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Game Profile
GENRE: Extreme Sports
PLAYERS:   1-2
August 02, 2002
Aggressive Inline

Aggressive Inline

Aggressive Inline

 Written by Ilan Mejer  on August 21, 2002

Full Review: Insane verts, crazy grinds, and an unmatched trick combo system? Didn't I use this opening in my THPS3 review!?

Aggressive Inline, the much-anticipated extreme-sport rollerblading game by famous developer Z-Axis has finally hit the GameCube, only weeks after its Playstation 2 debut. How does it stack up against the venerable Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3? How does it compare to the PS2 version of AI? Is Z-Axis' final game outside of the Activision label (they've been acquired by their greatest competitor in the genre) even worthy against its greatest competition (THPS3) and Z-Axis' last great hit (Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2)? In short, exceedingly well, definitely improved, and undeniably yes! Seven stages seemed like so few on paper? How wrong you would be to think that, however!

Aggressive Inline is no way revolutionary, however, it is evolutionary in just about every aspect. Players familiar with the recent incarnations of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchise will feel quite at home with Aggressive Inline, perhaps overly much, during their first sitting. However, quite a few standout elements vault Aggressive Inline high above even THPS3. Arguably, it represents much of what THPS3 probably could have been with only a little more effort.

First off, Aggressive Inline encourages you to explore to your heart's content. It melds the career mode and freestyle mode of the Tony Hawk games into one, glorified experience. Oddly enough, a near identical freestyle mode remains as a mostly unnecessary option in AI as well. Z-Axis decided to drop the two-minute timer that is standard to most Tony Hawk (and its many clones') levels, in lieu of a ?Juice Bar.? This bar, similar to Tony Hawk's power bar, rises as you nail tricks and combos, and slowly depletes over time. Additionally, if you crash, you will lose a more significant chunk of the bar. Essentially, you can race to your heart's content provided you have some juice yet in the bar. This isn't a difficult task and it will become second nature within minutes of playing. Yes, the freestyle mode eliminates the Juice Bar and the actual career progression.

With the ability to explore the levels infinitely, Z-Axis needed to implement a new ?goals? system, and the freedom afforded to them (and you) allowed them to create vast stages which transform dynamically and contain well over a dozen ?challenges? to perform, some obvious, many hidden. Some of the initial challenges can be unlocked and made available simply by talking to certain bystanders, such as photographers, or interacting with relevant objects, like cell phones, PA systems, radios, etc., which will challenge you to complete specific and increasingly complicated tasks within a certain time limit. Point based challenges and gap transfer challenges can essentially be performed at any time, and you will have a checklist of unlocked challenges to refer to throughout your exploration. However, some of these specific trick or transfer challenges can only be performed after modifying the landscapes by completing these timed, character/object-awarded challenges.

The actual gameplay is almost identical to THPS3. You have access to a slew of aerial tricks, handplants, and grinds, which are executed at the appropriate times by hitting a direction and the corresponding button on the gamepad. These can be tweaked for additional points, multiplied by linking tricks into combos, and augmented further by adding spins and flips as easily as in the competing skateboarding game. Ground-based combos can be linked thanks to the intact (though not as lenient) manual, wall ride, and cesspool (revert) system. A few new moves make the cut in AI, including the ability to launch off of vertical and horizontal poles to extend aerial combos, skitch a ride by grabbing the bumper of a vehicle, orient yourself with the ground to avoid harmful bails, and vault over knee-high obstacles with a graceful somersault. Like THPS3, heavy emphasis is put on grinding, as it should be, since speeding from one grind to another is easily the most rewarding aspect of the gameplay. The grind-able surfaces offered in AI's levels overshadow those of any other game on the market. Theoretically, you could grind from one side of a level, to another, and then back, in one continuous trick combo. This feat would have been remarkable in THPS3, had it been executed as believably as in AI, but what makes this simply astounding is that the largest level of THPS3 could pretty much fit in a corner of the smallest in AI.

