It’s very clear from the moment that you boot Surf World Series up for the first time just how seriously Climax Studios takes the sport. While it’s not immediately obvious from the team’s development history (they made Rocket Knight and the Assassin’s Creed platformer trilogy) it’s in evidence from well before you start paddling out with your board.
Where others may have gone for a full on arcade style sports game like the Tony Hawk’s titles (which the studio say is an influence), Surf World Series is trying to marry some of those sweet, arcade feeling moments with real world physics.
“It's been a long time since games like Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer, and there haven’t really been any notable surf games since then”, says Jamie Fisher, producer at Climax Studios. “But during that down time in gaming, the real-world surf scene's been evolving and has become something quite different from the 90s/00s extreme sports that I think typically springs to mind. We were keen to create a game that captured contemporary surfing culture, while overcoming those challenges that have made surf games such a rarity.”
Balance and patience
The real-life ideals are evident in the visuals and locales, but the gameplay is a mix of sim and arcade. Entering a tube is pretty easy: once you spot it, just hold down the corresponding button or key and you’ll stay in there, but once inside it requires Kai Lenny-like concentration. You’ll have to keep your balance and exert patience via a mini-game to stay upright, all while continuing to hold another button. Let go and you’ll leave the tube, but stay too long and mess up, and you’ll wipeout. This mechanic is akin to Transworld Surf on Xbox, which required you to perform a similar balancing act to stay at the peak of a wave. Intricate tricks and button combos mean you really have to learn this game and perfect it to get the best scores.
“We wanted to aim for a more for a fast-paced arcade vibe,” says Fisher. “When you’re out on the wave, it’s all about performing tricks, combos and driving up the high score. The combination of the realistic physics and environments with that highly satisfying, instant-gratification arcade feel is what we wanted to define the whole experience.”
As a result, Surf World Series is not an easy game. You might try to stay in the tube a little longer for the extra points, but sometimes it’s best to cut and run and keep from failing. You can’t keep repeating a trick for a high score, either, so you’ll have to use everything in your arsenal to succeed.
“Surfing is a hard sport to master, so we wanted people up and on the board as quickly as possible and then to give them a learning curve towards performing awesome tricks,” Fisher tells us. “In the end, I think we ended up with a unique combination of elements from both, allowing players to enjoy the amazing waves, pull off some incredible looking tricks and maintain that ‘pick-up-and-play’ arcade feel.”
So much to see, so much to do
There are 44 single player challenges which will take up lots of your time, ranging from score challenges to those requiring a certain amount of completed tricks, and there are five shorelines to surf on. From Australia to Hawaii, Climax have managed to make each of the locations feel distinct thanks to subtle visual changes.
The ocean provides a platform for a game that’s rarely explored, and it gave us virtually unlimited options on how to style the game visually.”
Based in Portsmouth on England’s south coast, the studio really have taken in their surroundings as inspiration. “A part of what makes surfing such a unique sport is the connection to the environment,” says Fisher. “The ocean provides a platform for a game that’s rarely explored, and it gave us virtually unlimited options on how to style the game visually.”
Elsewhere, there’s an online mode which is rather fun. Doing tricks to gain points, whether it’s a 360 Shove It or a Superman, you also have to stave off a wipeout as long as you possibly can. In theory it sounds easy, but in practice this endurance run tempts you into a tube, or makes you do an extra hard trick to keep things interesting. Before you know it you’re underwater, you’ve lost, and the closer you are to wave, the higher the point reduction. Modes like this show some thought has gone into making a game that isn’t something you just spend five minutes with.
Customise your look, but look pretty
While Surf World Series isn’t going to rival the very best looking sports games out there, it’s a far cry from the days of Surfing H30 on PS2 (although Surfing H30 gets bonus points for having Dillinger Four on the soundtrack). As you rank up you unlock customisation options for your surfer (boards, tops, shorts, wetsuits), so you can sport a unique look as you play through the challenges.
Depending on the time of day, it can look rather pretty. Everyone knows how beautiful the ocean can look in the right light, as the sun hits the sky and the waves roll in. Being inside a tube gives an intense feel all of its own that’s not really replicated in any other game genre.
“The reflection of the sunset on the waves, the empty, endless clear night skies and the turbulent, thrashing storms. And what better locations to set them at than some of the most notorious surfing beaches in the world?” Fisher says.
The developers seems to really care
While the game isn’t quite out yet, it’s clear Climax care about Surf World Series. There’s plenty to do, and with a bit of luck the online will be well populated, creating some fun, interesting battles. We don’t get many surfing games, which is something Fisher also observes – though after making one he can offer a reason why. “First and foremost, it’s quite hard to do! Making water feel realistic in games is notoriously difficult no matter what kind of game is it – when it comes to surfing though, getting the feel of the ocean right was our main priority.”
Climax are hoping that the game is well received, because future plans do depend on it: “We are hoping to be able to support the game beyond launch with two or three DLC packages later in the year.”
Given that this is the first surfing game to come to Xbox One and PS4, we’re definitely very interested to see if this turns out to be one worth repeat playing – with the pedigree of the studio, here’s hoping.
Surf World Series releases August 29 on PS4, and August 30 on Xbox One and PC.