A slippery slope.
Imagine being behind the wheel of an SUV filled with mental patients. It's big, stylish and wonky, handles like a refrigerator, and is packed tight with crazy. Now drive it down a snowy mountain and you have an approximation of the bizarre boarder that is Amped 3 for the Xbox 360.
This seemingly straightforward extreme sports game isn't actually as fun as hauling a busload of maniacs down a hill, though some wicked style and solid technical performance keep it close. Unfortunately, the third coming of Amped isn't all it could be thanks to some equally solid flaws.
The scenery is familiar: you shred it up on six huge mountains, each featuring multiple, interconnected areas that, once loaded, stream continuously from top to bottom. Navigating is super easy with the trail map, which shows the entire mountain's goals and drop points, allowing you to quickly blast through missions or really work one area at your leisure. There's tons of stuff to do, like unlocking new hills, gear, clothes, sleds, snowmobiles, stat boosts, respect, and of course, coin.
[image1]And that's just on the mountain. You'll be able to deck out your rider in tons of name-branded threads and boards, have fun with size/proportion modification, and pick between various styles of 'awesomeness', colorful 2D animations that spring forth from your player when your 'awesome meter' is full and include styles like Zen, Arcade, and Urban. They're a nice graphical touch but add no functional boosts, which are sadly missing throughout the game. You'll occasionally gain stat points for beating certain missions, but you don't customize your rider's skills much at all.
This version of Amped sticks its gameplay somewhere between the arcade flair of SSX and its former, more realistic iterations. It also shows early signs of Tony Hawk disease by allowing butter tricks (read: manuals) to link up rails, ramps, and flatland tricks into huge combos. By striving to be two things without really being enough of either, the gameplay sort of feels undefined and unfinished. It's also a bit too easy once you get the hang of the control.
That shouldn't take long, but the weird physics are the real source of difficulty, not mastering that sexy new 360 controller. Stuff like speed boosts, carving, and 'style' tricks can quickly prove frustrating. While these are mapped out to buttons nicely and pulling off burly flips is a breeze, the feel of doing so isn't solid. Your boarder seems to float around a lot, getting too much air in strange places and not enough when it counts, or sticking to and accelerating up rails like a train car. The camera angles don't help, as it's hard to tell just when to let go of a trick or hop off a rail. It becomes more luck than skill to get a mission right sometimes, especially if it's one of the game's numerous sled missions.
[image2]Pseudo physics aside, a big plus is in the insanity going on behind the scenes. The story's plentiful cutscenes are resoundingly offbeat, and that's a tall order around the GR ranch. You'll witness stop-motion animation, 8-bit games, Napoleon Dynamite-style sketchbookery, hand puppets, boy bands, Russian game shows, shady Mexican condiments, and even a roasted pig's head on a spring trying to explain what's happening. They're unnecessary but original and add a needed touch of style. Thankfully, the in-game explanations are straight and to the point, so you don't have to rely on orders from the pig-spring or Freezorg, the god of ice and lightning, to keep the game moving.
The actual story is obvious: you join a ragtag group of shredders covering the necessary stereotypes of tomboy, egomaniac, space case and spaz with the goal of boarding all year round, all over the globe. You complete events in a linear fashion, opening new locations as you go. Interesting missions like following a pro on his run and beating his scores at every pass are marred by 'follow me to here' goals that challenge nothing but patience. There are a lot of things to do outside the story as well, like media callouts, which have you do a certain type of trick for roving paparazzi, or impressing spectators on the mountain with your awesomeness.
There's also a ton to see. Get some big air at the top of the mountain and just try to count the trees. On the flipside, it's the same ten trees replicated thousands of times over. The mountain graphics are fairly repetitive; expect a whole lot of bump-mapped snow and ridiculously convenient fallen tree/rail runs. The snow effects are cool, but look disjointed from the rest of the game. However, the characters are lifelike, more so than the freaky clay people of other launch titles. They're expressive, clean and have few framerate issues. Meanwhile, the people on the mountain ski, cheer, and run away just fine, but you spookily glide through them like they're ghosts. Like the gameplay itself, Indie Built seemed to go for a balance between detail and fluidity, and again don't go in either direction well enough to warrant much praise.
[image3]What does deserve props is the park builder, which allows you to place your own objects down on any of the mountains wherever you feel the need. Wanna put two dumpsters at the end of a ramp to spice things up? Go nuts.
And crank up the soundtrack, because it's the biggest ever. With a whopping 300 tracks, you're bound to find something you like. They've even included the ability to sort by record label, so you can filter out whatever you consider garbage quickly and easily.
Now that you've built some fun stuff, tricked out a rider and earned some respect, you're ready to take your friends to the mountain, eh? Too bad for you the only online content is in the form of leaderboards. That's it. Considering the numerous online modes of almost all the other Xbox 360 launch games (not to mention the fact that a number of Amped's mission styles would be ideal for multiplayer), it's a serious and crippling omission. The only two-player action is found in silly, two-sleds-tied-together runs where you're supposed to bash the other fool's head in, which angered my buddies for wasting their time rather than delighting them.
Overall, Amped 3 provides all kinds of groovy style and content but wraps it in somewhat bland gameplay. Hopefully the next edition will try and hit the slopes a little harder, maybe even with friends.