X-Box does seem to have been treated to an awful lot of extreme sports games in its infancy, what with Tony Hawks, Matt Houghman and friends, and of course the peculiarly beautiful but woefully unplayable Transworld Surf and all, not to mention the plethora of snowboarding games. Aggressive Inline isn't the first rollerblading game to hit the X-Box, that was JetSet Radio Future. However, where JSRF majored on challenging the player to find their way around the level with only a cursory nod in the direction of pulling insane stunts, AI (heh, natty abbreviation) goes more for the Tony Hawks approach, with a set number of goals to perform to unlock the next level.
Now there are inevitably going to be a lot of comparrisons between AI and the THPS series, because let's face it there's been a lot of idea borrowing going on, and who can blame them? The control method is neat and simple, involving up to three direction taps and a button press for each trick, with more points for the trickier combos. AI does add one major new feature though - more rigidly defined environment interaction. Whereas most extreme sports games limit themselves to grinds and manuals, AI also allows you to swing around on horizontal and vertical poles - weeeeeee - allowing you to reach higher points in the level and of course keep those all-important trick combos going. You can also use the 'vault' maneouvre to leap over low walls, half-pipes and rails in mid-manual, and yes grinds are very much a part of the game. You can even grab onto the back end of a moving vehicle and 'skitch' along in its wake to get around faster! Basic tricks you can pull off are disappointingly standard for every skater, and even the special unlockable characters share the same set which is a little disappointing. It brings the replay value of the game right down when there's no real difference between skaters except their starting statistics.
So far so fruity, but it all sounds an awful lot like THPS on rollerblades, no? Wrong! Firstly, no timer, a fact heavily flaunted on the back of the box. No more will you be worrying about the horrible ticking sound as you run.. out.. of.. time.. got.. to.. get.. one... more... damn!!! Yeah, we all know the feeling. Instead, step forward the Juice Meter. At first glance this seems to function much like the special bar in THPS. When it's full, it flashes and you can pull off any special tricks you know, as well as skating faster and jumping higher etc etc The difference is, should you bail it does not reset to zero, you merely lose a portion of juice. This can be refilled by doing tricks and collecting the juice boxes scattered around the level, and a good thing too because if it drops to zero, then you have to pay a whacking great 100,000 points to continue or it's game over man!
And so to the levels themselves. These are beautifully rendered, albeit in very vivid bright colours that give the game a distinctly cartoony feel. This is not all a bad thing, but occasionally they do get a tad garish to say the least. Levels are huge, and follow the continuing theme of 'do this trick, and a new part opens up through a nice little cutscene'. This works exceedingly well. For example, on the Funfair level you have to grind a wingnut set halfway up a ferris wheel. Manage this awesome feat and the whole contraption falls appart, the wheel rolls off and falls into the water becoming both a new bowl to skate in and a bridge to another small island. Also, each level has a key which unlocks hidden areas on one of the other levels, so you really do have to get your explorer's hat on (no taking the pith) and poke your snotty little nose into every dark corner. As for the tasks you have to complete, there are an awful lot of them, between 20 and 30 odd per level if the blurb is to be believed, and I for one am willing to! Tasks range from getting huge points scores (pretty easy with no time limit) to busting a certain value of combo, collecting an item, grinding a particular rail etc. There are even one or two hidden challenges that you'll just have to guess at. Some tasks are incredibly hard, and I must confess that I managed two or three of them due to slight glitches in the game placing my character where he should not be... oh well, no-one's perfect!
The graphics of the game are adequate, and one or two minor touches seem to have made it into the X-Box version including beautiful reflective puddles and more detailed sky textures, but by and large it looks more or less the same as the PS2 version (don't go looking for differences in our screenshots, they're all from the PS2 version too, couldn't find any for X-Box!) Feminists might have something to say about the ridiculous lengths the makers have gone to to ensure that the - ahem - specific dynamics of female anatomy have been adequately represented. Ok I'll say it, their boobies go boing very realistically - go on, drool you adolescent male perverts! But at least female skaters have been properly *gulp* represented, even if they had to make them up rather than getting real pro's. The rest of the animation is adequate, and has enjoyed an overhaul since the PS2 version also, with less (but by no means no) glitching between animation frames. There is still a huge gap in animation between the character doing a fingertip grind and suddenly, mysteriously becoming upright again, but it's forgivable in the name of gameplay.
Overall, the game plays very well indeed. The tasks are occasionally difficult, but the lack of time limit means that you rarely feel stressed at failing, and there are so many of them that you can always go and have a try at a different one when a tricky one foils your plans at skating domination. The statistical experience system works well too - the more you use a particular maneouvre such as grinding or wall-riding, the more experience you gain in that area and eventually its level increases. Pretty nifty, meaning you really have to use every skating ability as often as possible to max out your skater. Music is also excellent, with some real toe-tappers finding their way into the soundtrack and only one or two turkeys which can thankfully be turned off. I'm surprised that provision was not made for the X-Box's neato personal playlist option, but very few games have bothered with that so far in any case.
So is it better than Tony Hawks? Well yes and no. It will take you longer to complete a single character - a LOT longer - but once you've finished everything with one there is nothing left to unlock, and therefore no point in going back and completing it with the others except to try out the unlocked special characters and the cheat codes tucked away in there. The graphics are less impressive but more bubbly, and the levels are considerably more impressive but also a bugger to find your way around at times. It's an excellent game but in the end you pay your money and take your choice!
P.S. Don't think because of the lower score that this game isn't as good as the PS2 version - I'm just a terrible critic when it comes to games, the two are more or less identical save for one or two graphical tweaks!