ESPN X-Games Skateboarding Review
It's sad that people scoff at the idea of another skateboarding game, as they all do now. Spoiling us like strawberries, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater has become "the" extreme sports title of all extreme sports titles. Whatever extreme sport title succeeded, the game would be looked down upon as inferior. Although, there was actually one title that came close to the Tony Hawk franchise in terms of quality, Grind Session. Grind Session was Sony's answer to Activision's Pro Skater. Despite not having an "all-star" cast -if you will- Grind Session was downright every bit as good as Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, as well as its sequel. Grind Session was a hit with critics, negative feedback towards the game seemed almost barren, sort to speak. I for one enjoyed Grind Session; it was a smooth playing title that offered great level design, an excellent soundtrack and lengthy replay value. Even though Tony Hawk 2 proved to be the best of the pack, Shaba's Grind Session is the type of game that Activision fears. But now it's a new millennium, a new-generation of games, and most importantly new hardware. With new hardware comes higher heights and farther roads, which are ideal for prodigious videogames. Such seems to be the case with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, but is it so with Konami's take on the genre, with their ESPN license?
I remember initially seeing ESPN X-Games Skateboarding early in the year, the concept renders seemed quite impressive, although sadly the final image doesn't exactly mirror that of the concept renders. But to face reality in the eyes, I wasn't expecting the finished product to look like the concept images, so I wasn't displeased with what I got. In all honesty, X-Games is a very good-looking game, with more ups than downs. Konami has done a wonderful job of creating various fantasy worlds, as well as a wonderful job creating the actual X-Games skate parks. The attention to detail is there, the texture design is very solid, as they go very well with their respective environments. In regards to that field, Konami has produced some very large and impressive levels. The size is unbelievably big, and it's a wonder to see how much bigger will NeverSoft make Tony Hawk 3's environments...I can only imagine. The stages do range in size though. Some are extensive, while others are limited but filled with ramps and whatnot. The stages range from one massive portion of a city, or a huge circle of a very rich suburban area, and even actual X-Games skate parks.
As for the skater detail, they look pretty darn good. While the outward appearance is pretty average compared to Tony Hawk 3, each skater has individually textured clothing, which flaps around as the skater reaches higher velocity or air. Aside from the little things, the overall body detail is quite good, but lacks the extra qualities such as visible facial detail, or maybe even torn clothing. Little effects such as those greatly increase visual detail because it shows even more attention to detail. But I should mention that the animations are pretty smooth, as every single stunt looks just as it should, albeit on occasion, in very cluttered places, the frame rate can suffer, but not for a great length of time though. What else can I say about the game? It is plagued by minor aliasing issues, but they aren't very serious to be even considered. This is a very solid looking game all around that won't gross anybody out.
I won't point the finger at anybody, but when looking at other reviews on the net I knew that their conclusions were based upon Tony Hawk 3 being "this and that." I'm going to be fair for the sake of honesty. I know what Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 will feature, and I know how it will play, but it hasn't been released, so to me it doesn't even exist. That being said, let me state that -with time- X-Games Skateboarding can turn into a very fun game. Albeit, lacking various traits that makes Tony Hawk fillet minon, and everything else Spam, ESPN is a title caught in the middle. The game lacks a create-a-skater mode and create-a-skate park mode, but it makes up for it with its vast level design, and mysteriously attracting gameplay. At first, getting a grip on the game takes time. The only reason for that is because the control scheme for the game is relatively different than the one found in Pro Skater titles. In-fact, in some areas doing tricks is a bit like doing them in SSX; using the shoulder buttons. Make note that not all four shoulder buttons are used, but only two. The face buttons are of course supported, and the remaining two shoulder buttons are used for quicker spin speed.
For those wondering, X-Games is crammed with gameplay modes including: X-Games competition itself, Arcade, Practice, Free Skate, Score Attack, Score VS, Quick game, and even a video of ESPN X-Games Snowboarding 2002! There are also 8 professional skaters in X-Games, with Bob Burnquist leading the pack. As for the 50 of you who are about to ask me "will Burn still be in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3?" The answer is "no." Each of the 8 skaters have their unique stats, decks, promoters, moves and article of clothing. Following the skaters are 9 vast levels including a museum, San Francisco, Los Angeles, the actual X-Games Vert course, the X-Games Park course, and more. Take my word on it, even if this game doesn't let you create your own skater or course, X-Games Skateboarding is still a very fun game, that deserves a look. Rent it if you're still skeptical.
My my, what a soundtrack. First off, let me mention that the game's FMV intro opens up with Linkin Park's "Place for my head" (yay!). The full soundtrack includes Sum-41 (Fat Lip), New Found Glory (Hot or Miss), Caviar (Ok Nightmare), Union 13 (Short Supply), Voodoo Glow Skulls (The Drop In), American Hi-Fi (Scar), Foreign Legion (Secret Agent), Linkin Park (Place for my Head!), RX Bandits (Who would've thought), Skrape (Waste), Schatzi (Dead of the Alphabet), and Crease's remake of the classic "Jenny (867-5309) track. The audio is prime stuff in ESPN X-Games. There's even a neato announcer who doesn't stand in the way too much. My one problem with the sound is that even though there are 12 songs in total, the game does a lousy job of playing them randomly. Nevertheless, I love pretty much all of the songs in X-Games Skateboarding, especially "The Drop In," "A Place for my head," "Scar," "Jenny," and "Fat Lip."
As I mentioned prior, the controls are a mix of traditional Tony Hawk with SSX. R1 and L1 will help you do either grab tricks or flip tricks (depending on your preference of setting), while L2 and R2 will help you spin quicker. The face buttons are as follow: X is to Ollie (jump), Triangle is to grind, Square does flip tricks, and Circle does more grab tricks. The amount of tricks in the game is around the same amount if not more than what THPS2 had. I may be wrong but I'm probably not. There's a good dose of variation, so it's unlikely that you'll pull off one trick more than once, unless you have some kind of problem, then that's a different story. At times the controls may feel a bit frustrating, but the game highly makes up for that by automatically adjusting your landing after twisting your body around for a trick, so there's no need for skater correction. Overall, do take into consideration that while the game does have air, it's noticeably less than Tony Hawk, so you'll be truly lucky if you hit a 900, but 720s are as far as you go. It takes time to adjust to the controls, but eventually you'll get the hang of it.
In the end, as the overall score clearly shows, ESPN X-Games Skateboarding is a good game. Yes a "good" game, take my word on it! I know many of you have been influenced by "other" reviews of the game, so if that is the case at least rent the game, as chances are you won't be too disappointed. Featuring a very smooth game engine with sharp textures, pretty character detail, solid gameplay and a healthy dose of replay value ESPN X-Games Skateboarding is a game worth the price tag, even if it isn't Tony Hawk. If you're in the mood for a skateboarding game and can't wait for THPS3, then I highly suggest X-Games; it's also a very challenging title at times. If you're still not convinced to give X-Games at least a rental, then it's your call. Oh and for those about to email me and ask me "which should I get: X-Games Skateboarding or THPS3 (when it comes out)," if you had a choice of only one then THPS3 is the definite answer.
9/7/2001 Arnold Katayev