Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer - PS2 - Review

With the release of Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer, Activision O2's quest for total domination of all the extreme sports sub-genres is yet another step closer to realization.  They've owned skateboarding since the first Tony Hawk Pro Skater game was released, Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX 2 has put them in a great place against the Dave Mirra franchise, and now because of Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer, surfing seems to be in the bag as well.  So just what makes this game so remarkable?

Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer puts you on a surfing boat and lets you live the life of a professional surfer.  In career mode you can expect to take part in photo shoots (to make the cover of surfing magazines), competitions, fight for sponsorships, and more; it all comes with the territory. Living the life, you'll go to some of the most impressive surf spots on the planet where you can cut the salty water with nine different actual professional surfers.  From the icy shores of Antarctica to the warm beaches of Hawaii; it's your goal to conquer them all.  The other modes of play within the game are FreeSurf and multiplayer.

In addition to Kelly Slater, big names such as Lisa Andersen, Tom Curren, Rob Machado, and Nathan Fletcher can also found within the game.  Each of these surfers has their own unique attributes, which include balance, air, spin, and speed, and as a result of these differences in abilities, they each perform very differently out on the water.  They also each look just like they do in real life as no corners were cut when modeling and rendering these incredible athletes.  Unfortunately though, there's no create-a-surfer option within the game.

To get a feel for the game it's best to start out by taking the three part surfing tutorial which takes place in Japan at a famous indoor wave pool.  This tutorial, which is narrated by Kelly Slater himself,  is extremely helpful for getting the hang of the game, as it explains how to pull off all of the basic maneuvers; from the simple task of picking a wave and standing up on the board to launching off of a wave and doing a front flip.

The actual control scheme is just like we'd expect it to be; it's much like the controls in Tony Hawk, but adapted for surfing.  First you must decide whether or not to catch a particular wave.  If you want to hop on it, you simply have to paddle away from it and then press triangle.  If you want to dive under it and wait for another, all you have to do is turn and face the wave and hit the circle button.

Once you're standing up and riding the wave you can perform face tricks, air tricks, and tube/barrel tricks.  Face tricks can be done by pressing square, circle, or triangle along with a directional button or by pressing one or a combination of these buttons twice.  So, for example, double tapping circle while on the face of the wave will result in a tail chuck. 

To do an air trick all you have to do is face toward a wave, hold x until the lip is reached, let go and then press either circle or square along with a directional button.  Pressing square results in a flip trick, such as a shove it or a heel flip, all of which are very cool!  Circle on the other hand lets you do grab tricks and many of these will look familiar if you've played the Tony Hawk games (nose grab, indy grab, mute grab, etc).  Just think of the wave as a moving quarter pipe.  I still can't figure out how in the world these surfers can possibly perform these tricks, but I guess that's why they're professional surfers and I'm not.

The last variety of tricks, those that take place within the tube or barrel, are the most unique to the game and the hardest to get used to.  To do one of these moves, first you must get in the barrel, which is done by holding down on the directional pad.  Once your speed decreases enough, the wave will come above/around you and a balance meter appears.  At this point you can do tricks by pressing triangle and a direction, but you must always stay aware of the balance meter or you'll quickly bite it and get churned by the awesome power of the wave.

Not surprisingly, a special trick meter plays a huge role in Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer as it does in Activision's other games.  Actually, it is even more important in this game than it is in others, since it plays key two roles.  First, it is the only way you can link tricks for huge combos (sorry, no manuals in surfing); second, it allows you to pull of sick special moves.  The most effective way to fill this meter is by doing face tricks, but landing perfect air tricks can also do the trick.  Once it is filled up, successive tricks will be added to the combo, but this is assuming you don't have any sloppy landings as this will completely cancel the combo and the special meter will fully decrease.  This concept actually works out very well, since it makes it challenging, but not impossible to create big trick combos.

