Review by Smirnoff

Reviewed: 12/08/02 | Updated: 12/08/02

If Tony Hawk provides the adrenaline rush, Kelly Slater supplies the back-to-nature mellowness

To be mentioned in the same breath as one of the greats is a compliment in itself. To be compared to a bona fide classic and come out the other side with your head held high and your ego inflated like a supermodel's chest is tantamount to getting knighted by the Queen and then pulling Kelly Brook at the post-ceremony bash. It's the reason why I make no apologies for constantly putting the Tony Hawk series on a pedestal and holding every other extreme sports wannabe up against it. The Tony Hawk games invented the control system that has now become the universal language of extreme gamers worldwide, and the games themselves still tower above the competition casting a shadow over the entire extreme sporting world. The latest attempt to spread this style to other extreme sports is Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer.
I know what you're thinking. How can riding a wave compete with the freedom afforded Hawk (and Hoffman) players? While these guys get to wander about a living city, formulating the best routes for massive combo scoring, Kelly gets a close up view of a shoal of goldfish or simply gets wet. In actual fact Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer is probably the most radical departure from the Tony Hawk template yet.

Treyarch, the game's developer, has spent over a year (so they say) simply getting the waves to act just like the real thing. Where other water based slices of gaming extremeness present what amounts to nothing more than a series of wet ramps for you to leap off, Kelly Slater's rolling breaks are almost as organic and random as those spectacular swells the Californians take for granted. You know, the ones I and other Europeans only ever see in Old Spice ads and the start of Hawaii Five O.
Every wave is totally unique. In different areas the waves are dramatically varied with different heights, speed, tubes and breaks. Even waves in the same location vary from one run to the next, so that's it never merely a case of doing the same challenge over and over on an identical wave until you've mastered it.
Actually riding the wave is a remarkably refreshing experience. It's exactly what you'd expect of such a laid back, chilled out pastime, and markedly different to all that ramp riding I've all grown so used to. Every jump is affected by the speed and angle of your take off and every tube ride is a terrifying balancing act as you see just how far you can push it before rocketing out into blinding sunshine or tumbling under a swirl of bubbles, barnacles and barramundi. It doesn't take long to completely forget that you're no longer choosing your own path and just wallow in the challenge, thrill and beautiful serenity of it all.
The actual challenge still revolves around completing tasks to unlock new beaches throughout the world. Pay attention to the preceding movies whenever you visit a new area. They contain some handy info about the types of wave you'll be encountering. The towering breakers at Mavericks are a fearsome prospect, while visiting Antarctica in just a wetsuit is just insane.

The whole story element is masterfully presented with your own ship acting as the portal to all the options and various game modes. It's easily one of the classiest menu screens I've seen. As you travel across the globe your aim is to gain as much exposure as possible. Getting your pic in mags results in more ash to spend on boards and kit, so many of the tasks are geared toward this. The life of the game is also prolonged by the ability to unlock harder tasks in every area, thereby encouraging you to revisit locations and undertake much stiffer challenges.
The actual gameplay is similar to other games in Activision's 02 range of extreme entertainment, in that it uses the familiar Hawk-esque button setup. However, it's not without innovations. Getting your special meter up to full as quickly as possible is essential for success. Once you've got it maxed out you can start to rack up some immense scores and as long as you continue to land each trick perfectly, your combo will continue multiply. If you just can't take the pressure any longer and don't want to lose your hard earned score you can press R3 to bail out with your dignity intact and the points in the bag.
Grinding is translated to your tube riding with a balance meter appearing once you've entered the tube, which gets harder to control the longer you stay entombed with your watery cylinder. But the most revolutionary aspect of Kelly Slater is the icon challenge. In a similar fashion to Tetris, icons signifying a particular trick fall from the top of the screen - you've got to pull them off as quickly as possible before too many icons stack up on top of each other. Having to keep an eye on the falling icons, the special meter and your boarder is incredibly testing and a terrific addition to all of the regular modes we all know and love.

Maybe it's the fact that the playing field has now been leveled to the point where the only difference between players is their trick linking skills - whatever it is, Kelly Slater is loads of fun to play against a mate. Without the ability to use your superior knowledge of a level to steal the advantage, Kelly Slater reduces the stunting face-off to its purest form. It's just you, a mate, a wave and your ability to string together massive scoring combos when the pressure's on.

Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer is much more than just another extreme installment in the Tony Hawk vein. the whole ambience of this uniquely chilled sport has been captured perfectly with a more mellow line up of tunes and some of the most breathtaking visuals on PS2. It's absolutely dripping with stunning beauty. So although it's not quite good enough to stand alongside Tony 3/4, it's still worthy of a lesser step on the podium. It shouldn't be criticized for what it can't do but instead lauded for refreshing things up with some masterful tricks of its own. Without the the freedom that Mr hawk provide, it still does the whole extreme thing just as assuredly, from a welcoming fresh angle, with plenty of its own ideas.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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