Shaun White Snowboarding

Chancing on ice.

We're not sure what Ubisoft is feeding its developers over in Montreal, but these days its largest studio appears intent on supersizing every title it turns its hand to. Given the investment, and subsequent return - notwithstanding the game's polarised reception - on the tech driving Assassin's Creed, you can hardly blame the publisher for feeding the code into the Exploit-O-Matic 3000 to see what might wriggle out the other end.

Prince of Persia, as we've seen, picks up the open-world reins where Altair dropped them so he could hold down block and press the light attack button over and over again for 20 hours. That's a no-brainer; less obvious, perhaps, is the use of the Assassin's engine to power Ubisoft's first entry into extreme sports gaming with Shaun White Snowboarding.

But on reflection it makes persuasive sense. More than anything, what the guts of Assassin's give you is scale: and when you're being booted out of a chopper and onto a frigid peak on a crystal-clear morning, it's really just the thing.

Art director Scott Mitchell certainly appreciates the assistance. "We can blend 16 animations at once which is a huge help; being able to have wide open, big spaces was really helpful for the mountains," he says. "We weren't sure we'd be able to pull that off, but we've been able to achieve some big results." That's two 'big's and a 'huge', and we've only asked one question.

The scale is the most immediately impressive thing on seeing the game running on PS3 and 360 - and, just as it is with its technical predecessor, it's more than simple visual trickery: everywhere you can see in Shaun White Snowboarding is playable. If you can't ride there, you can whip off your board and trudge through the snow on foot, or hitch a ride in a helicopter.

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That's where the comparisons end. Where Prince of Persia and Assassin's Creed belong to a long and distinguished tradition of internally produced action-adventures, the only footsteps in the snow the Shaun White team have as reference have been left by others: Amped, 1080, SSX.

This is unfamiliar terrain for Ubisoft, then, on two important counts: one, the company has never previously attempted extreme sports; two, nor has it a great deal of experience in juggling both the inherent opportunities and restrictions that come with handling licensed talent.

The last publisher to have a serious tilt at breaking into extreme sports was EA. It's superb Skate took on and bested the grand old duke of extreme sports gaming, Tony Hawk, rewriting large chunks of the rule book in the process, and sending a bruised Neversoft back to the drawing board. It can be done.

With Activision having secured the longterm services of the biggest name in skateboarding (and, to be absolutely fair, playing a major part in raising awareness of Hawk beyond skating circles), the pressure on EA to be more radical in its approach was arguably greater. Either way, with no 'name' dominating snowboard gaming, Ubisoft sees potential for 'doing a Tony' on the white stuff, while its approach to the gaming experience is one of evolution not revolution.

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"It's tough because we don't know exactly what to do - we've never really been here before," concedes Mitchell. "Thankfully a lot of people on the team are really hardcore snowboarders, so the basic information we have by default.

"Building a great snowboarding game, let alone any sports game for Ubisoft, is brand new to us, so we're trying come out of the gate running and make a great base as fast as possible, but keep it accessible."

As such, then, Shaun White Snowboarding is unlikely to deliver that scales-from-the-eyes sensation you felt the first time you picked up Skate. The control system speaks a language that will be immediately comprehensible to veterans of the other big-game boarders, although Shaun White leans more heavily toward the frostbitten realism of Amped than the party pyrotechnics of SSX. Ubisoft sees its title carefully plotting a path somewhere in-between.

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