When it comes to games based on board sports, you can always point to a single title that has validated one of the sports and ushered in a flood of imitators and hangers-on. SSX legitimized the snowboarding game. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater legitimized the skateboarding game. And now it appears that Angel Studios has legitimized the surfing game with Transworld Surf, easily the most graphically impressive, deepest, and by and large most enjoyable surfing game to be released yet.
Though it uses several conventions laid down by both Tony Hawk and SSX, Transworld Surf offers a unique gameplay experience. Your surfer can perform a variety of wave-face tricks, lip tricks, and aerial tricks. Face tricks include cutbacks and bottom turns, which are executed simply by cutting back and forth across the face of the wave, as well as the more advanced snap turns. You can perform three different types of lip tricks, known as floaters, which are the surf equivalent of grinding. There are also a variety of aerial tricks at your disposal, which are executed by using the shoulder buttons in conjunction with the X button. Points can also be scored by riding inside the curl, a relatively simple task, but the claustrophobic feeling you get inside the barrel really makes it one of the most fun portions of the game. Each surfer also has a special trick that can be executed only after you've filled up your trick meter, which is done by pulling off big combos.
Combos in Transworld Surf are much more forgiving than in other board sports games. Instead of having to transition directly from one trick to another, a combo can be a set of maneuvers performed in quick succession, with the score being multiplied by mixing up what types of tricks you pull off. The game's physics model generally works well, though you'll occasionally find yourself in a physically impossible position or wiping out for no apparent reason. Considering the complex physics associated with surfing, these problems are almost forgivable, though it doesn't keep them from detracting from the experience. Players who approach Transworld Surf as if it were a skateboarding or snowboarding game will be brutally rebuffed, as the basics of surfing are fundamentally different from those two sports. Like most surf games before it, Transworld Surf has a pretty steep learning curve, and you'll want to spend a lot of time honing your skills before you jump into the meat of the game.
The different modes of play in Transworld Surf are the action sports standards: There's a pro tour mode, a single run mode, a free surf mode, and a multiplayer mode. As you might've already guessed, in the pro tour mode you'll take one of 13 pro surfers through the game's nine locations. You'll surf each location at two different times of day--with these runs being goal-based--and enter a competition run before moving on to the next location. In the goal-based runs, you're given a set of objectives that must be completed before you can move on to the competition and, ultimately, to the next location. Each level has the standard point objectives, as well as a photo-shoot objective, where you must pull off a trick within sight of a surf photographer hanging out in the water. Other objectives call for you to perform big trick combos or especially long barrel runs. Each level also has an objective specific to the location. As you play through the game, you'll have to free dolphins from tuna nets, scare birds away from the surf, and ollie over boats. These location-specific objectives are usually some of the most difficult to accomplish and don't feel nearly as natural as some of the other skill-based goals. In the competition mode, you'll face three other pro surfers in three, three-minute heats. You'll be judged on the quality of your run, with points being docked for wiping out or running into or spraying another surfer. The variety of play offered by Transworld Surf keeps things interesting, and while the trick system isn't the deepest ever, it's deep enough and finds equilibrium between intuitiveness and challenge.