Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 10/26/00 | Genre: Sports
In my previous reviews of Oni and Midnight Club Racing, I touted Rockstar as one of the best developers for the PS2. If my statement is true, then Surfing H3O is the exception that proves the rule. Unlike most Rockstar titles, control is H3O's biggest weakness. The reason is that the game went with a gimmicky control scheme instead of an intuitive one. Surfing H3O comes with a little surfboard that fits over the analog control sticks on the Dual Shock 2 controller. With this little board on your controller, it does become much more intuitive playing the game, but try playing without it and you will be lost for quite awhile.
God forbid you should rent the game, only to find that Blockbuster didn't include the little surfboard with the rental copy. Essentially, you push up on the left stick to turn right, down to turn left; you push L3 to speed up and R3 to slow down. It really isn't that complicated, but why not just push right to turn right and left to turn left? Aside form the control scheme, the gameplay doesn't work well either. H3O does a poor job of actually conveying a feel to a wave or giving you a sense of speed. The only way you will know if you are off balance is when your surfer starts to wobble, and it may be too late by then.
The hardest part of the game is doing aerial tricks. You can only launch off the top of a wave in specific places, and your approach angle has to be just right or you will wipe out. And if you can't do tricks, you can't pass the game's harder difficulty levels. Enthusiasts of surfing may say that doing tricks in real life is difficult, so it should be just as tough to pull of in the game. While this may be a valid opinion it does not make for a fun game. I can't do a 720 Misty Flip with a Method Tweak on my snowboard, but I do it all the time in SSX and it is a blast. Now, it may seem I am contradicting myself, because I previously praised Rockstar for making difficult games and now I am criticizing them for it. But Oni and Midnight Club, while difficult, are always fun. H3O is not fun at all if you can't do tricks. No one is going to work at a difficult game if they aren't having fun doing it.
Graphically, H3O doesn't impress either. The waves just don't look right. Granted water has to be one of the most difficult things to model, so I am willing to be forgiving of this issue, but the surfers don't look that great either. Sure the hand drawn photos of the characters on the player select screen look good, especially the surfer babes, but the actual animated versions of the characters are nowhere near as good looking. The polygons that make up the character's bodies are very apparent (see the pointy butted surfer babe screenshot below) and the texture of the bodies and swimsuits looks grainy. The characters look like they belong to a PS1 title, not a next generation PS2 game.
The soundtrack to H3O is one of the games highlights; at least it is if you like surfer punk rock. All of the games music is surfer punk rock and it is loud and full of energy. Other than the music, the game just features the sound of crashing, swishing water, an occasional "ugh" when your surfer wipes out, and an omnipotent announcer that says "Wipeout" and "Finish". As sound effects go, the game just isn't impressive. Replay value in the game suffers from the small number of waves you can ride and the extremely short length of each course. There are only six waves that you can ride, and let's face it, it is pretty hard to make one wave look a lot different from another. Sure they are different heights, the water is different colors, and the water is choppier on some, but they are all still just big waves. And there isn't much besides the wave to look at due to the game's camera, which often creates problems. Trying to ride inside the tube is difficult because you can't see how close you are to it without turning into it, but if you turn and it is close, you will wipe out in a hurry. Maneuvering in the tube is even more difficult because the camera still tries to stay behind you, and it just doesn't work. A front view of the surfer riding in the tube would work much better, but it isn't an option.
The only thing that could cause gamers to want to keep playing H3O, is that fact that the game features unlockable characters. Each time you beat a different difficulty setting (other than easy) you will unlock new characters and boards. The boards are no big deal because they don't change a character's performance in any way; they just feature different designs. So getting new characters is really the only thing that might keep you playing. Initially I wanted to see what new surfer babes I could unlock. But despite my desire to see new surfer girls in skimpy swimwear, I quickly lost my desire to play through the harder difficulty settings and deal with the frustration the control scheme presents. Besides, there is only one chick I haven't unlocked, and I can see what she looks like on Rockstar's H3O website. Overall, H3O is one of the least appealing titles available for the PS2. As much as I like Rockstar Games in general, I can't recommend this title. Take away the surfer punk music, and this game just doesn't have much to offer.