The fans of the so-called Xtreme Sports have tried all: Rollerskates, Skateboards, Snowboards and a multitude of other ways to bend, break, snap and dislocate your bones. So it's no real surprise that the gaming industry has picked up on most of them, but there have been very few games to challenge the greatness that is Tony Hawks. - Until now.
Aggressive Inline is the latest offering from Acclaim and really does shove the bar up a few notches for the Xtreme Sport games. This is one hell of a game and it's right up there, and perhaps even, over Tony Hawks's previous offerings - it certainly held my attention more than THPS3 for instance. The game is smooth and it plays like a dream, even me with my inability to master the simplest tricks on a Skateboarding game was able to fly to new heights and perform stunning moves using their responsive control system.
So what on earth has captured this normally RPG orientated and FPS loony of a Wolf into loving this game to bits? The sheer production values: the sense of style and the fact that the producers have actually picked some ear bending tracks too. The likes of Saliva and 'Your Disease' blare from the speakers as you whip into a high flying stunt, whirling around 360 degrees and if you're lucky - landing without a scratch and forcing your friends into cheers and whoops. Even my lass actually looked impressed about this game, and that's a rare thing - she's usually unable to see what fun there could be in skimming down a long pole, sending sparks flying all directions as you pull of a monster grind.
Of course there's the usual mixture of flips, grabs, grinds and other tricks that lurk in this game. But unlike a lot of games before it, most of these are pretty simple to pull off and the effects are pretty impressive. Tap the shoulder buttons and send your skater into a few well-timed spins and you can rack up the points. I was really impressed with how easy it was, once you picked up a few tricks to score some pretty high scores. Miss-time a trick or land in the wrong way and it's crimson city as your skater slams the deck hard, blood spraying like a horror movie. Just kidding, there really isn't all that much blood.
Tap the circle button at the right time and you can bail out of the trick you're doing and usually land quite safely. Another life saving feature that I found myself using a lot early on in the game. Thought you do lose the chance of accruing all those lovely points you'd made. Another interesting feature of note is the lack of any kind of timer on the main game itself, this was something I found to be refreshing and quite unique - you have a juice bar, which slowly drains over time. Doing tricks/stunts and collecting the various juice-boxes around the levels can replenish this. There are quite a few of these pick-ups and they're in some pretty hard places to reach, requiring a good deal of manual dexterity and timing.
Get juiced and whack your bar to the top, the fun really begins, your skaters skates are now on fire (A lovely visual effect) and your speed increases rapidly. Not only this but you can also pull off the various special moves that are hidden away in the game - once you find them. While we're at the subject of moves and various things like this, I'd like to point your attention to the experience point system (yeah, you read that right)
Some levels have special attribute points locked away in hard to get places, a bit like Tony Hawks, but that's where the similarity ends - you get better in AI by actually doing all the funky stuff that you dream of. So grind a lot, and you get a certain number of experience points, once those points reach an allotted number then a point is added to the stat such as Grind.
There are many stats, Grind, Wall ride, Speed and Spin to name but a few, and I'm going to leave it up to you to work out just how to raise these. Some require a good deal of play to get into the high levels. Tricks can also be linked by the use of Cess Slides (Reverse sliding), manuals and then moving into another trick - the in game Tutorial level (Which is really impressive and teaches you by doing) shows you how to do this.
There are a number of characters in AI and each of them has strengths and weaknesses, with a hidden character on each level to unlock. Each of these characters is themed based on the level you're on. There are also hidden sections to the levels that can only be opened by finding the right key on another level - these are usually in the form of challenges.
Challenges are various and varied about the different themed levels and often open up other challenges too. There are usually some hidden challenges and tricks to discover so the game has a great deal of replay value - I'm not going to elaborate on this any further, suffice it to say that there are a lot of good bonus' to be unlocked in the game, which gives it another few plus points from me. Simply skate up to a figure that has an icon floating over their head, hit circle and you'll get the challenge. Go into the menu and select challenges to see the list, and you can even get a fly-by overview of the task - now that's service.
The graphics in AI are superb, with a good style and sense of realism to some of the characters. They're animated and textured nicely with hardly any glitches - during several play sessions I don't think I discovered anything that was game breaking. The various tricks and combos that you can pull off are all animated with fluid grace and the whole way the character moves is perfectly suited to the type of game this is. I really do love the way the character can also hand-plant on most surfaces and that the designers have put in a swing-around-the-pole feature similar to airblade. Once more fluidly animated and allowing you to reach places where other skaters can't get.
Along with the lush graphics and excellent camera placement the sound in AI is top notch, the skreeling of the skates as they grind down a railing, or the steady thunk-thunk as you rattle across a wooden floor are perfectly reproduced. Leave the ground and you can hear the sounds of your wheels idly spinning before they make contact with the surface again. It's tiny details like this that really do push the game up and up towards a staggering top mark.
It's not hard to see why a lot of the print mags are saying this game is a THPS beater, because the levels are huge - varied and have enough on them to keep you occupied for hours. Find all the juice boxes on a level and a cheat will be given to you, another reason why it's important to keep playing and rolling, rolling, rolling on. So in conclusion I'd like to thank Acclaim for bringing us this game and proving to me that life does not begin and end with SSX Tricky or Tony Hawks.