Reviewed: August 17, 2002
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Released: August 4, 2002
Those of you familiar with the Dave Mirra BMX series of games will already know the quality of games that developer Z-Axis is capable of creating. Apparently somebody at Acclaim must have noticed too, as they added Z-Axis to their stable of developers in May, 2002, just in time to launch what could very well be the most comprehensive extreme sports game to date.
AKA Aggressive Inline borrows heavily on the Dave Mirra Freestyle games then adds all new depth and realism to the gameplay and graphics creating an experience that will make the Tony Hawk loyalists envious. Add to this the fact that there simply aren’t that many inline skating games out there – this is the first and only (to date) inline skating game for the Gamecube.
This was my second trip through the world of Aggressive Inline, as I had previously done the PS2 review and still had the Xbox version tempting me from the stack of "to be reviewed" titles. The GameCube version has content identical to that of the PS2 - meaning no custom levels like the Xbox version offers.
While it could be said that Aggressive Inline merely replaces a skateboard or BMX bike from those other games with a pair of skates that would be doing this title a disservice. Everything about this title is bigger and better than anything that has come before it. To put it simply, “This is a Monster of a Game”.
Let’s break down the package. We start with ten feature skaters; all famous professionals that you will recognize if you follow the sport. They’ll bust some moves for you in the opening movie, which should serve to get your adrenaline flowing sufficiently to tackle the seven gargantuan levels and the lengthy tutorial. The tutorial alone took me nearly an hour to complete; although most of this time was spent on two specific lessons I was having trouble with.
There is a powerful park editor that lets you create the skate park of your dreams, a freeskate mode, two-player split-screen mode all accompanied by an incredible soundtrack from bands such as: Hoobastank, Black Sheep, Pharcyde, Reel Big Fish, Sublime and many more.
In addition to the big name feature athletes there are also some fantasy characters tossed in to appeal to the average teenage boy (or 30-something game reviewer). Jordan and Chrissy are two nubile young female skaters that you can play when you are tired of the sweaty guys.
For these amazing women of Inline, Z-Axis developed one of the most innovative and spectacular features in any action sports game ever: Boob Technology. That's right, now these ladies will fully move to the wonderful effects of gravity. Never before have you seen so much movement upstairs as you do now, it's really a beautiful thing. Expect to see more of it in the upcoming Dave Mirra BMX XXX later this year.
But Inline isn’t all about T&A. There is a massive trick system in place that not only allows for huge streaming combos, but the developers have also included a multi-function ACTION button that lets you do special moves like vaulting, skitching, and pole spins (both horizontal and vertical). There is a complex Manual move (skating on either front or rear wheels only) and a Cess Slide that lets you chain tricks into mega-scoring combos.
And there are plenty of places to do all these tricks. The aforementioned levels are not only enormous, but wonderfully complex, with all sorts of “trick lines” setup for your trick-chaining pleasure. There is plenty of interaction with your environment including objects and people who will assign you various challenges and photo ops. There is a huge checklist of objectives for each level; many of which you have to find the right person to trigger the event, plus tons of hidden items and secrets scattered all over the place.
Aggressive Inline is built around an intricate progression model that comes close to reaching an RPG status. Each skater has seven skills such as balance, manual, speed, grind, etc. and the more you perform stunts that use these skills, the higher these ratings get. This allows you to build up each skater as you see fit. You can focus on key abilities or create a well-balanced skater who can do it all.
The levels are built around the same progression system. You need to score X-many points to open up the next level, so you are never required to completely finish a current level or complete 100% of the goals before advancing. Some objectives are simply impossible to do until later in the game. This means you will be revisiting many sections over again.
Additionally, you will find keys that unlock secret areas that are often larger than the main parts of these levels. These keys are always in hard to reach areas that will require some big air and a trick or two to get them. Not only are these levels enormous and interactive, they also are dynamic in that they will shift, and change shape based on scripted events. This opens up all new trick line opportunities and keeps things surprisingly fresh and always exciting.
Typical of most games like these, everything is locked down tight in the beginning and you unlock additional levels by playing through the career mode. Once unlocked, you can play them in any of the other modes. Each player also has their own hidden “special moves” that you must find within the level before you can even attempt them.
You can spend hours exploring these levels and never find everything. For as large as they are, they are anything but empty. All of the levels are fully loaded with objects, traffic, buildings, and level specific architecture and scenery. Skate through the main gates of Paramount Studios, knock over the guard, and go into the back lot or onto the soundstage with a full-size mock-up of a haunted house, complete with CGI poltergeists and other movie paraphernalia such as lights and cameras – you provide the action.
The game is deceptively simple. When you first start the tutorial you will blaze through the first half-dozen lessons then things ramp up significantly, but only in complexity, not in difficulty. All of the concepts and control remains easy and intuitive. You have your core tricks that you can tweak and grab. You have your manuals and cess slides to link tricks, you have the action button that lets you spin, skitch and vault over walls or out of a half-pipe or bowl, and perhaps the most difficult ability to master; balance.
Whenever you do a grind, manual, or handplant a balance meter will appear and you must try to keep the bubble centered in the green area for as long as you want to maintain the trick. Until your balance ability increases it is quite easy to lose your balance or overcompensate and fall. The trick is to not try to do too much too fast. Keep the grinds, manuals and handplants short and bail before you lose it.
