New tricks up an old sleeve.
Few thought that anything could surpass Tony Hawk's 900 a few years ago at the
1999 Summer X Games. It was one of the crowning achievements in the Hawkman's
storied career and set a new standard for the sport.
Who would have thought that only 3 years later, Mat Hoffman would do for BMX
what Tony did for skating? His 900 no-hander at X Games VIII not only blew away
top riders like Dave Mirra, but also proved once and for all that the Condor
could still outride those wily upstart kids. Hooray for old people!
while Hoffman can match Hawk for trick ingenuity, his games can't touch Tony's.
The first Mat Hoffman game
was an obvious copycat title, and sadly one that didn't live up to the competition.
So for the sequel, Activision has switched to a new developer, a new engine,
and a ton of new tricks in Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX 2. For the most part,
their overhaul worked out, as this is a better game than its predecessor. However,
all the new features are stifled by some old problems.
I'm betting that anyone reading this has some experience with the wealth of
other Activision extreme games, and Mat Hoffman 2 follows suit in both
feel and design. You can ride as a collection of top BMXers across a collection
of levels performing tricks, accomplishing increasingly difficult goals and
generally tearing it up as best you can. The riders share moves, though each
has some specific tricks as well. Oddly, there is no option to create your own
The original game suffered from a somewhat rickety engine and rough graphics.
Activision went big this time by hiring on Rainbow Studios (the folks behind
the excellent Motocross Madness
2) for this new PS2 version, and the decision was a good one. The graphics
are crisp and clean with a steady framerate, few clipping errors and great animations.
The draw distance is really good; no longer will a ramp materialize out of thin
Adding to the new look is a believable bike physics system. Considering the
complexity of a two-wheeled bicycle and an independent rider, the game looks
very natural. The bike is effected by slopes and grinds appropriately, and the
crashes are terrific. The bloodstains left by particularly nasty bails even
stick around for a while to mark the spot.
The control is a little more meddlesome. Turning isn't as tight as it could be and you'll occasionally struggle trying to line yourself up for a specific grind, but again, when you take into consideration the number of elements that go into BMXing, it isn't surprising that this is an issue.
Despite the funky control, Mat Hoffman 2 shines in its tricking. The
basic tricks are intuitive, but become even cooler when you start messing with
the new 'tweak' system. By pressing R2 and a direction, you can modify standard
grinds, manuals and vert tricks by going no-handed or no-footed. Then there
are the flatland tricks and specials, leading to a game that allows for plenty
of creative variety.
Mat Hoffman 2 features 8 enormous levels. Each one is much bigger than
those you'll find in most other extreme games, which makes for a ton of exploration.
Though not exactly brimming with creativity, the levels feature open spaces
for flatland tricks and good lines.
However, the good graphics, tricks and levels are hampered by a very difficult,
very frustrating career structure. The main mode is called Road Trip. You start
off with access to only one level, and by accomplishing goals you'll eventually
open up more. The objectives themselves follow the Dave
Mirra routine. There are four goals in each of three 'difficulty' levels
- Amateur, Semi-Pro and Pro - making up a total of 12 main goals per level.
You have to clear the four Amateur challenges before getting the Semipro challenges,
leads to the game's biggest problem - its redundant nature and needlessly steep
requirements to open up more levels. Rather than allowing you to open up levels
quickly by accomplishing just a few goals on each level, then slowly making
it harder to get to the final levels, Mat Hoffman 2 makes it really,
really difficult to open things up right off the bat. You'll spend inordinate
amounts of time trying to collect the 5 thigamabobs or grinding the One Long
Thing. And when I say inordinate, I mean it can take hours just to open up,
say, two other levels. It won't take long before you find yourself wishing you
could skip the more banal requirements just to see some new stuff.
And at this point in extreme sports gaming, can't anyone come up with a better
game plan than making you collect 5 Voodoo Dolls magically scattered across
the level? This hasn't changed a bit since the original Tony
Hawk for the PSX. Let's see some effort, people.
There's always the multiplayer, which features ubiquitous modes like HORSE
and Graffiti alongside new ones like 'Push', in which the split screen shrinks
or grows as tricks are pulled. But like any extreme game filled with trick madness,
it's a rare occasion when you find someone else who's as good as the guy who
owns the game, so often multiplayer becomes a study in one-sided ass-whuppin'.
If you tire of trying to nab that last doohickey sitting on top of some obscure rail somewhere, you can always build your own park with the park creator. It's pretty smooth and simple and adds life to the product
Speaking of which, the game comes packed with nearly two hours of video footage
which is unlocked in Road Trip. For once, it's not all bails and wipeouts. The
videos focus on slice-of-life interviews with the riders in addition to clips
of them riding. For fans of the sport, it's a great reward.
Mat Hoffman 2's soundtrack also does a good job here with a nice complement
of hip-hop, punk and old-school hybrids. You start with a selection of tunes,
and then can open new ones by collecting CD's throughout the levels. Why not
just give you all the tunes from the get go? Who knows, but Bad Brains' I
Against I rules.
On the other hand, Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX 2 as a product doesn't rule
so much as simply compete. The updated engine and trick system make for plenty
of fun, but the irritating level setup will make all but the burliest riders
drop their controllers in annoyance. However, this game is on the right track,
and with some smarter design could one day actually challenge the Hawk as king
of the big air.