Review by Gruel

"Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee....."

Wakeboarding Unleashed (WU) is the latest extreme sports title to come from Activision. This isn’t your usual skateboarding or BMX offering we get from them, but a sport far more unique than the two. Hell, I never even heard of wakeboarding until this game was announced. But as soon as I read into WU, I was instantly interested in this title that mixed the patented trick-scoring elements of gameplay from the Activision sports line with this sport I was previously unaware of. From the moment I started up WU, I knew that Activision just struck gold again.

Wakeboarding is a unique sport, just picture water skiing, but controlling yourself on a wakeboard that you do tricks off of waves from the boat in front of you instead. The controls aren’t as hard to learn as you think it would be if you’re use to playing extreme sports games. Grab and invert tricks can easily be performed off the waves with the B and X buttons, respectively. For the invert tricks, make sure to grab extra air off from conveniently placed ramps across the stages so they can be landed perfectly. Grinds can be done off nearly any surface that developer, Shaba Games, deemed necessary with a flick of the Y button.

My favorite part of the extreme sports line of games is stringing together combos for huge scores, and rest assured the manuals and reverts that you know from the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games are in here to do so. If all this still sounds too complex to you, then rest assured that a quick five minute tutorial in the first stage of the career mode will get you adapted in no time.

I’m not familiar with any of pro wakeboarders out there, but Activision claims to have the top seven in here, with the main star being Shaun Murray of course, hence his name being in the title of the game. It’s too bad to see that a create-a-character feature or trick editor wasn’t implemented into WU like in the rest of the Activision sports titles. I would have personally enjoyed having my own home brewed boarder tearing it up on the waves, but due to Activision logic the developers must save the good stuff for the sequel!

The main way to play WU is the career mode. Pick any of the seven wakeboarders and set out to knock out all the goals, challenges, and gaps in each of the eleven stages. WU has an interesting aspect on a timer for gameplay which is called the “groove” meter. It is a meter of how much time there is left for play. It gradually decreases as time goes on without doing too much, but it increases as I completed combos and other maneuvers. This is an innovative feature that is a refresher from the time limits of old. I have only seen this done before in this genre with the “toxin” meter from Toxic Grind on Xbox. I had a blast with the career mode, clearing the plethora of gaps featured across the levels was especially challenging.

There are also a few other ways to play WU. First are two versions of free play to get a feel for all the levels in the game. One is where you control the boarder, the other where you actually get to control the boat. Next up is the two player modes that are a trademark upon the Activision sports games. All the multiplayer modes we know and love from past titles such as trick attack and h.o.r.s.e. are in here for our amusement. There is also an interesting co-op mode of play where one player controls driving the boat, and the other controls the boarder. My friend and I nearly knocked ourselves dead with all the crazy stuff we were performing across the levels. Want to see a speedboat jump a ramp with no bad consequences? Go for it!

Graphically, WU looks tremendous on the Xbox. The water looks superb and the effect of the splashes and waves make them look a heck of a lot better. The character models for all the boarders look quite good as well, with the plethora of moves they execute being animated flawlessly. The 11 massive stages you play in look astonishing, and I was surprised the developers managed to make each and every one of them have their own unique feel. The action is always intense without a trace of slowdown being noticed whatsoever, and loading times are always kept to a minimum. It is a well polished area all around.

WU sounds just as good as it looks. All the audio effects for the boat motor, splashes, and everything else is right on target and sounds as you expect them to. The soundtrack has a total of 20 songs from a wide variety of time periods. Aside from several songs this decade there are also a versatile selection of classic hits to be found such as “Unchained” by Van Halen, and “Who Do You Love” by R.L. Burnside. I didn’t have a problem with any of the songs and all of them helped immerse me in the atmosphere for gameplay. Just like the rest of the extreme sports titles on the Xbox, WU supports custom soundtracks so you can always jam to your own set of tunes instead.

It will take a good while to clear all the goals, challenges, and gaps in the 11 stages in career mode, especially considering how grueling they get to be in the later levels. The multiplayer offerings are fun for two players, and me any my friend have already spent several hours in the co-op mode alone. However, I’m always hoping for all the better extras such as system link or online Xbox Live support which are nowhere to be found in WU.

RATINGS

Graphics: 9.0
Sound: 9.3
Gameplay: 8.5
Replay Value: 8.2

Overall: 8.7

WU has got to be the most innovative extreme sports game on the market yet, and the developers at Shaba did an excellent job of putting together a solid game all around. If you’ve been into any of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX games before, then you should definitely pick up Wakeboarding Unleashed.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/28/03, Updated 06/28/03


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