Speaking of bail; there is also a new bail feature that lets you save yourself from eating concrete if you fly off the side of the ramp. If you ever find yourself heading toward the pavement with no ramp beneath you, a simple tap of the action button will orient you with the ground below and land you feet first.
Thanks to the innovative Juice Meter, timed levels are a thing of the past. The Juice Meter is more or less your life bar. Perform a trick and your juice meter will rise; bloody up the sidewalk and your meter will go down. You need a full meter to do your special tricks, and if your juice meter ever runs out its Game Over. There are juice power-ups scattered about the levels to help keep this meter filled and even increase the meter size.
I could go on for days about how involved this game is, but suffice to say that there is more game here than any two other releases in the same genre. The control is flawless and the trick system is one of the most intuitive I have ever had the privilege to learn. Aggressive Inline has “ruined me” for all other extreme sports games – at least all the ones in my current collection.
Having reviewed both the PS2 and Xbox versions of Aggressive Inline, I found the GameCube controller was perfectly suited for controlling the insane action in this game. My big complaint with the Xbox version was the mapping of the Cess-Slide to the tiny black/white buttons. The Nintendo version puts this command on the Z trigger, which is much more convenient and more closely resembles the R1 mapping of the PS2 version.
WOW! Need more detail? Hopefully by now I’ve pounded the concept of how large and detailed the levels are into your head. There are 10 to 15 cinematic events per level that makes the worlds really come alive. As an example, if you skate off of the Atlas statue, the massive globe rolls on to the street smashing two buses that form into a half pipe. These levels are always changing with new areas being revealed the more you play.
The GameCube version features some excellent graphics that are a notch above the PS2 version but pale in comparison to the high resolution of the Xbox. Inline also has some of the most fluid motion-capture animation I have ever seen. Using “dynamic cloth technology” you will see clothing flutter in the breeze. Chrissy’s schoolgirl outfit features a short plaid miniskirt that simply refuses to conceal her white panties when she is catching some air.
Textures are rich and diverse and you will be hard pressed to find repeating textures in any given view. While the characters are quite realistic, the game opts for a more fanciful environment loaded with bright, saturated colors and vivid imagery. The textures themselves seem a bit fuzzy in some places, mainly on the characters and their clothing. Unless you have seen the sharper textures on the other platforms you probably wouldn't even notice.
Special effects are plentiful including realistic reflections that you will notice as early as the training level. The water on the brick in the courtyard reflects the scenery and the skater perfectly. There is a great particle system that sends sparks flying off your skates when your grind or when your juice meter is filled. There is even an abundance of blood that splatters the pavement when you “crater”.
Camera control is flawless. I can’t think of a single time when the game wasn’t offering me the best (if not only) possible view of the trick I was doing. When doing your photo-op challenges the camera will do freeze frame shutter effects that really show off the stunt.
The visual goodness extends beyond the game into the opening movie and menu system that feature live video footage of your favorite skaters doing their best moves. There are also various cutscenes during the game that are created with the game graphics that are equally well done.
The menus are all iconic and easy to navigate. The in-game interface is just as nice. You can pop-up your objective checklist at anytime via the Pause menu. You can also check your attributes and trick list from this menu.
If you’ve played any other games in this genre then you probably know what to expect in the music department. Extreme sports has pretty much spawned its own classification of music and Inline follows suit with an amazing line-up of songs and popular artists such as; "Idea for A Movie," "Wrong Way," by Sublime, by The Vandals, "Don't Sweat The Technique," by Eric B & Rakim, "Your Disease," by Saliva, "The Choice Is Yours," by Black Sheep, "Sell Out," by Reel Big Fish, "Passing Me By" by Pharcyde, and many others for a total of twelve great tracks.
You also have the ability to pick your favorite music or change the music for any level at anytime during the game via the Pause menu. This is a great feature if a certain song is starting to get annoying or you just don’t like it. With only twelve tracks you will hear all of these songs many, many times before you completely finish the game.
Sound effects are average. You have the obvious sounds of wheels on pavement, wheels on wood, wheels on rails, and the occasional challenge voiced by humorous NPC characters. There are also level specific sound effects like moaning ghosts in the haunted movie set, traffic noise, etc.
I normally like to finish a game in its entirety before writing my review but with a game this massive and complex it just isn’t feasible. I've been playing the PS2 version off and on since June and have only finished about 80% of this game. Based on the time spent vs. the amount completed I would estimate this game offers between 40-60 hours of gameplay just to complete everything in the solo experience.
Of course you have the great split-screen mode for some two-player action and the amazing park editor gives this game the ultimate in replayability. When you are tired of playing the game, start honing those architectural skills with this easy-to-use and quite powerful design tool that lets you create the park of your dreams.
Aggressive Inline is about as close to perfection as it gets and pretty much annihilates everything currently available in the genre. The gameplay is simple yet complex and quite addictive. The levels are so large they border on intimidating, yet it never gets dull exploring them thoroughly. And with a dozen skaters, hundreds of tricks, and infinite combinations of trick lines and combos, this is one of those rare games that has no end. Sure you can “complete” it, but you will never “finish” it.
There are plenty of new extreme sports games coming out this year and next that may eventually unseat this groundbreaking title, but for now, Aggressive Inline is king of hill and one of the best games (of any genre) you can get for your GameCube.