Stoked (Xbox 360) review
"At only $40, Stoked manages to offer solid mechanics, huge mountains to explore, well-integrated online play, and hundreds of challenges to conquer, but the complete lack of mission variety keeps this from being an easy recommendation."
Snowboarding: an exhilarating sport that emphasizes speed, freedom, and exploration as you jolt down one of natureís icy wonders. While previous video games have nailed the speed aspect, very few titles have offered the liberty to go wherever you want on a completely open mountain terrain. Stoked--a new budget-priced Xbox 360 exclusive--offers just that, dropping the racing aspects of popular titles like SSX and focusing solely on exploration as you travel the trails of five different real-life locations.
Instead of bogging down the experience with a pointless story, Stoked strips the sport of snowboarding down to the bone and lets you define your own path. You make a character, run a short tutorial, and are then set free on one of the three initially unlocked mountains. From this point on, what you do is totally up to you. The game doesnít hold your hand like many other titles, instead letting you decide whether you should master some of the available challenges, beat each mountainís high score, or just aimlessly board your way down all of the different pathways that each trail provides with hopes of discovering all new things to see and do.
The mountains are the true stars of Stoked. Each represents a colossal monstrosity waiting to be conquered. The game includes locales like Mt. Fuji, the Swiss Alps, and even Alaska, digitally capturing some of the best snowboarding locations in the world. Each mountain has eight different summits, all of which offer ramps, rails, and challenges that are unavailable from other peaks. As soon as you drop onto your first patch of snow, you will realize that the mountains have a staggering amount of openness to them; you you are never held back by fences or invisible walls. If you see it, you can get to it in Stoked, and the euphoria that you will feel after flying off of a natural ramp or landing a wicked maneuver is unparalleled.
While plenty of fun can be had by adventuring into the great icy unknown, the challenges are what will lead your snowboarder towards fame and fortune. Each trail has ten trick challenges hidden around the environment. In some cases, you are given a specific list of tricks to pull off in a set amount of time, while other challenges give you a set score to beat in a restricted area of the mountain. Once a certain amount of challenges are completed, you will be able to vie for sponsorships and eventually take on professional snowboarders in pre-set events.
While the free-roam nature of the game is much appreciated, the challenges that you take on will inspire less joy. The main problem with Stoked is that there are only three standard challenge types despite there being being eighty different challenges on each of the five mountains. This is made worse by the fact that you will have to grind through a significant number of these challenges to unlock any of the game's more interesting events. With so much attention paid to the breathtaking mountains that you get to ride through, it is a shame that the developers didnít put an equal amount of care into designing missions that took advantage of gameís strengths. Races, time trials, and item hunts would have been a nice change of pace from the monotony that is offered here.
With every challenge relying so heavily on Stokedís trick system, you will have plenty of time to adjust to the somewhat realistic nature of the gameplay. Once airborne, you have a small window of time to combine as many grabs, flips, and spins as you can before gravity pulls you back down to the snow. Mastering this system is key to trouncing some of the more difficult challenges in the game, as every tick of time and inch of snow becomes important when trying to accomplish a goal. The tricks system works best when you are free-roaming the mountain, as you will find plenty of astronomical cliff jumps that afford you leeway to practice your craft. Unfortunately, Stokedís lethargic challenge design relies too heavily on these tricks, making them feel more like chores that you must finish before unlocking something more interesting.
If you are bored riding solo, you can create an Xbox Live match that allows up to eight players to jump onto the same mountain together. The multiplayer system works similarly to the one in Burnout Paradise, allowing people to either board freely with no objective or to enable a challenge for all players. Itís a clever setup that maintains the freedom from the offline modes, and it ends up being a lot of fun if you know a few people who own the game. Unfortunately, the online population is a bit sparse, so getting a room full of strangers might take some time.
The visuals of Stoked arenít bad, but definitely reflect its budget roots. The mountains are enormous, offering a vast, open landscape for you to explore. While some of the lighting effects on these courses are really nice, the mountains themselves donít have an abundant amount of personality to them. The character models and animation are okay, but not in line with many other current-gen titles. Despite all of this, the game does have some nice visual touches, like how your characterís clothing remains covered in snow after getting up from a nasty spill.
The soundtrack of Stoked is made up of an eclectic sampling of indie tunes from all types of genres. While there may not be too many familiar songs on the disk, the sheer quantity of what is offered guarantees that you will find something to like. The sound of your board sliding along the snow changes depending on the type of surface you are gliding over, and each accurately represents what you would hear if you were actually careening down Mt. Fuji at abnormally fast speeds. On a less positive note, the scant traces of voice acting that you will encounter are all universally terrible, especially the helicopter pilot whose horrifically fake accent is so awful that you will hope that his chopper runs out of gas.
At only $40, Stoked manages to offer solid mechanics, huge mountains to explore, well-integrated online play, and hundreds of challenges to conquer, but the complete lack of mission variety keeps this from being an easy recommendation. Stoked is worth a shot for fans that have tried everything else, but gamers who havenít yet played Amped 3 or Shaun White would be best advised to grab one of those instead.
Freelance review by Joe DeLia (April 01, 2009)
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