In the short amount of time EA's "extreme team" in Canada has been around, it has undoubtedly garnered a huge amount of success. While NBA Street was a blast, the team's repertoire of trick-filled, insane racers has accredited to most of its success. With a simple yet involving formula, BIG has instilled its outlandish play into multiple sports. While SSX and Sled Storm took place atop mountains and amidst snowy, icy motifs, Freekstyle is a refreshing -- both mechanically and graphically -- title that takes you on a different racing path, letting players vie for the top-dog spot in the grubby, grimy world of motocross.
Visually is where Freekstyle differentiates itself the most from previous BIG titles the most. Opposite of snow and ice, Freekstyle focuses more on a fiery, bold approach. Injected and pumped with attitude, you won't find any icicles or even one drop of snow, but rather, lush, vibrant, fiery levels with huge jumps, hills, and turns to feast your grimy wheels on. The different riders also boast a lot of attitude and style, each one donning certain trendy intricacies and whatnot. EA BIG never ceases to fail in this area, as it spends so much time working on it. Each rider also has a few trusty bikes, which, likewise, are heavily detailed and convincingly rendered. There are enough similarities in the whole aura of the game that you know it's from EA BIG, but there are enough diversities as well, which helps to dim the SSX-clone label some may tag it with.
Special visual flares have also been incorporated to accent the outlandish play. After gaining turbo boost from landing tricks, you can turn on the boosters, which gives the background a blur effect, as to better illustrate the sense of speed. This blur effect is multiplied numerous times once you land your rider's Freekout, which will also make fire spew from your bike's tail. Yet another visual extra is the Matrix-esque freeze that's initiated once the tweak button is hit during the Freekout special.
Players who follow the world of motocross racing will find all the characters to be real riders, except for the model Leeann Tweeden, of course. Most of them are the big-guns in the sport, too. Mike Metzger and Brian Deegan are both very popular to the sport, and the Flyin' Hawaiian, or Clifford Adoptante, is also nationally known. While Freekstyle is geared towards racing and trick-based fans in general, the addition of real riders helps to intensify the game's credibility to followers of the sport. Unfortunately, Travis Pastrana didn't make the cast. Maybe next year.
Many tutorial-type modes are offered to show players the ins and outs of the game. The Freeride and Freestyle modes, which let you practice on run-times and trick-scores, respectively, are both worthwhile extras. Multiplayer also adds an additional incentive to play the game. Where the meat lies, however, is in the Circuit mode. This is where all the objectives are fulfilled and all the hidden elements -- riders, bikes, and levels -- are unlocked. Circuit mode is carried out the same way SSX's key mode is.
The trial modes are actually quite beneficial to your performance when it counts. Since Circuit is so prolonged -- three laps each race on top of three heats in each level -- it takes a while to move onto the next stage. Because of this, you won't want to have to retry a level entirely. So, exploring the levels first makes a big difference. There are many sequences of jumps and so forth. You'll want to regulate your speed and boost so that the transitions between jumps will flow smoothly -- this means landing on the downside of a hill, not landing on the beginning part of it. You'll also want to test out your various tricks on different heights, so you can make sure you won't bail if you're not given enough air for the executed trick.
Freekstyle is built up essentially the same as Sled Storm and SSX were. You'll compete in a number of different levels. But in SSX, along the way, you'd create adversaries, make companions and intensify rivalries. For whatever reason, Freekstyle doesn't include this inventive type of interaction between players. Boasting nine tracks in all, you'll compete against others, gaining access to the succeeding level once the finish place criteria is met. The AI isn't quite as cheap as that found in Sled Storm, either, so players won't normally lose it all on one dump.
The tweak button really skyrockets the trick variations you can execute. In actuality, the word tweak can be rather deceptive. Instead, trick-linkage would fit the bill more correctly. Every different combination of shoulder buttons performs a certain trick. Once you add the tweak button to the equation, the trick is then modified into something different, and more rewards are then accumulated. A simple superman, for example, will turn into a one-handed superman boot grab; a cliff hanger transforms into a surfer, and a heart attack links into a buzz cut. This facet also helps to fill your red meter, which, once completed, will send your rider into Freekout mode. Once in this state, you can hold all four shoulder buttons on the next trick to pull off the sweetest trick in your player's arsenal. Doing so will also send your rider into a blistering-like state once he lands, making everything around him extra blurry.
Tight and precise, Freekstyle's controls are very reliable. Taking the same mechanics as those found in SSX and Sled Storm, the game utilizes the four shoulder buttons as the different trick set-ups. Holding different variations of the shoulder buttons simultaneously will trigger the specified trick. More buttons means higher points, higher difficulty, and a higher boost as you land. While this basic layout is fun and complex, this is the fourth game these mechanics have been used in only a little over a year. BIG hit a hole-in-one with this ingenious way to play a game, but they might just run this formula right into the ground at the rate they're using it.
The game pulls off a great performance aurally. Once again, there's an announcer who'll encourage you when you're down, congratulate you when you do well, and totally bash you when you're gnawing on the dirt below. Interaction and confrontations among players is synonymous with EA BIG games; oddly enough, there's basically none found here. The sound effects were pulled off crisply, recreating all the conventional sounds of a dirt bike: the racketing of your motor, the spiting of the dirt as your tires slice through it, and a loud crash when riders take spills. Helping to set the mood of the game are the heavy, adrenaline-charged beets that play throughout. As with SSX, it'll alter according to the current level of intensity in the race.
Freekstyle is polished, attitude-packed, and exhilarating. Tip your hats off to Page 44 Studios and EA BIG for a job well done. The multiple differences help it to stray away from BIG's other racers, too, but the game's engine is still beginning to run its time rather rapidly. Those who've had their fill of this formula may want to look elsewhere. Believe it or not, though, Freekstyle is one hell of a game. Whether you're a fan of the motocross sport, a fan of tricks, or just one of the racing genre in general, Freekstyle delivers.
6/20/2002 Joseph Comunale