Back when the PS2 launched, many were disappointed by the lack of quality to be found within the game’s launch titles. One of the few exceptions was EA Big’s revolutionary snowboarding game, SSX. Since that time, EA Big has churned out many fast-paced extreme sports games much like SSX. Some, like Sled Storm, didn’t live up to expectations. Others, like SSX’s follow-up title SSX Tricky, were simply astounding. The latest in this string of EA Big titles is Freekstyle, an SSX-style game with motocross as the main sport as opposed to snowboarding.
Freekstyle’s main mode is Circuit. Inside Circuit mode, you pick one of eight riders (all real people with the exception of one), and take that rider through fourteen levels. These fourteen levels are composed of three types of competitions. The first type is pure and simple races, where your only object is to be the first one across the finish line. The second type of competition is Freestyle, which is basically a trick competition. Your only objective in Freestyle is to get a set amount of points within the time allotted. The third and final gameplay type, and also the most challenging, is the Freekstyle competitions. In these races not only do you have to come in first, but you also have to get a certain amount of points while doing so.
The racing levels are quality material, as the game’s fast pace really grips you. Unfortunately, it’s in these levels that you learn about the game’s unbelievably aggravating rubber band AI. For those who don’t know what rubber band AI is, here’s a brief rundown.
Rubber band AI is a very hated form of AI. What it does basically is that when you crash, instead of all the racers flying off, leaving you in the dust, they slow to a crawl to wait for you to get back in the pack. You usually don’t see the racers slow down; you just notice how quickly you caught back up with the pack. That’s the good part of rubber band AI, now here’s the bad part. Sometimes you’ll hit every turn right, and race well enough that you should be miles ahead of the pack. Then, out of nowhere, your opponents will go as fast as the speed of light and pass you.
In theory rubber band AI should be a good thing, since it does ensure a race to the finish. What it boils down to though is games being notoriously hard, and not because of your lack of skill. Sadly, Freekstyle possesses rubber band AI, and it’s just as annoying as described.
Freestyle and Freekstyle stages are very similar to the game’s racing levels. Both are very fun to play, but the game’s notoriously hard nature detracts from that experience. That’s a real shame too, because other than circuit mode, all that the game really offers else is a variety of free ride modes.
Despite the game’s hard nature, it still is quite fun to play. The game’s trick system is nothing short of marvelous. All the tricks are easy to execute, so even beginners can have a good time. New additions like the "tweak" feature (a button press that causes your rider to slightly alter his or her trick for extra points), and perfection of old components such as "combos" (doing two or more tricks in a row) give the trick system enough depth so that the hardcore set will like the game as well.
The game’s coolest function though has to be the "freekout." The way you activate a freekout is by filling up the freekout meter. When you land a trick it adds to the freekout meter, when you crash it takes away from the meter. When you finally do fill it up, you are given a set amount of time to land the huge, special trick. When that happens you are given a huge speed burst that can only be lengthened by landing the special trick again, and again, and again. Only through mastery of the freekout will you be able to successfully beat the game.
The track design is also first-class. EA big has really flexed their creative muscles this time around as Freekstyle contains some of the most imaginative tracks ever. Each track is very balanced in design, and has quite a few entertaining obstacles to deal with (rolling boulders, falling trees, etc.) The only real problem to be found with the levels is how big they are. Many times races will take long periods of time, and since you have to do three of them in order to beat the race modes, losing on the last one can become quite a painful experience.
Like all of EA Big’s games, Freekstyle’s controls are excellent. Navigating your motorcycle of death is easy business, as EA Big doesn’t let small things like "gravity" get in your way. Doing tricks, like previously stated, is also effortless. Activating special things, such as "boosts" and "tweaks" is also very undemanding.
The game’s controls aren’t the only that are easy, seeing that the graphics are so easy on the eyes. All of the game’s environments are highly detailed, making you feel like you’re driving around in a piece of art as opposed to a game. The game’s frame rate is steady as a rock, making slow-down a rare occurrence. You can see clear to the horizon without pop-up occurring, which is a good thing considering the pace of the game. Perhaps the coolest factor of the graphics, is the graphical effects. When you ignite a burst, depending on how fast you are going, the screen will blur accordingly. Matrix style 360’s are quite possibly the coolest effect though, giving you a great of view of your rider hanging his rear end off the motorcycle fifty feet in the air.
The game’s audio is also generally high quality. Sound effects, such as your rider smashing his skull against pavement, are all as realistic and gruesome sounding as if it had happened in real life. The game’s music follows a current trend in extreme sports games, meaning that all the music is licensed rock. The featured bands, such as Dry Cell, deliver with the fast, blood-pumping, my-life-is-so-awful punk rock we’ve come so accustomed to these days. For fans of the genre the music selection is awesome, those who don’t like the genre though won’t appreciate the soundtrack as much. The voice work for the riders is done well, all though the actual dialogue is pretty uninspiring.
EA Big is just full of surprises. First they come out of no where to deliver arguably the best launch game for the PS2. Now, they put tons of effort into making everything in Freekstyle perfect, only to let something as dumb as rubber band AI destroy it all. If you like extreme sports games or racing games you might want to rent first. The difficulty level isn’t for everybody.
Developers: EA Games
Platforms: GameCube, PlayStation 2