Reviewed: June 13, 2002
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
In the world of extreme sports, surfing has never really found its niche in the video game industry. Perhaps it is due to the fact that surfing is extremely localized to the coastal states, whereas you can skateboard, ride BMX, or inline skate just about anywhere. For me, living in Indiana pretty much prohibits me from even thinking about the sport of surfing.
I don’t know any of the current big name surfers, and TV coverage is all but scarce. In fact, my surfing experience can be nailed down to the two-part Brady Bunch episode where the family goes to Hawaii. So as I begin this review, please be aware that it comes from a video gamer and not a surfer.
Angel Studios brings the world of surfing to your PS2 with Transworld Surf featuring loads of new content not found on last year’s Xbox release. This is much more than a port. Think of it as the “special edition” that the designers would have liked to released in the first place had they been given enough time.
Catch some gnarly waves in exotic locations such as Fiji, Hawaii, California, Tahiti and an all new PS2 exclusive location (Mexico) for a total of ten famous surfing locales. The physics engine does a masterful job of creating realistic randomly generated waves that are constantly changing, even as you ride them.
Controlling a surfer is unlike any other extreme athlete you may have played in other titles. Even so, the game is designed so you can pick up the controller and start playing immediately. The non-interactive tutorial shows you how to paddle, catch and ride a wave, and perform various tricks. After a few short lessons you can assume the persona of one of 13 superstar surfers and pick your beach.
The trick system has been greatly improved in the PS2 version. To generate speed, players waggle the left stick, which allows you to catch air from the top of the wave. Flips and grabs are much easier to pull off in the PS2 version and chaining together combos is much more intuitive. Those of you who have played the Xbox version will find that it is much easier to land big-air tricks without wiping out.
There are several modes to choose from including a Practice mode where you can surf all day long without any time constraints in any locations you have previously unlocked, a Career mode that will take you around the world competing with all the best surfers, and a single session mode that allows you to play on any levels you have unlocked in the Pro-Tour mode.
The Pro-Tour mode is the meat of this game and is divided into events such as the Photo Shoot and the Competition mode. During the photo shoot you must seek out photographers and perform various stunts as outline by the “goals” for that event. Goals range from real world tricks, to more fantastic objectives such as jumping over boats, or freeing some dolphins. You must complete all goals to advance. Earn points as you compete in worldwide events and unlock bonus items and hidden secrets.
The Competition event consists of three 3-minute heats. Catch as many waves as you can in those three minutes with your best three runs counting toward your final score. Top riders advance to the next heat while others will drop out. The winner gets the gold medal and a new board.
The surfing locations are very realistic with sunrise or sunset surfing and varying tides that will alter the difficulty factor by exposing deadly reefs and dangerous rocks. You might even fall victim to a spontaneous shark attack if you aren’t careful.
Face off against real word surfers, including a few who didn’t make the Xbox version. If you follow the sport then you may recognize some of these names; Rochelle Ballard, Shawn Barron, Taj Burrow, Jason Collins, Tim Curran, Shane Dorian, Christian Fletcher, Andy Irons, Taylor Knox, Cory Lopez, Dan Malloy, Fred Patacchia, and Chris Ward. Surfers have their own special “moves” that can be invoked when you max the trick meter.
Another cool innovation is the karma meter that lets players earn good karma by performing well and avoiding obstacles. I players do badly they will lose karma, which in turn decreases their scoring ability and makes them more vulnerable to sharks attacks.
My biggest complaint about the gameplay is that it quickly becomes repetitive. Unlike snowboarding, BMX, or skateboard games where you have large parks to explore and perform your stunts, Transworld Surf offers wave after wave after wave. They may change slightly in their size, shape and how they break, but the simple fact is that when the ride is over you must paddle out and do it all over again.
Paddling is a joke and shouldn’t even have been included in this game. Just bring on the Jet Ski girl and tow me out to the further wave. Calling for a tow brings up an overhead view of the surrounding area and lets you pick insertion points to any one of several waves of various skill levels.
The PS2 version of Transworld Surf offers several subtle improvements over the Xbox version despite the noticeable loss in overall visual quality on the PS2. The basic engine is pretty much the same as the Xbox, so wave generation and physics are still as realistic as it gets.
The water effects get the job done, but the texture of the water just doesn’t compare to other games like Splashdown. Waves, ripples, and water spray just aren’t as rich or detailed as they were on the Xbox, but this by no means affects the physics or gameplay.
The camera system works surprisingly well and follows the surfer using a third-person perspective. Use the right stick to move the camera and look all around. The camera angle is perfect and never loses focus on the surfer. Slip into the tube and the camera swoops under the lip of the wave and gets behind the surfer creating an almost claustrophobic experience.
There are tons of video segments that look amazing and show off all the best surfers doing the most insane stunts and incredible runs you have ever seen. This is a great way to get energized about the sport of surfing if you happen to live in a “waveless” state such as Indiana.
Transworld Surf offers up more music than a year’s worth of concerts. You know there is a lot of music when it takes two opening splash screens to display the music credits. While I secretly hoped for a few hidden Beach Boys tracks, I still enjoyed an amazing and eclectic collection of music ranging from punk, hip-hop, alternative, and rock.
The music switched often enough that it never got repetitive, and by the time a song did repeat I was ready to hear it again. One nice feature is the ability to freeze the game at anytime and manually switch the music to suit your mood for that particular run. Most gamers probably won’t want to break their “groove” to switch songs, but it’s nice to have the option.
Sound effects are average considering you basically have a low rumble for the wave and the occasional hiss of spray, or the flirtatious comments from the tow girl. It would have been nice to have more low frequency effects when riding inside the tube, but then again, I’ve never surfed so I don’t know what it really sounds like.
If you are a surfer or just a fan of the sport then you will find plenty to like in Transworld Surf. The exotic locations and unique time of day variations create a wide variety of locales and challenging situations. Getting through the career mode could take several days or even a week. There is just so much to do and even more to unlock. Expect at least 30-40 hours to finish it all.
There are several multiplayer modes and if you have the multitap up to 4 surfers can compete in a variety of challenges. King of the Wave tests surfers’ ability to stay on the wave the longest while performing a variety of tricks. Whoever fills the trick meter can then knock their opponent off the wave.
Free Surf and Competition modes are also available as is a twisted little game called Shark Tag that pits shark vs. surfer with one player assuming the role of each. To be honest, I had more fun playing Shark Tag than I did with much of the rest of this game. I secretly wished they had a single player version where I could attack computerized surfers.
Transworld Surf is more of a surfing simulation than a game. There are a few arcade elements tossed in, but they still don’t take away from the seriousness of this title. No doubt, you will see comparisons made between this game and games like Tony Hawk, but don’t be fooled.
You really need to have a love, or at least an above-average interest in surfing to consider purchasing this game. If you are unsure, Transworld Surf is still easily worth a rental.
Considering this is the first surfing installment in what will inevitably become another long series of sports games, we can probably look forward to lots of enhancements and improvements when the next year’s version of Transworld Surf washes ashore.