Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 05/28/02 | Genre: Sports
After the insane success of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series, a plethora of imitators and wannabes emerged to cash-in on the extreme sports craze. Unfortunately for the consumer, many of these games aren't even worth a second glance. Enter Acclaim on its eight little wheels with Aggressive Inline. As an aggressive inliner myself, I quickly feasted upon this game's delicious banquet of gameplay. I can guarantee those interested will not skitch away disappointed. I think what made the THPS series so popular was its universal appeal and near infinite fun factor, and AI definitely builds upon this formula. For those who haven't played THPS (all 5 people of Earth's population), the basic premise of the Career Mode is to score enough points in a real-world environment by completing trick-oriented goals to move on to the next. AI takes all this and then throws its own innovations into the pot for good measure.
The most noticeable difference is the exclusion of a time limit. Instead, you are governed by a Juice Meter. Pull off tricks, and you can fill up and maintain your Juice Meter. If you remain idle, the meter slowly decreases. Mess up a trick and watch it move much faster. If it empties, the game is over and you must spend 100,000 points to continue (unlike THPS, points accumulate within a given level). Z-Axis also included an Action Button, another bright idea that makes you wonder, "Why didn't anyone think of this before?" With it you can interact with your environment in ways not possible in THPS. For example, you can bail from failed vert tricks, swing on poles, flip over rails and skitch on cars (that is, grab the rear bumper and hitch a ride). This one little button really adds to the depth of the game.
To further immerse you in the world of aggressive inline, Z-Axis threw in some adventure and role-playing aspects. For example, your performance is limited to the statistics of your abilities. To increase your stats, you can find hidden items for an instant boost, but the more common way is to simply practice! Want to level up your Fakie stat? Well, skate backwards more often to earn points and eventually gain a level. Grind more often to level up your grinding skill, do vert tricks more to level up your air skill and so on. As an added bonus, the real-world environments are massive. I'm talking huge, and as if huge wasn't enough, additional sections of every environment is locked off and can be unlocked by finding keys in other environments.
Additional gameplay modes include Freeskate, Timed Run, Multiplayer and a park editor. Personally, I don't think the Freeskate option, though it does not include a Juice Meter or any goals, was necessary because the Career Mode is virtually limitless as long as you keep your tricks up. Timed Run is exactly what it sounds like: trick out against the clock. Multiplayer has some very unique and enjoyable options for two players, such as Egg Hunt, Animal Rescue and Twenty One. The game's park editor let's you create your own tight environment to pull off sick tricks. These modes all seem like genre standards, but they definitely improve your experience.
Graphically speaking, THPS is AI's superior. This is not to say that AI is bad in the least, but there are some blurred textures and jaggies. On the other hand, the game sports some super smooth animations and a competent framerate. The live-action FMV opening is amazing and really sets the feel of the game. As for the tunes you'll be grinding to, I doubt that you'll be disappointed. Hoobstank, P.O.D., Reel Big Fish, Sublime and several other high-energy bands lend their talents for a very pleasing audio experience. The controls are always spot-on and incredibly intuitive. When you mess up, you know it was your own doing and not faulty controls.
Bringing everything together with top pros such as the legendary Chris Edwards (the game was originally named after him, if I'm not mistaken), Shane Yost, Jaren Grob and Sven Boekhorst (the man himself) is icing on the cake (or wax on the rail...whatever). The entire package is a flattering rip-off and, at the same time, loaded with some fresh new ideas. If you enjoyed THPS at all, I think you need to strap on some Roces, slam a Yoo-Hoo and give AI a spin. I'm very sure you will not regret it.