Another very nice feature is the R3 button (pressing down on the right analog stick), which allows you to "cash in" your combo before your special meter runs out.  Having this ability lets you at least score some points if you think you may not last much longer without bailing.

After you have a decent understanding of how the game is controlled, it's time to get into the meat of the game and take on the first surf spot in career mode.  Only two locations are available to surf when you start out, so you must complete the objectives within it in order to open up more.  Each spot actually has two sets of objectives (about 7-10 total), but only the first set must be completed to open up the next beach.  Ranging from scoring 15,000 points to knocking down windsurfers, fulfilling these objectives not only opens up new surf spots, but doing so can also give you access to new surf boards, tricks, cheats, and your surfer's attributes will often increase too.

While the objectives could be a lot worse, the diversity and shear number of them is nothing like that within Tony Hawk's Pro Skater or Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX, which is a bit disappointing.  Even with the understanding that there's only so much you can do out in the water, it seems like more unique tasks or just more tasks in general could have been included.

FreeSurf is another game mode that allows you to practice surfing without any time constraints.  A sub mode of this is icon challenge, which drops icons on the screen that say a trick name and the button combination to perform it.  This is somewhat like Tetris because the icons keep coming down at a certain interval in time (whether or not you complete the tricks) and once they've built up to the top of the screen - you lose!

There are also three different multiplayer modes within Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer.  In addition to the typical head-to-head split screen and time attack (one surfer at a time) modes, the unique push mode has been included.  Introduced in Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX 2, push mode is a split screen contest in which the screen sizes change as a result of the tricks that each player does.  Pull off a huge combo and your opponent's screen may quickly shrink down to almost nothing.  Once one player completely takes over the screen the game is over.  While this mode is pretty fun to play, it would have been nice if there were more multiplayer modes to choose from.

If you want extras, Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer has them.  There are unlockable features including videos about the surfers, beaches, and even Kelly Slater's own 30 minute TV show.

Activision's first attempt at the surfing genre has turned out to be very impressive.  It's obvious that their experience from other titles is really playing a large part in the development process and this is probably the reason why the game is so good the first time around.  Both longtime surfers and those who are afraid to even get near the water will be able to appreciate this game's solid gameplay, stunning graphics, and the superb career mode.  Surf's up, bro!


Gameplay: 8.5
The ability to pull off a huge diversity of tricks coupled with the logical combo system makes this one a great play.  The physics are right on and as a result the various surf spots ride very differently as they should.

Graphics: 9
Water has never looked so good on screen!  The transparency, break, and fluidness - everything about it is amazing.  All of the surfing locations look very unique and realistic; from the actual water color to backgrounds, you won't be disappointed.  In Antarctica, for example, there's snow falling from the sky, glaciers out at sea, and the southern lights in the background.  The surfers having been rendered beautifully and their animations are also well done.  Having two different camera settings (beach and follow) and a look behind function is also nice.

Sound: 8.5
The soundtrack isn't the high energy type as many would expect from this extreme sports title.  Instead, much of it consists of mellow tracks, which are perfect for when you want to hang loose.  Artists such as Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, and G. Love & Special Sauce are featured.  The water sound effects really add to the experience, and are appropriate whether your waiting for a wave, in a breaking section, in the tube, or underwater.   However, all the surfers (except Lisa Andersen) make the same exact noises when they're pulling off a trick or falling

Difficulty: Medium
There's a perfect balance between difficulty and playability.  Everyone can have fun with this game, but only some will be able to master it.  Having to only complete the first set of challenges to open up the next level is nice for the not-so-skilled.  The tutorial mode is also extremely helpful.

Concept: 8
Career mode especially is not a new concept, but it was very nicely thought out in Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer.  However, the objects could have been a bit more diverse and unique.

Multiplayer: 7.5
I realize there's only so much you can do with a surfing game, but having more play modes would have been nice.  Push mode is fun, but the other two are generic and typical.  No internet support.

Overall: 8.5

Great

Gw
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