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.
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
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.
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
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.