The Condor has landed.
Nicknames have dominated the sports world since the first competitive event
took place back in Ancient Greece. From 'Heartbreaker' Hercules (I swear that's
real) to Frank 'Big Hurt' Thomas, nicknames are used to simplify an athlete's
greatest asset into one powerful image.
Take the world of BMX. The current grand vizier is Mat Hoffman, nicknamed the 'Condor'. But unfortunately, this nick is fitting for more than one reason.
Sure, like a condor Mat wears all black and seemingly soars through the air
astride his bike. But condors are also scavengers, feasting on the remains of
the dead. Likewise, Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX scavenges together scraps from
the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series and
patches 'em together into a brutally derivative (if still decent) experience.
At least he's not endangered.
Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX is pretty much what you'd figure - Tony Hawk
on a bike. Anyone even vaguely familiar with the THPS games will instantly
recognize the menus, gameplay controls and graphics. It almost looks like a
mod, though it plays a bit differently.
The lineup of riders is impressive, including X-Games stars like Cory Nastazio, Dennis McCoy and Simon Tabron. Maybe not household names yet, but any BMX fans will recognize 'em instantly.
The tweaks to the THPS engine are most noticeable in the controls.
Obviously, riding a bike as opposed to a skateboard opens up a whole new slew
of issues. Tricks often take longer to complete since the rider has to get fully
back on the bike before landing, else wind up in that awful crotch-meets-handlebars
position. Ouch. The timing of button presses is also a little different - you
need to hold the directions longer for the tricks to take effect - but by and
large the scheme is identical to THPS.
Thankfully, they included the manuals from Tony
Hawk's Pro Skater 2 to help tie big tricks together for monster scores.
The addition of the ability to pull off tricks by riding fakie (backwards) also
adds all kinds of possibilities. Add to that the ability to 'stall' on a ledge
to rack up points and you've got a more robust trick system than either THPS
game. Some of the more complex combos look amazing.
But while the controls are simple enough, the engine itself seems to have
suffered in the translation. You'll occasionally get caught on mysterious ledges,
hang in the air too long and crash. A few times I even managed to fall off the
bike in mid-air in the middle of a trick. Great for realism, but not great since
it's actually a glitch. You'll often nail a landing you should have missed and
vice versa. For a game that took so long to ship, you'd figure it would be bereft
The graphics are decent if largely bland. The textures are chunky with the occasional big fat wall of pixels standing out. The framerate is solid, but the aforementioned occasional glitches can mar the whole thing.
The gameplay flow is so identical to the original THPS that you might even
forget you're playing Mat Hoffman during a load screen. There are eight levels
(two are competitions) and each one has five requirements to fulfill in order
to gain 'magazine covers' (ie. the 'tapes' in THPS). The requirements
themselves are totally redundant - spell T-R-I-C-K, get a Pro score, get a Championship
score, find the Secret cover and knock over 5 of something or other (vending
machines, satellite dishes, etc). As opposed to the wealth of varied req's in
THPS 2 or even the specific trick req's in Dave
Mirra Freestyle, the repetitive req's in Mat Hoffman lead to levels
that are poorly differentiated.
of this can be attributed to the developer switcharoo. While the game is published
by Activision and is using a tweaked version of the lauded Tony Hawk
engine, it was not developed by Neversoft, the folks behind the Hawk
games. Rather, developer credits go to Runecraft and Shaba Games.
Neversoft built some amazing levels for the THPS games; smart design
led to levels that seemed open and lines that were happenstance. You really
felt like you could go anywhere and do anything. Perhaps due in part to the
new development teams, the levels in Mat Hoffman are largely the opposite.
It's painfully obvious where to go for the big points with too many connected
rails and too many obvious lines. The joy of discovery that made THPS
such a great game is sort of lost here. With the exception of the fun Sewage
Plant level and the final competition, the areas are pretty forgettable.
At least you can always design your own using the Park editor (another carryover
from THPS 2), but it's so much smaller than the normal levels it barely
seems worth the effort. Adds some replay, though.
The soundtrack is pretty diverse with tracks from a wide range of bands, including
Jurassic 5, OutKast, Bad Brains, the B-52's and token old-schooler Paris. Not
shabby, but still nothing here is as good as 'Bring Da Noiz' from THPS 2.
Chuck D, where art thou?
The depth brought to the table in THPS 2 is lacking here. You can gain
access to 3 bikes per character and can tweak a few settings, but you can't
alter stat points to better customize your rider. This was one of the better
additions to the THPS franchise and it's odd that they didn't put it in here
The multiplayer adds more game, though it's exactly the same H-O-R-S-E, Trick
Attack and Grafitti modes found in you-know-what.
And that's the big problem with Mat Hoffman - it's doesn't do a good job separating
itself from it's forbears. I know that consistency is important in a product
line, but this ends up looking like such a total copycat job that you wonder
where all the effort went. It ends up feeling like Tony Hawk 1.5 instead
of it's own actual property. A good game doesn't necessarily have to re-invent
the wheel, but how about at least picking some new fonts?
I realize this all sounds pretty harsh, and the fact of the matter is that there's still some fun to be had here. Grinding rails into manuals into big silly tricks for mad points is still plenty of fun, and fans of the 'other' games will certainly enjoy this one for a spell.
But frankly, this type of fun we've all seen for the PSX twice already, and
there's not really enough here to warrant dropping the dough and adding it to
the collection - so rent before you buy. A move to the PS2 and some serious
glitch smoothing could make this a winner, but in the meantime I'll stick with