As impressive and promising as all of this seems on paper, the experience would have remained somewhat stale had Z-Axis maintained the standard level sizes, and point-based stat system of the Tony Hawk series. Aggressive Inline's greatest triumph is the implementation of an RPG-like stat system. Each character in the career mode, of which there are over a dozen, starts with somewhat varied base levels in each of the seven major stats, such as jumping, fakie, grinding, etc. These abilities will only improve if tricks and combos utilizing those skills are successfully landed. As you complete challenges and combos, you will accrue experience in relevant/used skills. Gather enough experience in any given stat, and you will see, in game, that your stat has improved. You will immediately feel the difference in increase and marvel at the depth of the system. At first, many doubted the controls in the game, feeling that they were either too tight, or too loose, and generally unforgiving. You will adapt after playing for over half an hour, as you realize that your starting statistics affect your in-game abilities rather drastically, and what first seemed like poor controls in fact is nothing more than a truly inept skater.

Thanks to the open exploration, obscure challenges, and robust character system, Aggressive Inline's Career mode is a breath of fresh air in a now stale extreme sports genre. The single player experience in Aggressive Inline is extremely satisfying, even though it is missing THPS3's create-a-skater mode and implements that game's relatively uninspired beat-the-game-with-every-skater-to-unlock-more-skaters-and-secrets standard. Still, the game does feature a very lenient create-a-park mode that puts that of Tony Hawk 3 to shame, thanks to the much expanded park sizes that Aggressive Inline supports. The game's multiplayer mode is also familiar as you and another player will have access to a variety of challenges and cooperative modes such as Animal Chase, Twenty-One, Egg Hunt, and Most Points. You will even have access to a Timed Run mode, essentially a single player mode meant to give solo gamers just a bit more opportunity for replay.

Technologically speaking, Aggressive Inline is a mixed bag. The most disappointing aspect of the game's graphics is the character model for each skater. While the clothing animates realistically, and the buxom females (part of the fictional, non professional characters) are very jiggly, the skaters simply lack fetail and look very first generation. Worse, in fact, since the skaters in THPS3 are much smoother and more detailed. To offset this, you cannot help but breathe in awe when you fully experience the stages, something you probably will not be able to appreciate until you are a few hours into the game. The levels are massive in such a way that simply cannot be described easily to those that have only played Tony Hawk games in their time. You would think that such massive levels would contain boring stretches of deserted terrain, but just about everything in Aggressive Inline is trick-able in some sense. The levels are so large that it quickly becomes obvious that the entire graphical focus of the game was placed there, and not in the actual skaters. It works well though; since this promotes a level of gameplay that other games in the genre have not been able to produce. Furthermore, the GameCube version of the game is significantly cleaner and prettier than the month-old Playstation 2 incarnation, and locked at a consistent 60 frames per second. Those are two rather large plusses in favor of the GameCube version. Yes, the gameplay was tweaked to encourage you to play with the control stick instead of the d-pad. In fact, the control stick generally works well, unlike in Tony Hawk 3 for the GCN.

The music is the typical licensed garbage you would expect in this kind of game. It will appeal to some people, and completely turn off others, particularly when you realize that these particular songs passed their primes on local radio months ago. There are significantly less songs than in Tony Hawk 3, which may or may not be a positive thing, depending on where you stand on the issue. However, the songs can be changed and chosen at will by accessing the pause menu in game. The sound effects, particularly for the grinding over a variety of surfaces, sound spot on and offer a very satisfying accompaniment to the on screen action.

Bottom Line
This is by far the best extreme sports game you could get today. If you look back to my THPS3 review, you will notice that this game received an identical final score. It is fitting, I believe, since THPS3 was the epitome of the genre when the GameCube launched. Aggressive Inline, by today's standards, is a vastly superior game. However, gamers expecting an extreme sports revolution from Z-Axis will have to wait a bit longer. Aggressive Inline fails in this regard, but so has everything else. Aggressive Inline manages to get just about everything right as far as the gameplay is concerned and combined with its clever new concepts, makes for a package that no GameCuber should pass by without an objective rental.

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