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Publisher: Aspyr Media    Genre: Sports
Min OS X: 10.1.2    CPU: G4 @ 700 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    Hard Disk: 520 MB    Graphics: 32 MB VRAM

Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer
December 22, 2003 | D.G. Chichester

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When it comes to wave riding, I admit I'm a hodad: a non-surfer who doesn't know his goofy foot from a bombora. And while hanging ten on a virtual board in the wet environs of Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer is not about to send me to the beach scoping swells, it’s a worthy addition to the “extreme sports” genre — and good times for any gamer looking for a rush.

Extreme sports games arguably came into their own with the Tony Hawk skateboarding series, and by that defining style all other titles (so far) have to suffer at least comparison (and at worst, degradation). For those never exposed to Mr. Hawk in digital form, a brief intro: in a third-person perspective, the player navigates a virtual skateboarder through real or impromptu skateparks, pulling off high flying trick moves while hitting goals and avoiding obstacles.

Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer wisely uses that model as a foundation. Like Tony Hawk, Kelly Slater is an icon of his sport. The youngest surfer to ever win a world title, he’s gone on to become a six time world champ. But rather than simply lending his name to a game that swapped “skate” for “surf” (and switched sidewalks for sea foam), he and the game makers have taken the time to infuse this title with a distinct quality: a palpable “spirit” of surfing. The result is a unique and challenging game that both surfers and non-surfers should enjoy. (And I speak with some authority regarding the latter camp.)

Avoiding wipeout
They say, “Getting there is half the fun,” but in this case I’ll beg to differ. Although there’s entertainment a’plenty once you’ve got Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer (henceforth, KSPS) running properly, there are critical hurdles to overcome and considerations to take into account. (Bear with this next section — it gets the grief out of the way so you can get on to the good stuff.)

First, check your out of the box version number. If you’re at 1.0, download the (at least) 1.01 patch from Aspyr. This fixes a nasty bug that causes textures to appear pure white, making it as if you’re wandering through a ghost world, rendering the game basically unplayable. Next, test out the video resolution settings on the initial set up screen. Resolutions start at 640 x 480 and go up to 1280 x 1024, with options for anti aliasing and high quality shadows. Although I was running the game on an “above specs” machine (an 867 MHz G4, with a Radeon 8500 graphics card) I still found the default and higher settings resulted in jerky game play and animation. More than once, the “incorrect” settings caused the game to freeze up just as I arrived at a particular beach, forcing a complete reboot. (A rare occurrence under OS X.)

But these are caveats. The game finally came into its own at a resolution of 800 x 600, with no anti aliasing or shadows — but arriving at this mix proved a grind, as you can’t change graphic (or control) options once you’re in the game. You have to quit out of the whole game (in itself a needlessly lengthy process) and restart to try out a new mix of settings.

Once you’ve got the settings to your satisfaction, keep your contentment level high by adding a game controller. Although there are plenty of customizable keyboard commands available to run KSPS, it’s an awkward fit and distracts from the play. The fact remains the game has roots in console gaming and you will quickly find its control mechanism better suited to a game pad than a keyboard. Fortunately, the initial set up screen recognized my controller right off, and again provides complete customization for mapping any buttons to the in game controls.

With that out of the way, you’re in for a treat. Waves rise up smoothly behind your surfer, building with a real sense of majesty and often force. The effect actually lives up to the KSPS tagline, “Never the same wave twice.” Guiding your character over, atop and under the waves is a very smooth, appropriately sinuous, experience. Frame rates move at a good clip. There’s a tangible sense of physics at work as you play off the water, sliding through it when you’re in the groove, struggling against it as you’re caught in a cross current or about to be smashed under a sudden rush. The mechanics respond very quickly to the button mashing (or, if you insist, keyboard punching) required to pull off the great range of tricks at each surfer’s command.


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