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GamesFirst! Magazine

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by Rockstar Games

001027033320102700surfingh3.jpg (2929 bytes)Foregoing a razzle-dazzle introduction where I try to impress you with all of the surfing vernacular can think of, I will start with a simple, declarative sentence: I am the target audience for Surfing H30. I live in Lewiston, Idaho; I am surrounded by beautiful mountains that are perfect for skiing and snowboarding; I even have access to a couple of functional, if unimpressive, skateboard parks. In the realm of board and rider games, these are a tangible reality for me. But, as you would expect, I have no place to surf. I have never surfed in my life, and I may never surf. So, when Rockstar boasted that it had created a surfing experience on the PS2 with "next generation wave modeling physics, " "epic waves," and aerial tricks and combos, I got excited. Then I got disappointed.

Surfing H30 functions strictly within the rules set by all the other board and rider games before it. You know the drill: a quick, exciting FMV opens the game and pumps you up, you pick your character, listen to their sassy and repetitive banter, choose a board, a level, tolerate the announcer that praises your best stunts and makes fun of you when you fall down, and all the while you ride, ride, ride, brains and bones be damned. Nothing wrong with that.

001027033329102700surfingh3.jpg (2775 bytes)The graphics and sound are good, but do little in the way of innovation. The character models are large and detailed; there are plenty of tattoos and skimpy bikini tops to go around. The backgrounds are fresh and vibrant. The game carries a spry ska soundtrack, the voices are quirky, the thuds and splashes sound like thuds and splashes. But then there are those waves. This is Surfing H30’s tour de force. Great, tumultuous torrents, these are the most impressive 3D waves ever rendered on a console. The textures are fluid, the water foams and undulates. The lighting effects are spectacular, especially as you enter the tube. And the roar overwhelms all other sound effects in the game. The wake effects suffer a bit when they overlap, and have a tendency to clip into the rider, but this is tolerable.

The game comes out of the gates well enough. A bit of the old, a bit of the new—all par for a first generation title on any console. But any sports related video game relies on gameplay for replay value, hell any kind of playability at all, and this is where Surfing H30 stumbles all over itself.

First of all, there are only two options for gameplay available: Tournament and Versus. Tournament is the usual forum where you work your way through the levels, complete goals, hone your skills, and unlock all the hidden stuff. Only in this case, there are only six levels, about a dozen tricks to master, and the only extra game options to unlock are harder difficulty settings. And because there are no discernable differences between one character and another, one surfboard and another, other than appearance, the game doesn’t get much more exciting than that. Add this to the fact that I beat the default setting in less than a half-hour, completing most of the goals and achieving the top score, and you have a very shallow game. The Versus option is an alternating setup where you compete for the best time and score, rather than a head-to-head grudgematch, so don’t expect a lot of ooh’s and aah’s there either. I know you would have to stretch a bit to get a head-to-head venue out of surfing, but at least they could have set the competition side-by-side so that you could feel the heat.

001027033339102700surfingh3.jpg (2933 bytes)Second, although the control system is simple, the fun parts of the game are made frustrating by serious camera issues. In fact, I can see no logic in how the camera works at all. At times it is right behind you where it belongs. But then, without warning, it will jump in front of you while you are in the tube, or spin around you while you are performing an aerial maneuver, which affects the way you control your rider, and the way you land. More often than not, this will be the reason you end up swimming instead of surfing. And there is little you can do about it in the thick of things.

Finally, there is the game killer. Most sports games handle their gameplay in one of two ways: the over the top, exaggerated, all-for-fun arcade approach; or the strict, realistic sim approach. If you look at Surfing H30’s PS2 competition, you have SSX (arcade) on the one hand, and ESPN X Games Snowboarding (sim) on the other. Surfing H30 opts for neither. Rather than focusing on the skills of your rider, or the nuances of different surfboards and different conditions (as I said before, there are none), the primary goal of this game is to swerve around and collect glowing orbs for points. Sure, tubes and tricks will increase your score as well, but the emphasis is on the orbs. Also, and I will be the first to admit that I am not a mathematician or a genius of physics, but I don’t get a feeling of genuine wave mechanics or speed or authentic surfboard control at all in this game. After all, those waves, as big and wonderful as they are, seem to have an endless crest and are, in the end, choreographed and predictable. So, why have the programmers made even the simplest of tricks so hard to pull off? The ability to pull off a simple mute, method, or indy without a headache would have greatly enhanced the whole experience. And that little surfboard that you can attach to the analog joysticks of the PS2’s controllers? Pure novelty. Sure, it kind of helps you visualize the moves and coordinate your thumb movements, but you should be able to do that anyway.

What Surfing H30 boils down to is a shallow game that adheres to all of the limitations of its genre, while ignoring the core elements that made the genre popular. If you want to ride a board and go nuts, pick up SSX or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, ignore this watered down version. Much like last summer’s popcorn flick, The Perfect Storm, the most lifelike character in Surfing H30 is the wave itself, and once you’ve seen it crash a couple of times that’s it, you are just waiting for the damn people to die so you can get up and leave.

Jeremy Kauffman


Ups: Nice wave graphics; lots of characters; surfing, dude.

Downs: Tricky control; not committed to either arcade or sim; super short; not enough play modes.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation 2


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