Aggressive Inline (Gamecube) Review
The extreme sports genre is now a very crowded one, thanks in large part to the dominance of the Tony Hawk juggernaut and all the titles that copied it. However, to merely dismiss Aggressive Inline as a Tony Hawk wannabe on rollerblades would be to do it a great injustice. For as much as other games have followed the Hawk series, that series itself owes much of what it is today to this humble title. Aggressive Inline is a multiplatform title that arrived fairly early in the Cube generation, at a time when the Tony Hawk series was floundering somewhat after the relatively poor reception given to Pro Skater 3. People felt that it needed to innovate to survive. Then along came Aggressive Inline, which took the classic Hawk formula and did things with it no-one had done before.
Training Wheels –If you’re not familiar with this style of game, it consists of moving around an environment filled with objects such as ramps, half-pipes and railings, which you can then use a variety of different tricks on. You score by building up ‘combos’ of different tricks performed in a row. The combo score is calculated by multiplying the total score from all tricks by the number of tricks. It is a simple system allowing for tremendous depth and freedom, as well as a huge amount of gameplay potential, as there is no theoretical limit to how much you can score. As such, not only can you always improve, but also keep discovering new ‘lines’, which are ways of getting around the environment. Provided the style of game appeals to you, it can become highly addictive.
Newer than Newton’s Gnoos – Let us start with the good points, and the ones that make Aggressive Inline different from its predecessors. Firstly, the game has no time limits. Rather than being limited to a two minute run in which to complete as many objectives as possible, you are given free reign to explore a level, and initiate objectives by talking to people when you feel like it. This system was blatantly plagiarised in Tony Hawk 4 and for good reason, as it is far superior. This is achieved using a ‘juice meter’ similar to the familiar special meter, but with important differences. It takes much longer to fill it up, is only partly depleted when you bail, and causes a game over when it is empty. Continuing removes 100,000 points from your score.
Most importantly, the juice level determines your speed, which is vital for getting decent scores and making it to hard to reach places. Like everything else in the game, this meter can be upgraded by collecting icons in the levels. There are also icons which temporarily boost your juice, though these disappear permanently once used. This is a strange design decision to say the least. That aside, the levels are HUGE with a capital ‘UGE’. More than this, they are tremendously intricate and well designed. They also work with the Z axis much more than previous games had, as the environments allow you to blade at many different heights. And when I say they are big, I mean it.
Many times you will be exploring a level which leaves early Tony Hawk ones for dead, only to discover that there are entire separate areas which are even larger within that level. And that’s before you start unlocking the secret areas, which are similarly large and complex. In short, nothing has matched the size of these levels until the most recent Hawk games developed years later, and it is doubtful anything will ever surpass the cleverness of their design.
Dungeon Siege on Wheels? –Then there is the system for developing your blader’s skills. Whereas the Hawk games have experimented with radically different systems here without ever perfecting one, Inline uses an RPG-style progression. You earn experience points every time you perform a trick of a particular type. The better the tricks and longer the combo, the more points you earn. Do lots of manuals and you will improve your manual stat and so on. In addition, maxing your stats requires locating deviously hidden icons in each level. Finding these and reaching them, along with icons which unlock special tricks and the keys for locked areas, is a tremendous challenge unmatched by those in similar games.
It may be a similar idea to the hidden tapes in Tony Hawk, but the level design makes it much tougher. They also provide much more worthwhile rewards. The controls are a little unconventional, with the l and r triggers used for rotating in the air rather than the control stick, and the z button is used for ‘cess slides’ (reverts). Apart from that they are largely what you would expect, although I preferred to swap the x (use) button with the b (grab) button to make the game more Tony Hawk-like.
For those who are interested, the game does include the requisite lineup of pro bladers, including three Australians, which is a nice bonus if you’re into that sort of thing. Rounding out the good features is a fitting, albeit short soundtrack with the usual mix of rock, punk, hip-hop and metal. Though it is bizarre that I could find no mention of the artists responsible anywhere in the game or its manual.
Pass the Mortein –For all its good points however, Inline does have some major flaws that mean it’s really showing its age compared to the slick new Hawk games. First of all, there is no custom character creation. This means you’re forced to choose between the real skaters or two fictional ones who consist of a Britney Spears impersonator or a weird hippy lady with a big afro. It’s not much of a choice. Secondly, the game is as glitchy as heck. Primarily I’m talking about massive clipping issues which sometimes result in the player flying through walls or disappearing through the floor. On one occasion I even respawned inside a locked area that shouldn’t have been accessible!
These problems seem indicative of a multiplatform title not given proper time to iron out the bugs. Also, the level of challenge involved in the game may prove a little too much for some people. Even as a veritable Tony Hawk obsessive, finding the more obscure icons and completing some of the hardest challenges is proving difficult, bordering on extreme. This is a problem for two reasons. Because large areas of levels cannot be accessed without the appropriate key, and because all (that’s right, ALL) of the secret tricks are locked until the icons are found. It is frustrating to have such significant parts of the game blocked off. As for the graphics and sound, I have left them until last as they’re of little importance.
The visuals are more functional than spectacular, but there are still some nice bright colours, especially on the carnival level. Sound is also solid, with some humourous intercom moments at the carnival providing the highlight.