Stoked: Big Air Review (Xbox 360)
Stoked: Big Air Edition takes to the slopes hoping to carve a niche in gamers’ hearts. With a focus on substance over style, does it pull off a perfect 720 or does it fall flat on it's face?
Stoked: Big Air Edition approaches it’s gameplay with a decidedly more simulation approach than past titles such as SSX and Amped. There are no coins to collect or flashy neon snow to carve on, and the checkpoint races against real snowboarding pros are fun and challenging. The well done day and night cycle actually has an affect on your ability to see and a snowstorm can change the feel of the ride very quickly. The sense of speed you get flying down a mountain is also really good for the most part.
While I really appreciate the approach, the execution falls far short and gives you that dreaded feeling of “what could have been." For everything that feels right, there are two things that don’t. It feels fluid and easy enough to control your rider, pulling off basic moves and turns. The trouble comes when you need to pull off a major trick involving multiple grabs and spins. The tutorial mode is very helpful in getting you up to speed on the basic tricks. However the more advanced tricks, which you will need to execute to score big points and advance, are unnecessarily frustrating.
How you feel about the control setup in Stoked will go a long way towards deciding if you find any enjoyment with the game. Stoked uses both triggers and the right stick for most moves. While not impossible, the controls are hard to master and the learning curve is a little steep. The problems start to mount when you hit all of the ‘trigger, stick gesture, trigger, stick gesture button’ combos that are required and the controls just don’t register. Several times in the game I found myself hitting the exact same combos with the same timing and getting different results. It’s hard to shake the feeling that hitting the best tricks is more luck than skill and timing. If the controls were tightened up, it would make a world of difference and really enhance the idea of a simulation experience. As implemented, the controls steal the fun and challenge from the game more often than not.
The visuals are a mixed bag in Stoked. Your boarder looks OK, but lacks texture. The same can be said for your rider’s equipment and clothing. I noticed enough texture draw-in to pull me out of the experience and cause me to comment on it. It’s ugly when it happens. On the other hand, the mountains themselves look great with a great icy sheen and really nice reflections from the sun. The aforementioned day and night cycle is one of the best that I’ve ever seen in a video game. There are also snow flurries and snowstorms that truly change your vision and your approach. There are some other nice effects like fog and motion blur when you hit top speed.
Stoked features seven huge mountains to shred on. You're free to work your way through the campaign mode, but it feels like it’s lacking direction. There isn’t a clear enough sense of progress. This can also lead to a lot of frustration. Stoked will take you a few hours to learn some of the required tricks and to get a sense of control over the elements and your boarder. I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is a strong suite, but it does technically add hours to game. Honestly, I just didn’t find a lot of fun in the campaign mode. It doesn’t have that “just one more” quality that the great sports games seem to find. The free ride mode is cool for killing some time, but it doesn’t really hold your attention.
Stoked doesn’t do anything particularly well and it doesn't fail spectacularly either. It’s the definition of a mediocre game. I understand that it is considered a “budget title,” but that doesn’t give it a pass. The frustration to fun ratio just isn’t right. Even while playing the game and making progress, it felt more like a chore than a chance to relax and play a game. The simulation approach and some great visual touches make it just appealing enough to give it a shot. Unfortunately, you will probably find more yourself disappointed and even angry with the uneven experience.
5.0 (Average) -- This is the quintessential average game. There are good spots, there are bad spots. You might love this game, then you might hate it. In the end, you'll just feel like it could have been so much more. This is the type of game where the game modes have redeeming value, but they just don't go far enough. These games may be worth the price of admission for some, but really they're not for most.