Aggressive Inline Review
We've seen plenty of extreme sports games since Tony Hawk's Pro Skater revitalized the genre a few years ago. And while Neversoft's Tony Hawk games have since led the way in new features and graphics over the years since, surely other developers can come up with something as good or better, right? With the exception of the excellent SSX games, it's been a long time getting to that point. Z-Axis, developers of the Dave Mirra BMX games, have delivered a game that's got the Tony Hawk charm combined with lots of goals to attain and its own unique features.
Aggressive Inline boasts an excellent graphics engine, huge levels, 10 pro skaters to use, great controls, open-ended gameplay without two minute timers, character stats in the style of RPG's, and all of the features you'd expect out of a game intended to appeal to THPS players.
The first thing you'll notice with Aggressive Inline is that Z-Axis has tried to make everyone happy with the control scheme they selected. The controls are a tad different than other games of this type, but they are still easy to adapt to. All of the main combo capabilities from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 are here, including manuals and reverts (which are called Cess Slides).
Instead of a mode where you skate "switch", Aggressive Inline has a Fakie system where you skate backwards. This is an improvement over other games, since you won't have to look at an icon in the corner of the screen to know when you're fakie. Plus, you get to see your skater's front side a little more often (which can be interesting with the female characters - more later).
The controls are somewhat more forgiving than THPS3 as well. Spinning during big air tricks is possible and will give you more points, but it's not as important as in other games - it means that bails due to landing sideways are somewhat minimized. It's easier to grab things like rails to grind on if you're about to crash, and if you accidentally pop off of the side of a half pipe, you can right yourself in mid-air before landing on the ground. Transferring big air moves into grinds is very easy, almost comically so. Overall, it means you get to spend more time perfecting combos than trying to correct bails.
Since you're using inline skates here rather than a skateboard or a bike, you might expect to see a smaller set of moves to do. And overall, the tricks you can pull off aren't as diverse as you'd see in other games, but Z-Axis did a good job with the ones you have. There are lots of flips and grabs to do, and all can be done with a single trick button - if you want to spin during the moves, you are forced to use the shoulder buttons (unlike the THPS games, where holding left or right on the d-pad allows you to spin).
The slight lack of trick diversity has been made up for by a few completely new moves, like vaults and the ability to swing on poles, both of which allow you to reach areas you might not have been able to before. It's definitely a different system than what you may be used to, but I find it to be about as good as the THPS style.
Simply put, Aggressive Inline has a great game engine behind it. The levels are just plain huge, with multiple large areas to explore. The frame rate is usually around 60fps, with a few rare drops into the 20's and 30's. Z-Axis really outdid themselves this time, with one of the best engines I've seen for this kind of game.
Of course, huge levels are no good if they're empty. With Aggressive Inline, though, that's not the case - they're full of ramps and rails to do tricks off of, with plenty of stuff moving around (cars, people, and, in some levels, machinery). Every level has all kinds of detail and little things to notice, and the secret areas in the main levels are usually worth the effort to unlock. The themes of each of the game's 7 massive levels are pretty varied, although the Movie Set, Museum, and Civic Center were my favorites.
The skaters you will use are animated pretty well - they're about as good as the ones in THPS3. There are 10 real-life skaters you can use, as well as a pair of female skaters that Z-Axis threw in. The Chrissy skater is the one you might have heard of - her skirt flies up constantly, and her breasts bounce in such an exaggerated fashion, you might get in trouble with the wife or girlfriend when you play as her.
This is what these games always come down to - how much replay value does it have, and how fun is it to try and complete everything? I'm pleased to say that Aggressive Inline is one of the most fun games of this type I have played. The unique character building system is one of the best things about it, where you don't just pick up stat point powerups in the levels. Instead, doing specific moves will give you experience points that go towards levelling your skater up in that area (jump, speed, spin, grinds, fakie, etc.). Bigger tricks will give you tons of XP in those stats, so you'll want to keep the combos going.
