Surfing has always been a strange concept in my eyes; it’s not like other ‘extreme’ sports in that this is much more weather dependant than far less ‘radical’ sports like Cricket or Golf. Maybe it’s because I was once very nearly sucked under by a wave off the coast of Portugal, one of the locations in this game. Or, maybe it’s because I am from a landlocked place – Leeds in the UK – and my nearest beaches on the East Coast such as Bridlington or Scarborough aren’t known as surfing hotspots. In fact, my nearest locale is about a seven hour drive away, which may well be the reason why.
Which is why I am intrigued by Surf World Series. The way the waves serve up fluid quarter pipes for riders to get some air off, just like their skateboarding counterparts, sounds right up my street. But how does this transfer into a virtual environment?
The first thing I wanted to check out were the water physics in the game. Water has always been notoriously difficult to get right in games, and may well be one of the biggest reasons why there are so few surfing games available. But in Surf World Series, for the most part, the waves behave as waves should. They don’t look amazing, as there is not much detail in them, but you can tell it’s a wave.
There are five different locations in the game but unfortunately there is no variation between them. At the start of each even the game will tell you which location it is, but this comes across as necessary as with the way things are presented, having the camera always looking out into the sea from what would be the beach, all the locations look identical. If there were additional views to include the beach, then the locations would feel a bit more fleshed out. As it is though, it’s simply a name of a place with the same old waves rolling in.
The rest of Surf World Series though presents itself in a very fitting way, with the opening menus having a gorgeous late-summer sunset tinge to them, making the overall aesthetic fit-in perfectly with the surfing vibe. It’s like looking through the menus with your favourite Instagram filter added. This extends to the musical aesthetics too, as the menus feature very relaxing melodies – again akin to a late-summer sunset – but when you are on the sea for an event, licenced music kicks in. It is not likely to be music from your favourite bands, but it is decent enough and works alongside the rest of the presentation of the game.
The presentation though can only carry the game so far. And sadly, the rest of Surf World Series is a let-down. Fiddly controls and a lack of content make this game quite the chore.
44 events have been included in the main single player section for you to complete. Across these 44 are only four different types of events, and one of these only actually appears at the end of each of the five leagues. In essence then, three event types are in place.
Even the names of the events don’t offer much to go by. Championship is really only two runs where you need to achieve a set score using tricks each time. Big Battle is another trick mode, but this one takes your average score over your top two runs in a four-minute game – as long as that is over the set score then you pass the event. Survival mode meanwhile can literally be as easy as staying on your board for one complete run without wiping out. The only difficulty in this mode comes from succumbing to the boredom of these unnecessarily long events and trying to achieve the three challenges present in each event. Many of these challenges will be achieved naturally whilst you are trying to achieve the high score though, and that means they are a rather cheap attempt at fleshing out the game.
Whilst the Survival mode is pitifully easy, the other modes are made more difficult by requiring huge scores and tricks. This seems simple in theory, but the control system has a different idea entirely.
Unlike almost every other extreme sports game involving big jumps and flips, many of Surf World Series’ tricks need to be pre-loaded. Not in the sense of holding down a button before launching off to get a bigger jump, and then inputting commands to complete a 1080° Nosebleed (this is the name of a trick, right?), but to complete any type of spin or advanced trick, inputs need to be done before getting the air, whilst still on the wave. What this means is that spins are relegated to the back-bumper buttons instead, with each press increasing the spin by 180°. This has been chosen instead of a simple flick of the thumbstick and, to me, it just seems counter-intuitive to go against almost every other one of its predecessors. It certainly caused me a few headaches as to why.
There is a tutorial mode though to explain all this, thankfully. Here you will be taught how to manoeuvre on the seas as well as how to understand the fiddly controls. If it wasn’t for this mode I may well have given up entirely before even starting.
There are also a couple of other modes; online multiplayer (featuring the same three/four events) and Free Surf. Free Surf allows you to pick any location at any time of day and enjoy the waves. There are no score requirements and no time limit – it is Surf World Series in its purest form, and is the most fun too.
To set yourself apart from the rest of the multiplayer crowd, the game does allow customisation of the characters, and the more challenges and events you complete, the more customising options you have. Again this is fiddly to control though as pattern designs need to be chosen using the thumbstick in the top left corner of the screen rather than from a list.
It comes with 10 achievements, but during my time with Surf World Series the closest I came to grabbing one was for wiping out 500 times, and that quite possibly says a lot. There are others for customising different boards, visiting all locations at all times of day, performing tricks, completing events/challenges and coming first in all multiplayer events.
Surf World Series is a major disappointment. To compare it to other extreme sports games from far bigger studios – games like SSX or the Tony Hawks series – may seem unfair, but this has fallen way too short for me to enjoy and I can’t ever look past its problems. There is almost no variation in the gameplay or the locations, and less than an hour in I had done everything that was present in the game, but was required to repeat it 40+ times to reach some kind of conclusion.