Full Review: Look at me, I'm Superman! Flying through the air with no hands on the bike..oh no..AAAHHHHH!! SPLAT
While it's always nice to see a highly-anticipated game live up to the hype, it's even nicer to see a game come with no expectations at all, and totally take you by surprise at the quality. So is the case with Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2. While I personally did not play the original PlayStation or Dreamcast predecessor, I can say that Mirra 2 is a very good game. Perhaps not great, but very good. Despite some nagging issues with the camera, weird graphical glitches, and some insanely difficult goals, Mirra 2 is a well-done game from Acclaim Max Sports and developer Z-Axis, and it's the perfect holdover until Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 is released later this fall.
Players of the revered Tony Hawk series will be right at home with Mirra 2. With the exception of a couple tweaks and enhancements, the game plays pretty much the same, save the wholly different physics of riding a bike as opposed to a skateboard. Executing the various tricks is done pretty much the same. While that might be copying THPS, it's hard to play with perfection and make it any better. Then again, Z-Axis did just that. The S.I.K Trick system lets you ?modify? one of the basic tricks to make a whole new one. This is accomplished by inputting a trick command right after starting the first one ? i.e. starting a Backflip, then quickly inputting the command for the No-hander trick. If done properly you'll have a whole new trick for racking up big points. All told Mirra 2 promises 1500 total tricks using the S.I.K Trick system. Yes, that's quite a lot.
And you'll get to show off your phat skillz in the various courses through plenty of single and multiple player modes ? a deep Proquest mode, a simple Session mode, and the BMX equivalent to a Free Run in a racing game the innovatively titled..uh..Free Run. Multiplayer boasts 10 various tests of skill as well. Needless to say there's quite a bang for the buck in feature sets.
The Proquest mode is not only the meat, it's also required to access the sides fully. You pick your rider and begin to climb the ladder of success in the BMX world. Each massive level (and I mean MASSIVE) is met with goals to accomplish: complete them and earn Respect points, which is used in turn to acquire better skills and more useful bikes. Each set of goals ? Rookie, Amateur, Pro, Hardcore, and Insane increase in difficulty and effort. Some might be simple ? pull a 4 move combo, or break a bunch of ladders in the Woodward training camp. However some are extremely difficult to master ? from grinding a 525 footer down a series of rails to much, much more ego-shattering objectives. However the more advanced objectives you clear, the more Respect points you earn and the better bike you can acquire.
There's even a small RPG element. For each level of challenge, there is one objective that is left blank with ???'s. In that case, you're objective is to find one of the bikers that is riding around the course with you. If you can find him he will give you a brand new goal that is normally right around the area where he is found.
The best thing I find with Mirra 2 is the more realistic goals. Don't get me wrong I love Tony Hawk skater, but the whole thing with getting S-K-A-T-E or collecting videotapes was kind of bizarre. In Mirra 2, the goals are more reality based and sensible. Fun stuff like jumping over police cars, breaking lamps, grinding tree branches or pulling a fancy trick in a tight spot are much more reasonable. However, some are sorta dumb: I mean, grinding all the walls to open the doors to the Cloud 9 area inside Woodward is kinda goofy. It's still better than leaping over the magic farting old bum in THPS2. Completing the main tasks at first opens up the next level in the progression, until you open them all up. Giving you the chance to go back and accomplish tougher goals while getting the easy ones done and unlocking all the parks.
And the level designs for where you play at are amazing. Not only huge, but loaded with variety. For the most part Mirra 2 emphasizes grinds and stalls instead of half-pipe vert stuff, and the levels are designed in that way. Most are loaded with lotsa stuff to grind, but lacking a huge set of bowls or pipes to compliment it. That's okay really, because the grinding is a lot more fun and challenging to grind from rail to rail (or whatever is there to grind). But the levels themselves are huge and diverse ? I found new areas that I hadn't know about even after playing almost a week! It's incredible. And all of them are radically different than the last ? besides the training area, there's a railroad area, a forest-like park, a city district level (complete with moving traffic that can put the screws to you in a millisecond), and even a waterpark like area.
