Full Review: It was nice knowing you, Tony Hawk ? but don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!
Ever since Tony Hawk's Pro Skater hit it big back in 1999 (and rightfully so, given how amazing the original game was), everyone else has been trying to top the Hawk with their own line of extreme sports games. We've seen BMX games, snowboarding games, and surfing games; but never one that portrays the sport of aggressive inline skating. However, that's what Z-Axis has done with Aggressive Inline (formerly Chris Edwards Aggressive Inline ? probably changed because nobody knows who the hell Chris Edwards is anyway) ? and the result is easily Z-Axis' best effort, but a game that actually tops the Tony Hawk series; which is quite a feat. AI is simply the slickest, most polished, creative, and fun extreme sports game available right now. Anyone bored of Tony Hawk (such as me) will find the creativity refreshing against the same old same old that THPS has become.
Aggressive Inline comes with 4 different modes of play ? Career, Timed Run, Multiplayer (consisting of the usual MP modes), and Free Run. However to get the most out of the other 3 modes, playing through Career mode is a requirement, so get ready to spend plenty of time there (and you will, oh yes, you will). AI comes with not only real inline skaters, but also a handful of bogus characters that are actually more fun to play as (Chrissy?yummy?err sorry) and many have to be unlocked, giving you something to aim for. I mean, who doesn't want to play as The Bride (of Frankenstein)? There's also a park creator that has become standard procedure in these sorts of games, so anyone wanting to create their own skating heaven can.
In Career, there's only 7 courses and one tutorial level (recommended to get the basics down), but each of the 7 courses are gigantic. Not at first though ? they're somewhat tiny when you first see them; instead you find keys in other levels to unlock new parts (and objectives) of different courses. You don't necessarily need to get these keys to complete the game ? but if you want to unlock some of the goodies, it's a necessary evil.
Each level has a ton of objectives to complete ? some you find automatically, others you have to find people to give you the order to do them. There's cool things like photographer challenges (where you do a certain trick and a cameraman takes a snapshot of the trick); and timed runs ? like getting 400k points in a one minute run. Most of the tricks, however, are more about interacting with the environment, like the first course and the goal of grinding 5 bike racks without hitting the ground. Some of the objectives are fairly difficult (and leave me scratching my head as to how the hell to do it), but there's a solid amount of simpler tasks for the less skilled gamer, or the average gamer ? but someone who is either really good will have no trouble ? as will someone who plays the game enough to learn every trick in the book.
What sets AI apart from other extreme games lie in how the game is played. First off, there is no time limit ? instead, there's a Juice meter that keeps you in the game. The only thing necessary to keep the juice meter filled is to keep doing tricks and not wipe out, or you lose your meter and could run out of time and it's game over. But just generally going around the levels doing the tasks will keep the meter up, so it's a virtual free run built into the career mode. And given how many objectives are in each level (30 or more), you'll need all the time you can get to fully complete them all. This idea is really something that should have been implemented from the start of the extreme sports craze ? no doubt the 2-3 minute time limit garbage is part of the reason many dislike the genre.
Also, AI manages to sneak in, get this ? RPG elements. Instead of your character leveling up after completing tasks, or buying new stats, you just earn them through experience points. Each time you pull off a move, you get new experience points for whatever kind of attribute you stuck in the trick ? be it grinding, manualing, wallriding, spinning, jumping, and a few other little tricks. Once you fill up the experience, you level up and it starts all over again, up until you reach level 10 (there is supposedly a glitch that lets you get to 20/10, somehow). The mixing of RPG elements is something new, and it works perfectly, and really forces you to practice all the skills, because you will indeed need them.
Besides those 2 elements, the game does follow the same pattern of other extreme games ? only in a lot of ways, much better. Unlike other extreme games, the emphasis is on grinding, not the flips and grabs. Almost everything is grindable (like Jet Set Radio games, only you can't grind up and down poles), and it can be used to link up flips with a pre-loaded manual or cess slide. Most of the objectives require other things than grinding, but the points challenges is where it comes in handy, because of how you can link tricks with just a press in a direction and Triangle ? all you have to do is keep your balance and you're all set.
There's still plenty of tricks involving getting air ? from Misty Flips to Judo's, they're there. Plus you can mix the tricks up with a press of the L1 or R1 buttons, to spin around in the air before landing. Or you can hit R2 for a cess slide (skating backwards), and do some fakie moves to pump up that experience level. Finally you can link those tricks with a manual - and the manual can be pre-loaded at just the right moment so you go right into it once you hit the ground. Mastery of the manual (and cess slide) will be key to getting some of the larger point tallies in the fastest period of time.
