Reviewed: December 9, 2003
Released: October 28, 2003
Ever since Midway turned the sports genre on it’s backside with its “fun over realism” philosophy there have been two camps slowly forming; those who enjoy ultra-realistic sports games and those who just want to have fun. In the extreme world of snowboarding gamers have always had plenty of options for having “fun”, but until now only one game has ever taken the sport of extreme snowboarding and treated it with any seriousness.
That game was the original Amped, and the game that now joins it as the next evolution of serious snowboarding is its sequel, Amped 2. Those going in expecting massive air, 30-seconds of airtime, and wild and crazy uber tricks will be sorely disappointed, but those who are looking for a realistic and intricate approach to the sport are going to love this sequel.
For those that played the first, we can sum things up quickly by saying Amped 2 offers all of the great gameplay of the original and enhances it with plenty of polish and throws in a massively fun online component thanks to Xbox Live and XSN. If you liked Amped last year prepare to clear your schedule for the next month or even longer.
Amped 2 takes all the realistic moves from Amped and adds new aerial tricks; advanced grabs; a full set of styled-out rail slides, tweaks, stalls, and hand and foot plants; and introduces "Butter," the center of a new combo system that allows nose and tail manuals to link tricks together. Proficient boarders who master the Butter system can essentially link the entire mountain as one massive trick line.
Newcomers to Amped, or snowboarding in general, will enjoy the useful tutorial that teaches first timers the basics of freestyle riding. Even though Amped 2 is more forgiving in your landings (you don’t have to be perfectly straight) you still have to be a lot straighter than a game like SSX3 or 1080 Avalanche, so you will often face plant when you think you should have landed.
One of the biggest concepts to wrap your mind around is quality over quantity. In those other games the trick to big scores was massive amounts of tricks chained together in lengthy sequences. In Amped 2 the point system revolves around executing stylish tricks. Putting the polish on even simple tricks like a 360 is likely to score you bigger points than a quick series of flips and grinds.
The other new feature that will change the face of snowboarding forever is the “snowskate” mode. This is something relatively new on the slopes where boarders ride the board like a skateboard. With your feet no longer permanently attached to the board you are forced to grab the board every time you leave the ground. This also lends itself to some new tricks like kick flips and fancy grinds that actually resemble some of the uber tricks in SSX but are rooted in real life stunts. It’s a cool concept and a fun new way to play but it’s not available on all the slopes.
Speaking of slopes, Amped 2 goes global with the addition of new mountains, including Laax, Switzerland, Mt. Buller in Australia, and heli-riding Harris Mountain in New Zealand. World-renowned terrain park designer Chris "Gunny" Gunnarson lends his expertise once again helping to improve trick placement, adding more trickable objects, and doubling the size of many jumps, making it easier to land in transition.
Gamers now have more opportunities to impress the fans and the media with three levels of challenges: photos, photo sequences, and video demo reels. As fame builds, sponsors award new gear and boards and banners appear on the mountains, displaying new endorsements won.
Amped 2 features 14 top snowboarding pros, including Jeremy Jones, Mikey LeBlanc, Travis Parker, and Janna Meyen. If you don’t like any of these you can create your own boarder and customize just about ever aspect, including hairstyle, gear, and customized board graphics.
With Xbox Live and XSN, gamers will now be able to challenge riders around the globe to see who's the best. Track stats and check regional and worldwide ladders to see rankings. Trade replays with friends or download new content, including mountains, gear, challenges, and music. Online snowboarding has never been this involved, structured, or exciting.
One of the nicest online features is the Just Ride mode where up to eight boarders can freestyle the slopes of their choice and then have their scores ranked. There is also a King of the Mountain mode where the boarder with the highest trick score captures a specific location.
The other highly competitive mode is Trick Race where everyone is racing down a mountain. There are certain obstacles you need to trick on and these have a predetermined amount of points. Failure to score that number will freeze your rider for several seconds making it much harder to win the race. This is one of the most intense online modes in the game.
All of these modes as well as the single player game modes can be tweaked with a host of sliders and options. When you factor in the 8-player support that is just as fun with two or three players you have one of the best online experiences currently available for the Xbox.
Fully rendered 3-D environments bring these massive mountains alive in a scale that boggles the mind. Some of these slopes are so long you will actually become physically tired playing them in your living room. Toss in a snowboard input device like the ThrustMaster Freestyler Board and you’ll be icing down your ankles after a lengthy game session. Given the size and complexity of these environments I was totally impressed that the framerate never faltered ever.
To give these mountains even greater scale is the incredible draw distance that stretches to infinity, or at least to the horizon, with not a hint of fogging or mist trickery. Clouds cast shadows that move over the hills, and the slopes teem with ambient life and sounds, including other riders, snow-cats, people riding the chairlifts, and working snow machines.
Even though the scenery certainly steals the show, the graphics and animation for the various riders and the massive library of tricks they perform are also quite stunning. There is a certain air if realism to the look and design of the characters and they way the move, mostly since they are performing factual tricks on ultra-realistic slopes.
Snowboarding is about the only sports game that can justify and sustain a soundtrack without imposing on the gameplay. As other games have established, the basic idea is to license as much grunge, pop, or techno as you can afford and toss it into the game in some randomized jukebox player.
Amped 2 takes this idea to a new extreme with a library of more than 300 core indie tracks from the latest up-and-coming indie artists. By keeping the bands small they have been able to include hundreds more songs than other competing products spanning multiple genres. You’re either going to love it or hate it and if you hate it you can use the custom soundtracks to play your own music. I found the eclectic selection most refreshing, most of the songs I had never heard of before, and with more than 300 crammed onto the disc it takes a long time to ever hear the same one twice.
The rest of the audio package includes typical sound effects like the whooshing of your board over snow and ice or on rails or other structures. There is a smattering of speech from random encounters on the slope. These are fun at first but quickly become repetitive and annoying. Thankfully, they can be independently adjusted in the sound options. The Dolby Digital surround mix opens up these mountains so they sound as big as they look.
Amped 2 is going to offer you a lot of gameplay. Even after 35 hours I am still working my way through my initial career. This is one of those games where the online component is a tempting diversion that will keep taking you away from the solo portion of the game and rightly so. There is something truly remarkable about hitting the slopes with real people that you can chat with. In some ways it’s better than the real thing – you don’t have to shout and it's definitely warmer.
Fans of the original Amped should need no more encouragement. Amped 2 is a must-have title. It’s not as fast or unrealistically fun as SSX3 but it wasn’t meant to be. This is serious snowboarding that almost takes the sport into its own niche sub-genre. Casual gamers might want to rent first to make sure they know what’s in store for them but anyone with the patience to stick with it will find Amped 2 to be one of the most rewarded snowboarding games you can play and the only online snowboarding title currently available for your Xbox.