Get your freek on.
It's always nice to be known for something, and at this point, EA's 'Big' division has a stranglehold on the downhill sports genre thanks to games like SSX and SSX Tricky. They know what gamers want and so far, they've delivered.
EA Big's new Freekstyle captures all the speed and tricks of the SSX series, puts 'em in the gas tank and guns the engines. It doesn't break the mold, but if you like motocross, then seeing a moto-game adapted to the SSX formula will definitely satisfy.
Freekstyle has the usual Single Race, Free Ride, Freestyle and Circuit modes. The game features about 14 tracks, each of which you must beat several times in order to advance to the next. Each beaten course yields new riders, new bikes, and potentially new levels.
However, certain things like new outfits have to be unlocked by doing every trick or combo a player can do, thereby filling up their Trick Book (sound familiar?). These can be accessed in the Single Race and Free Ride modes, a more relaxing option than trying to unlock clothes while competing in an actual race.
The Freestyle mode is basically your chance to go nuts and do all the tricks you can within a certain time-limit. This presents a good opportunity to test your tricking limits and familiarize yourself with various combos.
However, these other modes are just icing on the very big, very difficult cake that is Circuit Mode. You choose from a handful of wacky riders and try to build one of 'em up into a real Freek.
The Circuit mode's difficulty comes from the tenacity of your opponents, evil metal rings which either deal out big points or big losses, and some seriously long tracks over which you must complete three laps in order to win a race. Wash, rinse, repeat twice, move on to the next track. While the long batteries of races really help to familiarize you with the courses, they also make it easy to just say, uh, "Freak it," and give up once you've gotten tired of a track.
The aforementioned metal rings are frustration incarnate. They're these awful flaming hoops the game puts you through for points (remember the big colored snowflakes in SSX?), but if you're a player like me, you'll likely miss the opening and bounce off one of the steel sides. Such an event is critical, as everyone will pass you. This leads to two events: you being in last place, and the commentator making fun of you every second of the race, which leads to a third event, you turning off the commentator. Plus if you crash, your Freekout meter drops, which can screw up your timing for the entire course.
Here's why: in Freekstyle you have two meters that build up every time you complete tricks (tricks are accomplished with the shoulder buttons, just like - you guessed it - SSX). One is the Turbo meter. With a little Turbo you can ride faster and jump higher, doing even more tricks. The other is the Freekout meter. Fill this up and you can bust a four-button Uber-Trick, which leads to your player "Freeking Out." When your player is in the midst of a Freekout, they will have unlimited boost, the screen will get all blurry, and fire will shoot out of their bike.
However, the Freekout only lasts a limited amount of time (5 seconds) unless you keep doing tricks; every time you do a trick while in Freekout mode your Freekout timer grows by a few seconds. Potentially, you could Freekout all over an entire level. Realistically, you have to choose the best spots for a Freekout (the places with the most jumps), and thus maximize the Turbo you're granted.
Enter the evil steel rings and wiping out in general. Any wipeout in Freekout mode ends the Freekout, reducing your Freekout meter to zero. If your Freekout meter is full but you haven't busted an Uber-Trick and you wipe out, your meter is halved - hence the frustration. The laps are long and there are three of them per race; there's plenty of room to Freekout, but also plenty of room to freek up.
Graphically, Freekstyle is everything it needs to be. The riders and their bikes look good and react to the courses realistically, while the courses themselves look nice and over the top. That is, when you can see anything. Portions of several courses are a bit dark, and occasionally the track is just a uniform shade of murky. This sucks, because the tracks can have muddy or sandy patches on them that will slow you down. Not being able to see these patches can really get on your freekin' nerves.
Freekstyle sounds great. Even though I'm not partial to this new craze in oedipal, supposedly 'Hard-Core' P.O.D./Limp Bizkit crap (supplied here by a band called 'Dry Cell'), it does fit the game and will probably please all those interested in the game for its Motocross elements. Besides, anything will do after the incessant "It's Tricky!" over and over again in SSX: Tricky.
The character taunts are clear and intelligible, although not very memorable, and the commentator sucks (so turn him off). The sound effects are where Freekout sounds freakiest, with realistic bike noises and awesome collision sounds.
Overall, Freekstyle is a fun, difficult racer deeply entrenched in the SSX vein. It does what it does well, though it's not much of a departure. If you can get past the moments of frustration, it's a worthwhile ride.