Game Over Online ~ Amped

GameOver Game Reviews - Amped (c) Microsoft, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Amped (c) Microsoft
System Requirements Xbox
Overall Rating 80%
Date Published Wednesday, February 20th, 2002 at 08:17 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

The one interesting thing about the Xbox launch was the amount of snowboarding titles available. Until the New Year, they were equal to the number of football titles (not so anymore with the recent release of NFL 2K2 from Sega). This begs the question: Is snowboarding really that appealing? Obviously it is growing exponentially in popularity and creeping out of its niche roots like skateboarding has done with Tony Hawk. Snowboarding in the recent Olympic Games has also managed to solidify the sport among the annals of athletics.

Amped is, to my knowledge, Microsoft's first inaugural snowboarding game. It comes, however, with no compromises. It carries licensed snowboarders, equipment, locations and all the usual trappings that befit an established sports title. Gone are the days when you can create a realistic sports title with fudged player names and unlicensed property. You get the option of starting a quick race as well as a career mode. The career mode paces you through a series of hills in which you must perform a certain style of move for a certain sponsor. Appease enough sponsors and you are able to gain access to new equipment, new hills, etc. The quick race mode merely lets you replay your accomplishments with other equipment or other characters.

Snowboarding is supposed to be easy to pick up, even more so than skiing. So naturally, the controls in Amped are equally simple to harness as well. Movement is dictated on the direction pad in the left hand. The A button controls jumping whereas the other three help you perform tricks. After playing rounds of Max Payne and Halo, I found it interesting the right joypad remains unused. Otherwise, the moves are easy to start off. It is chaining them together and finding the correct setup that is tough in Amped. Much of the problem rests on the runs themselves. Most of the short levels take a little over a minute to finish. The tracks are wide but not very lengthy so you really have to plan ahead which jumps you'd like to use to get the maximum amount of points possible. The length issue is exasperated by the fact that it often takes a fair bit of time to build enough speed and via extension, get enough air to really put up some amazing moves. Ad hoc or mindless button mashing won't work here either since the points only accrue if you are able to facilitate a solid landing.

An interesting spin Amped puts on snowboarding, that I wasn't aware of, is the inclusion of rails that you can ride on. The effect is not unlike the groundbreaking Dreamcast title, Jet Grind Radio. Amped also has built-in measures to keep the scoring respectable ergo the fact that you can only ride so many rails in plain vanilla fashion before the reward for that is proportionally lower. This prevents people from simply jumping around at the top of the hill to get the requisite amount of points. The rails, however, are tough to access and you almost require foreknowledge of when to get on since unlike Jet Grind Radio, Amped's emphasis on realism means you can't jump very high.

Realism also factors into the graphics themselves. The visuals in Amped are impressive but not outlandish or fantastical. Though the amount of snow does not make for any imaginative terrain texturing, there is an abundance of particle effects to make the snowy landscape come alive. Moreover, attention has been given to the actual snowboarder models themselves and that effort is also reflected in the numerous obstacles you encounter. On the other side of the technical coin, you get a good aural experience as well. With roughly one hundred and fifty soundtrack titles, you won't be finding this game's music boring anytime soon. There is also a little everything for everyone with mellow ambient music as well as the more boisterous punk or ska tracks. Luckily, there is a fairly sophisticated system to allow you to mix in your own soundtracks on the Xbox as well as toggle between the existing ones. Because of the simplicity of the controls, a dedicated button is reserved on the controller allowing you to skip a certain track. The music wasn't entirely to my taste by default but I was cruising to some good tunes with some tweaking.

The levels in Amped are short but they are also completely free of time constraints. There's no pressure to get down the hill quickly and load times for the same run are non-existent, so you can retry the run repeatedly without annoyance. This gives beginners quite a bit of leeway in trying to learn the game and there is a slight learning curve before you can start smashing records. Perhaps one of the most underwhelming things about Amped is the multiplayer component. Unlike, say, the Xbox version of Tony Hawk, multiplayer here adheres not to 21st century rules but to 1980s arcade conventions. There is no split-screen play so if you have four players, they will have to play in succession. Another peeve I have with the title is the menu layout. Although it is intuitive and it is functional, I found most things I wanted to change or do were always one or two choices too long. For example, to start an ad hoc race is hardly as quick as the moniker on the menu claims it is.

Being developed and published by Microsoft, Amped comes with the same polish that graced Microsoft's attempts in NFL Fever 2002. And dare I say it even possesses the ability to surpass that achievement, at least in the gameplay department, with its strict abeyance to the realism of the snowboarding sport. In the end, Amped is faithful to snowboarding and if not the actual craft, at least the very zeitgeist of the sport. It is easy to start playing and the title is enjoyable to a wide range of audiences. The absence of any time limits adds to this accessibility as well. Hardcore players who have honed their skills on titles like SSX Tricky may not find this title very compelling. However, Amped offers some dazzling scenery to compensate. Some of the weather effects, like snow and fog, are realistically draped on the open vistas. Ultimately, if you were like me and was curious about the whole snowboarding 'thing', Amped is a great title to help you learn about the sport.


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