But if you think they suck, there's the answer for you as well ? Create-a-park. Much like the strong THPS and Mat Hoffman park creator, Mirra 2 offers a multitude of parts to make your own twisted creation of death. While I haven't gotten too much into the park creator, it's extremely deep and a goldmine if you want lots of variety. No create-a-biker, however.
If I can find a flaw within the main gameplay ? it's the balance. Sometimes, the levels are SO big, you have a tough time finding your goals. Sadly, I was a victim of the large level phobia: I had the hardest time finding the 4th ladder to break in Woodward. I think it took me an hour in Free Run to find the final one. Of course it was right under my nose, but the moral is ? the levels are so big finding the simplest thing is a chore. Thankfully, the in-game menus alerts you when you are near a goal, and in some cases the objective required will glow for you to guide you, like the Force. Or something. But sometimes the description is vague and the objective can be very difficult to find.
On the whole though the gameplay is extremely solid and addictive ? it has it's weak points, sure, but pulling the various tricks, mastering the modifications you can make, and practicing the tough objectives is hella fun (and at times hella frustrating). It's very similar in structure and scope to Tony Hawk, but it's executed so well that the game seems very fresh. And with the very deep gameplay offered (20-30 hours worth of it), you'll be busy for quite some time in single player mode. And it's well controlled ? sometimes you can lose control of your biker, but it rewards you for learning the lengths you can go to pull off that phat trick. It's weird adjusting to the requirement of jumping a platform before executing the trick, but it doesn't take too long. Very solid controls.
Visually, Mirra 2 isn't what I'd call a mind-blower, but it's not too bad, if very flawed. The areas as I mentioned are huge, however they suffer from some serious draw-in and pop-up. Sometimes you can actually see a distant area being animated as you get closer ? like the game is being designed as you play it. It's quite strange to see a huge building animate in the background while you mess around in the level. Some levels are better than others, but a few really stand out for the constant draw-in.
The other problem is the really annoying camera. It's not all bad, but in close quarters it can be a serious pain in the ass. It seems to align itself in the absolute worst position and causes nothing but grief when you're in a tight spot. Getting the right line to do a trick is hampered by not being able to see an obstacle leading to serious problems.
Also, the collision detection is quite flawed. Sometimes you'll go right through an obstacle with no damage done, but other times you're miles away from a barrier and you get knocked on your butt. Other times, you'll get all caught up in all 3 flaws mentioned and sent to Neverneverland ?or at least the infamous gray screen of nothing. It's rare, but it does happen. And it's annoying.
On the bright side, the levels are very detailed, and the bikers look just like the real deal, even if they have a little bigger noggins than they should. I thought maybe they made the big-head code by default. There's a few jagged edges and that sort, but really it's a nice job done by Z-Axis, save for the aforementioned flaws.
The sound is kind of hard to call ? The soundtrack is really good, but any sort of sound effects is non-existent, besides the yelp of pain given when you fall down and get a boo-boo. Occasionally you can hear birds chirping or the sounds of trains, as well as the honking of cars when you grind on them (or in the worst case, get trampled over like a 60 year old lady at a WWF ticket first-day sale).
The soundtrack is great, however. The rap/punk/metal combination is solid, featuring A Tribe Called Quest, Godsmack, Outkast, Ozzy Osbourne, The Cult, and Fenix TX, along with 5 other bands and songs. It does get repetitive after a while, but so did THPS's soundtracks, as does Gran Turismo 3's. But you'll enjoy it while it's still fresh.
While there are inherent problems with the graphics engine, the most important part, the gameplay, is sound and well done. The deep gameplay, length of play, and the gigantic parks make an addictive game that will test your frustration limit at times, with tough objectives and the occasionally annoying camera. Still it's a great holdover until Tony Hawk 3, and another solid game on PS2 from the boys at Acclaim.