When Roll7 announced they were doing a new OlliOlli game with Private Division, we fondly remembered the first two games and looked forward to what was next. The full game is nearly here now, and we have played through the PlayStation versions for this review, after first covering the game through a developer interview.
Part of what made the original OlliOlli games so memorable is that they were a success “against all odds”. The skateboarding genre wasn’t booming like it used to in the heyday of the Tony Hawk franchise, and prior to playing it felt OlliOlli’s 2D gameplay would be a step back rather than a step forward. Ultimately, it was neither, as OlliOlli wasn’t trying to build on the Tony Hawk formula and defined its own brand of ‘skateboarding platformer’, where after a bit of a learning curve you could flow through a level while also offering the kind of depth that allowed players to keep learning and improving their runs.
One of the biggest changes in OlliOlli World is the aforementioned learning curve, which has been made significantly less daunting for new players thanks to a streamlined control scheme. This will initially feel strange to veteran players as things feel simplified, but their challenge comes later, in the shape of branching paths, optional challenges and challenging ways to up your high scores.
The other changes to the formula lie more on the surface side of things, with a brand new visual style that’s a departure from the old pixel art style of the first two games and more room for customization and personalization – combine both of those and you’ve got an aesthetic that brings the in-game world Radlandia to life. Here, skateboarding is a statement – a social status where the most skilled players use ramps, jumps and grinds to ascend to “Gnarvana”. It sounds a little too much like part of a super niche culture at first, but OlliOlli World’s visuals and language are actually very welcoming.
Personalization starts with character creation, letting you create your own look with an easy to use editor – something you can revisit later on when you unlock more items during gameplay. It’s largely optional, but the developers clearly put a lot of attention towards the feature so those who enjoy that sort of thing will have plenty to explore and try out in terms of their digital persona.
The first few levels are tutorials, which also introduce you to the rest of the cast. Soon after, you’ll discover bigger more expansive levels, many of which feature multiple lanes to ride, grind and jump in and out of. It’s still a 2D game, but there’s a lot of depth to the visual and gameplay experience – while making sure the controls for all that don’t become overwhelming. A lot of the controls boil down to stick movements, with the left stick essentially controlling your board (holding down and then up to jump, then performing tricks while airborne). Your right stick is for grabbing the board and thus modifying your tricks, and unless you want to perform manuals those thumbsticks will go a long way for you.
The game is spread across five distinct locations that all have their own levels, obstacles and environments. Challenges become gradually more difficult, but how hard you want to make it on yourself also depends on whether or not you want to switch to the tougher lanes in a level – you’re perfectly welcome to stick to the easier main path. Stringing moves together for multiplier bonuses also isn’t required, though it of course helps when you’re chasing higher scores. OlliOlli World scales very well, and even though the story campaign isn’t that long there’s always more to discover and push for after you complete it.
In every level, you’ll find optional objectives, things to try and scores to beat, and we’ve gotten nowhere near unlocking everything the game has to offer. You’ll also learn new tricks as you progress, and can take these back to previously completed levels as well – giving you opportunities to push your high scores further than you could before. You can also engage in daily challenges, or generate and share your own levels. We say generate and not create for a reason here, as you can only tweak a few parameters and the game will create a unique course for you, after which you can share the associated code with others.
But while features like that and the availability of leaderboard-like features in the game’s league point towards a vibrant multiplayer community, OlliOlli World has surprisingly little to offer to those looking to play together with others – a social element we somewhat expected to find with the word “World” in the title. And although post-launch content is planned (there’s even an expansion pass already, which promises more campaign content), a more expansive multiplayer mode doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.
It’s a small stain on an otherwise excellent game though – one that builds upon the first two games while still feeling fresh. Visually it’s a leap forward, especially on next gen where it supports 4K visuals at 120 frames per second, and between the great soundtrack and the ability of the game to scale with your increased skillset, this is a must-have for anyone who enjoyed the first games while also drawing in a new crowd with its accessibility. Whether the current feature set will be enough to keep the online community alive and as vibrant as the visuals remains to be seen, but even offline this has plenty of lasting appeal.