We heard a while back that Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 will have a different career mode where you won't be stuck with a two-minute timer, forcing you to restart your run repeatedly. Well, Z-Axis beat them to it with Aggressive Inline - it's got that exact system where you can explore and play freely. There are still some timed challenges, though, that require you to get a certain point total in a specific time. These can be retried as often as you like in the same run, which is a great way to do it.
So how exactly do you lose in Aggressive Inline? There's a "juice" meter you have; bails will lower it, while tricks you land can raise it. And as you might expect, filling the meter will give you extra speed and air for as long as you can go without a bail. There are also powerups you can pick up which will increase your juice meter capacity, allowing you to try larger combos without so much risk of losing a large chunk of the meter.
There are quite a few challenges to complete in each level; some of them will have you grinding a specific part of the map or going through a line of tricks. Quite a few them permanently change some part of the level, often allowing new combos in that area. Aggressive Inline also has a unique goal system, where tougher goals give you more "points" towards unlocking the next level. It seems like the system is a bit complicated, but the game's interface for it all makes it pretty easy to understand - many challenges are listed and explained, with fly-by's to show you where exactly the trick starts. Other challenges can only be found when you're in the level, which means you may have to come back to previous levels after unlocking new areas. Most levels also have rails to grind way up high, and sometimes there are even whole mini-skate parks perched way up in the air.
These games are commonly measured by how many things you can unlock, and Aggressive Inline delivers in this aspect. On top of the 7 levels and their many areas that can be opened up, there are a couple of secret levels and some secret characters to open up, as well. The obligatory skate park editor is in here too, which is roughly as feature-filled as the one in THPS3. You start out with two different environments to create your skateparks in, with at least 2 more to unlock as you go. While the edited skateparks aren't as large as I expected (considering the size of the levels in the normal game), it's still not bad.
Of course, there are the two player modes. One thing I appreciated with this game is the camera view - my friends and I found the THPS games difficult to play in the split-screen mode since we could hardly see what we were doing. This usually resulted in a lot of games of Horse, where no split screen is needed. In Aggressive Inline, however, the camera is pulled back a bit, allowing you some more space to see around you. The frame rate does take some nasty hits with the split screen mode going, but that's something I've come to expect in these games. Frame rate dips can screw up tricks you're doing sometimes, but it's still worth having in there. There are a few unique two-player modes, although I didn't find any of them to be too great.
Aggressive Inline has quite a bit of speech, and some decent sound effects to go with it. Many of the challenges you get in the levels are pretty funny, especially since the characters giving you the challenges say different things if you fail and retry them. All the sound effects you expect are here, and work well enough with the levels' themes.
Pretty much every game in this genre has to have an edgy rock/hiphop soundtrack, right? It seems to be a standard that no one wants to deviate from, and there's no exception here. Aggressive Inline has music from P.O.D., Sublime, Hoobastank, Black Sheep, Reel Big Fish, Eric B & Rakim, and several other bands. Yep, this one has a couple of songs that were big hits for their time, like "Youth of the Nation" or "Wrong Way" - these were played enough on the radio or on MTV that I'm already a bit sick of hearing them.
It seems to me that this soundtrack was picked out to be less risky than most games of this type, with less potentially annoying music. That being said, I also didn't find that any songs really stood out or meshed very well with the gameplay. Combine that with the songs that were already overplayed on the radio, and I just turned the whole soundtrack off after a few hours of play.
If you do want to keep the soundtrack going, though, and want to only play certain songs, a THPS3-style playlist feature is included where you can turn specific songs on and off. I'm glad they put this in, as it seems like an easy-to-implement feature. And if you really hate some of the game's music, then it can make the soundtrack far more bearable.
We've seen a ton of games now that are trying to capitalize on the success of the Tony Hawk games; there's a wide range of quality between them all, from the terrible ones to the great ones. I find that Aggressive Inline is definitely one of the greats, and that it raises the bar for the genre. It's not revolutionary like the first THPS was, but it certainly offers higher replay value and more crazy places to trick from than any other game of its kind.
While the soundtrack is a bit disappointing, that's about the worst thing I could find with this game. It's got some hilarious moments, great ways to do lots of tricks, huge levels, and a tight control scheme. There's not much more you could hope for.