44 PM
Wakeboarding Unleashed featuring Shaun Murray PlayStation 2 Review
By Zach Rosenberg
First of all, I know what you're thinking: "Oh no, another 'Tony Hawk'-cloned extreme sports game by Activision." Well put those thoughts to rest, kids. What Activision has done is made a game that, although it looks and is laid out like it will be a "Hawk" clone, plays and feels masterfully unlike it. "Wakeboarding Unleashed featuring Shaun Murray" delivers many of the things fans have come to desire, thanks to their own high bar. Some areas fall disappointingly short, but man, does it look good doing what it does.
Featuring seven world-class wakeboarders, the game allows the player to tackle a Hawk-ish Career mode, as well as Free Ride and two-player co-op and versus modes. In the Career mode, you essentially do what you'd expect: complete goals to increase stats. "Unleashed" seems to achieve something more than simple goal-completing, however. I would forget there were goals many times, and just play through the levels, unknowingly unlocking things. It's not that the game didn't tell me; it's that I was having so much fun that I didn't focus on the "work" of completing the goals. In two-player mode, experienced players will be familiar with the Trick Attack and Horse modes, but there is also a cooperative mode that adds a whole new dimension to the game. While one player is tricking on the wakeboard, the other player gets to drive the lead boat! This element of play is an amazingly fun way to include two players in the same game. The player driving the boat has more options than you'd think: with multiple routes in the levels, your two-player runs will almost assuredly always be different.
The actual gameplay is so well-executed that "Unleashed" doesn't feel ... well, leashed. First of all, the physics of the water and leash are to be heavily commended. I don't know much about physics -- just enough to know that those two elements could have destroyed this game if done incorrectly. Rejoice, players: the leash pulls, but not intrusively, and the water's physics are done so well, it'll make you want to go out and do the real thing. The controls, again Hawk-y, sport the 4-button action layout we've come to love: clockwise from the bottom: jump, grab trick, grind, and "invert" trick. Included also is a "drop/call for leash" button. This button becomes key in gameplay, for obvious reasons. Sometimes an element of the environment will get between you and your leash, breaking your hold on the leash. Once you're in the clear again, you have to call for your leash so the boat can continue pulling you: otherwise, you'll run out of momentum and stop. Sometimes it's beneficial to drop the leash, though. Some parts of the levels are only accessible if you drop the leash as you're grinding a particular rail, thus taking off on your own route. Don't worry, the boat will find you again in time! Actually, the whole calling for and dropping the leash component of the gameplay is crucial, but fluid enough that beginners won't be overwhelmed.
My one small moment of disappointment comes from a very egotistical spot in my gameplaying heart. I was slightly baffled by the exclusion of a "Create-a-Player" mode, especially with the depth of this feature on other Activision titles. Likewise, there's no customizing or creating user courses. I would have loved to design a wakeboarder in my likeness and create a course for him to thrash. I would have even liked a simple "Excitebike"-like drop-n-go type custom course, but customizing was peculiarly left out of this game. Also, there is no online element in this game, which I'm not necessarily sad about. I figure that if nothing else, it'd be fun to see a mode where you and up to three others are riding the same boat's wake, competing for points. Aside from customizations and online play, however, the game delivered all that it could and should have.
With up to 12 levels (depending on if you're counting the practice level), the game features such fun and stylized environments as Hong Kong, the Louisiana Bayou, Venice, and Springfield (you pick the state), each with its own elements. Unfortunately, and this is just the nature of a water game, most of the levels tend to look alike. With a game whose levels are rivers, it's hard to create variation in environment. That being said, the game is still tons of fun and each level brings its own challenges to the game. Will players tire of the levels after owning the game for some time? Who knows, but with the inclusion of the two-player co-op, which moves ramp placements, this game could show you something new at each sitting. The levels look good, are solid and the texture mapping is done to the level of detail that you'd expect from Activision. Put simply, the water looks good (which is hard to do), and so do the levels.
The sound as a whole is excellent. There isn't much to the sound effects in the game besides water sounds and boat sounds. This is understandable since the main soundmakers on the screen are water and boats. For this, the sound effects are a little bland, but understandably so. The soundtrack offers players something they'll enjoy: a mix of today's hits and yesterday's favorites! Rocking out with Van Halen, Pavement, the Flaming Lips, George Thorogood, and the best Pixies song I've heard in awhile. Granted, you may tire of the all-rock soundtrack (especially if you prefer the urban grooves ala "Hawk"), but honestly, this is the best game soundtrack out. Period.
This game is pure fun. The "Hawk"-ous interface and slight similarities acclimate the experienced player quickly, but still offer new challenges not seen in any other game out there. The depth of gameplay in something as simple as a guy towing behind a boat is amazing. The game captivates with its excellent graphics and rockin' soundtrack. Its wide range of goals for gap-aholics will keep the players looking for bigger and better jumps and grinds. And when all else fails, the co-op mode turns any two players into a dynamic duo. Overall, this game will entertain those who've never even heard of Shaun Murray or wakeboarding. Despite its odd exclusions, it is a rock solid game and a wonderful addition to the Activision family.
Graphics: 8. Sure, it's a lot of the same stuff over and over, but at least it was done right.
Sound: 7. Rockin' soundtrack, bland sound effects that may or may not be their fault.
Gameplay: 9. A simple charm not found in most complex titles.
Story: 4. Absent, other than Career mode. Does this need a story?
Replayability: 9. Co-op mode ensures that this game will never go stale.
Overall: 8 (not an average). "Unleashed" succeeds in almost every way.
Wakeboarding Unleashed featuring Shaun Murray PlayStation 2 Review