When Kelly Slaters Pro Surfer showed up on my desk, my first thought was Here we go again with another Tony Hawk clone. Fortunately, while the game does share similarities, the fine folks at Treyarch and Activision have finally developed a true surfing game that captures the essence of the sport including the lifestyle associated with it. The end result is a very gratifying experience for both surf and non-surf fans looking for some big wave excitement.
The visuals really took me by surprise. The water movements including the wave physics are quite accurate. Not that I am an avid surfer myself these days, but when I was younger I followed the sport long enough to know the lingo that accompanies it. Even the particle effects that give off the water sprays are highly detailed. Not only did the developers get the water and atmospheric effects right but they also managed to render highly detailed models of each surfer to resemble their real-life counterparts. This includes the numerous boards and gear that give each surfer their own unique sense of style. What strikes me the most about the visuals has to be the nighttime levels. It is so cool to take a ride in the middle of the night and have the moon shining in the background. Even the various dawn and dusk levels have an incredible warmth and aura about them that you just need to see. Activision should be commended for its choices that they licensed for the soundtrack. Instead of stocking up on the usual slew of punk-rock tunes, the team included some more ambient tunes to give a relaxing ride. This especially works well in the night, dusk or dawn levels.
My biggest gripe with past surfing games was the control. They were just plain too hard for the average gamer to pick up and play. Treyarch has remedied this problem by instituting a wide range of control options for the beginner right up to the pro surfer. The game takes a small learning curve to get used to, but once comfortable one can start experiencing with the endless trick combinations. Some may complain that the controls are too easy and lack the finesse found in other extreme sports games. Nevertheless, I think it is necessary for a surfing game to be easily controlled in order to appeal to a wider audience. Therefore, the simplicity argument does not was with me. The gameplay is fun from beginning to end and that is the games biggest draw. In terms of modes, Slaters Pro Surfer offers a deep career mode, freesurf mode, and three mutiplayer modes including push, head-to-head, and time attack. A very detailed tutorial is also available and very useful for beginners trying to master the basic controls.
While the career mode will keep most people busy, I really enjoyed the extras section which included videos about the surfers, beach movies, and surfer bios. One video was 30 minutes, which was full of interesting tidbits about the surfers in the game and their journeys around the world in search of the perfect wave. Of course along the way they find themselves playing early builds of the game which most of them find a hoot except the aging Tom Curren, who thinks it is strange to see himself in a game doing insane air tricks that he does not perform in real life. And for those who need to know there is a small demo of Tony Hawk 4 available in the extras section.
Kelly Slaters Pro Surfer was pleasantly surprising and quite gratifying to play. Although I do enjoy the Tony Hawk series, it is nice to see other pro sports getting equally good games being developed. Pro Surfer is easily this years best PS2 surfing title. While Transworld Surfing offers a bit more in the visuals department, it is Pro Surfer that gets the honors in the control and tricks area. Be sure not to simply pass over this title during the upcoming holiday season as it is definitely well worth a look.