There's also 2 new moves ? the vault and pole swinging. Vaulting can be done with the Circle button, and will flip you over objects that are fairly low to the ground, like quarterpipes or bike racks, or benches. This too can be linked into a combo (and required to complete a couple tasks, actually), so it isn't there for show. Also, there's a pole swinging animation that is used in 2 ways. Either you get a vertical pole to swing around and go back the other direction, or the horizontal pole to swing to a high cable or something of that sort. Both come in handy when it comes to chaining up combos for a maximum score.
This is all tied up by extremely solid controls ? they're familiar, as well as very tight. Given how fast this game can get, being able to control your skater is necessary, and Z-Axis manages to pull it off perfectly. The Circle button is used for 3 different things (skitching, vaulting, and pole swinging), which makes it easy to remember what buttons pull off those tricks. As always, the digital pad is the only way to play a game like this, given how the dead-on directions needed to pull tricks off, something the analog stick sometimes struggles with.
But what really makes the game stand out is how polished it is. It's extremely evident that Acclaim didn't push for the game to be completed too quickly, giving Z-Axis time to make it perfect. And that's what has been done. The controls are perfect, the feel of the game is outstanding, and the huge dose of creativity breathes new life into the genre. Really, there's hardly anything wrong with the game ? except for the possibility of things getting repetitive. Yet I doubt it, because each of the levels has something really cool and imaginative ? it's evident the boys at Z-Axis have quite a talent for coming up with things no one has seen before, or just a knack for sticking tried and true elements into a genre that has never been used before.
Visually, Aggressive Inline is perhaps one of the PS2's best. It has a very slick and polished look to it, with only a couple areas of glitching ? something tough to avoid in a game like this. The game stays at a solid 60 frames per second, and maintains an occasionally overwhelming sense of speed. Each area is populated with many things ? the first course is loaded with car traffic and pedestrians wandering around, and lots of detail, with nary a jagged edge in sight. Every course is detailed with many unique traits and amusing little inclusions (AI is surely a tune-up for the?interesting Dave Mirra XXX game being worked on).
The skaters themselves are also done well, with tight animations and good detail. And when I mean good, I mean good; the almighty Chrissy not only has a fully moving skirt so you get a shot at her underoos when she falls down on her behind, she even comes with Dead or Alive quality boobie-bouncing too (yes, yes I'm sick, what can I do). The polish again stands out ? you'd just have to see the game to understand that while it isn't going to win any best graphics awards (though they are really good), its just how well done the game looks as a whole.
The sound is accented by the decent soundtrack (I'll surely pick up the Xbox version in August if it has custom soundtracks), featuring tunes by Hoobastank, Reel Big Fish (?Sellout' is a great song that rings true today), Pharcyde, and Saliva, Sublime is also included, but Sublime sucks mucho asso, so I ignore their existence. There's also some lesser known acts like The Ataris also, but on the whole the sountrack is decent at best, which is the only real problem with the game that annoys me personally. Thankfully you can set a playlist and get rid of the crap you don't want to hear, which only makes the songs repetitive after a while.
The rest of the sound is good, especially the frequent voices. A lot of them are absolutely hilarious (such as the boardwalk PA announcer, describing a little girl with puke all over her dress, or the brown ?cotton candy? that people are passing around the park, or the guy in the cannery level begging for someone to pick up the phone and ?talk to this guy!'), and other people on the streets even throw a few expletives around. You'll get called an asshole and a dickhead (?senor dickhead, it is no problem to kill you?, oh wait, that was GTA 3) 5 minutes into the game, so get used to it. The sounds of grinding are a bit exaggerated, but the game doesn't strive to be really realistic anyway.
While most extreme games are already getting a bit long in the tooth (though I admit THPS 4 looks to change that, hopefully), Aggressive Inline not only does something different, it does something to surpass anything else out there. The game simply does everything right in the gameplay department, and creates a fully enjoyable game that can become so addictive that you might forget pee breaks and sleeping. It's a fairly large game that needs many hours just to complete the game with one character, so settle in for a very lengthy playing experience. Anyone bored of Tony Hawk should give this one a try ? because Aggressive Inline is as good of a sleeper hit as there possibly can be.