Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer

Gamestyle Archive Intro: Alex takes us out for a few waves and some Beach Boys antics trying to catch the rays. Trick based games were hugely popular for a while and this one offered a new setting. This review dates from October 2002.

Kelly_slater_pro_surfer_xbox

I like Treyarch. Their conversion of Tony Hawk 2 for Dreamcast stands out, for me at least, as the best game for the machine throughout it’s entire life. In fact, barring Pro Skater 2X, there’s not a better skateboarding game than the 2nd version of Activision’s flagship extreme sports game running on Sega hardware in existance, and that includes later iterations of the series.

Activision must, therefore, be well aware of what the boys at Treyarch can do, as they’ve given them their own niche in the ‘Pro’ franchise of extreme sports games, surfing. With their indisputable graphical talent and an eye for pure addictive gameplay can the Kelly Slater-licensed title live up to the mass-market appeal of the Tony Hawk games? Well, kind of. There’s no denying that Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer is a superb game – it’s tightly produced, visually appealing and sports the single greatest soundtrack ever to grace a video game (and is well worth the asking fee just for the music alone) – but unfortunately the very sport itself doesn’t quite ignite the same emotions as the rail and pipes of skateboarding. That’s not the fault of Treyarch, at all, because Pro Surfer is perfectly accessable to newcomers (partly due to a well-written training section), is perfectly pitched in terms of difficulty and thanks to the screwed-on suits at Activision, is marketed alongside it’s stablemates as being an equal.

So where are the problems then? Well, it’s not as straightforward as that because the only problems with the game are those inherant with making a game that’s little more than a niche title that’s only ever going to enjoy limited success (despite talks of a sequel already) compared to the likes of Hawk and Hoffmans’ games. It’s presented in much the same way as those titles, and plays out similarly too – there’s your career mode where you’ve got to fulfill a set amount of objectives (which thankfully, for the most part, stay fairly grounded in reality), there’s a set of multiplayer options and there’s a free surf mode too.

There isn’t a better surfing game around, either, so it’s not down to competition. Pro Surfer offers much more than the likes of Transworld Surfing because it has been produced with surfers in mind, that’s evident from the huge amount of professional-quality videos; 14 real-world surfing locations (and an indoor practice one, too) and some top-ranking names to play as. It doesn’t just end with fan-service, though, the game looks brilliant (and runs at 60 frames a second constantly), sounds superb and best of all controls well, meaning gamers themselves should find no room for complaint. The marketing proudly states that you’ll never see “the same wave twice” and to a certain extent this is true – every wave of every level looks different, and therefore your approach to how you’re going to tackle this particular wave changes on the fly, giving a fresh approach to the whole grounded extreme sports genre. They look fantastic too, especially given the liquid-smooth frame rate – the waves look like waves, from the break and from inside the tube, and the water around each wave reacts intelligently and convincingly, although they do sort of spring up from nowhere right behind your character.

The surfers themselves benefit from excellent modelling and animation, and they too interact accordingly as you’d imagine. Controlling the characters on-screen is a doddle, once you’ve gone through the training section of the game. I’m not going to embarass myself by pretending to know the names and styles of all the tricks, but rest-assured that they are both easy to pull off and highly rewarding when you start to learn how to string combos together – indeed, learning how to work the trick system fluidly is essential to scoring big in Kelly Slater.

There are face tricks, tube tricks (where the camera moves in behind you and provides a handy balance metre as in Neversoft’s games) and air tricks (including both grabs and flips) and linking these together builds up your special meter which as you might expect unlocks even bigger tricks, as is the norm these days, really. It’s just a shame, then, that it’s going to be overlooked. This is disappointing, as at it’s heart lies a superbly playable, highly addictive, intelligent surfing game. Maybe that’s the catch – it’s a surfing game, but please don’t miss out on this in favour of This Month’s New Game because when that wears thin you’re going to be wishing you’d picked out something with a little more lastability – something Pro Surfer offers in abundance: long lasting, enjoyable gameplay, much like Pro Skater 2. Which reminds me, back to Venice Beach…

Gamestyle Score: 8/10

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