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Freestyle Metal X (PS2) Review
By Cliff O'Neill -- Staff Writer
Published 8/15/2003

Background Info

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Midway is famous for applying extreme elements to traditional sports games creating popular off-the-wall series like NFL Blitz, NHL Hitz, and MLB SlugFest. Now, the company is trying to break into the world of action-sports gaming and establish equally memorable franchises. Unfortunately, its first attempt at an action-sports title was 2002's putrid Gravity Games Bike: Street-Vert-Dirt, one of the worst BMX games ever released. While Freestyle MetalX, developed by Deibus Studios, is a higher quality game than Gravity Games Bike, it does not go a long way in improving Midway's tarnished reputation as an action-sports player.

Presentation/Graphics : 60
FMX definitely will not be winning any awards for graphics. For one, it has multiple graphical faults (clipping, slowdown, fogging, pop-up, etc.), with an overall look similar to that of early PS2 games. Bland, repetitive textures and dull colors also contribute to the game's unattractiveness. Worse, the pedestrians in FMX are the most grotesque and horribly animated of any recent action-sports title. But the biggest offender is the inconsistent frame rate, which fails to offer a convincing sense of speed and has bouts of slowdown that negatively affect gameplay.

Fortunately, the visuals do not completely offend. The professional riders and fictional characters are sufficiently modeled--complete with fairly smooth animations--and their bikes look good. Additionally, FMX's levels are massive, surpassing those of other action-sports games. In fact, the instruction manual refers to the game's levels as "worlds," which is not far from the truth. Each level has a unique look and theme, with terrain that includes country hillsides, snowy mountains, city streets, and almost everything in between. Flashy special effects, animated objects, and lighting tricks add flavor to the environments while providing much-needed eye candy.

Presentation/Audio : 50
Other than the suitably metal-themed soundtrack--fueled by the likes of Motorhead, Twisted Sister, and Megadeth--there is not much to FMX's audio presentation. Even the soundtrack is lacking, though, since it has a relatively small playlist and not all the songs are initially available (you must unlock new ones). The noises from the dirt bikes are pretty much what you would expect from a motocross game, with minimal background sounds supplying the environments with ambience. Although FMX does not feature Dolby Pro Logic II, a generic surround mode is available, but it does not really heighten the immersion. Lastly, the contrived voice-overs of the riders and characters tend to agitate rather than engage.

Interface/Options : 80
FMX's front end is set in a garage and is easy to navigate. There are options to adjust the controls, audio, and graphics (a widescreen mode is available), as well as rider bios, a gallery, and cheat menu to peruse. An auto-save feature automatically saves your progress during gameplay, but strangely, it cannot be disabled.

Nine freestyle motocross stars grace the game, including: Ronnie Faisst; Clifford Adoptante; Mike Jones; Jeff Tilton; Nate Adams; Doug Parsons; Jeremy Stenberg; Trevor Vines; and Kris Rourke. In addition to the pros, several fictional riders are included, a few of which are female. All riders are rated in the areas of strength, airtime, balance, and style. You can improve the attributes of a rider in the Career mode, but you only have access to seven riders in the beginning. Although you cannot create your own motocross maniac from scratch, you can edit an existing rider's name, performance, and appearance.

Luckily, the bike options are more robust. Each rider has his or her own bike, with new ones becoming available as you progress through the Career mode. Every bike's engine, brakes, tires, and suspension are rated and can be improved. Furthermore, you can customize the appearance of individual parts and fine-tune performance, such as braking and suspension. Of course, upgrading your bike costs money, which you earn in the Career mode.

FMX offers three control schemes to choose from, though the default configuration works well. To start, the analog stick or digital pad steers, X accelerates, and Square brakes. The Circle button performs core stunts, while Triangle handles modifier moves. Finally, L1 and R1 control preloading and the clutch, respectively, while L2 and R2 enable alternate camera angles. A tutorial is available to teach you the basics and let you get a handle on the controls.

Gameplay : 75
Unlike other motocross games, which tend to focus heavily on racing, FMX places a strong emphasis on freestyle. It's also one of the first motocross games to feature levels infused with goals. In other words, FMX is Tony Hawk on dirt bikes, with some racing thrown in for good measure. Actually, it goes beyond the Tony Hawk series for inspiration, drawing from the likes of the Dave Mirra titles and Aggressive Inline. The only problem is the gameplay never truly delivers.

This is no real fault of the trick system, however, because it is the game's strong point. Realistic and outlandish stunts can be linked together via a Dave Mirra-like modifier system. That is, you can add modifications to existing tricks to create combos and new stunts. Moreover, wheelies and stoppies let you link tricks off jumps, helping to fill the all-important "Radometer." In short, the Radometer fills as you do tricks and allows you to perform special moves once full. The meter drains quickly, though, so you must bust tricks efficiently.

Mastering preloading and managing the clutch are also important. To get the most out of each air, you need to hold and release the preload button before launching off jumps. Different sizes of ramps require different amounts of preload. Another vital aspect is the clutch, which triggers turbo boosts as you hold and release it. Besides collecting speed power-ups, using the clutch and doing burnouts are good ways to gain speed.

The final elements you have to perfect are trick timing and balance. Certain tricks require more airtime than others do, so knowing which tricks and combos to execute off particular jumps is crucial. Conversely, holding a trick right before landing will score additional points. Spins and flips rack up points, too, and demand equally proper timing. Timing is not all you need, as combo-inducing wheelies and stoppies must be balanced (via a balance meter). Maintaining balance in FMX is effortless when compared with that of other action-sports games.

While FMX's trick system and mechanics are pretty solid, problems begin to arise in the Career mode. On paper, the Career mode looks like a winner. It has eight levels full of goals and competitions, as well as special "daredevil" challenges. Like in Tony Hawk 4, you can complete goals at your own pace and in any order. In addition, a health/damage meter measures damage your rider and bike sustain during a level, forcing you to ride smart...or risk paying expenses. The main idea of the Career mode is to progress through the levels, acquiring cash and attributes to prepare your rider and bike for the grand finale: a cross-country race against fictitious racer Johnny Demonic. This sounds more exciting than it actually is.

First off, most of the goals are mindless--lacking difficulty and creativity--with glitches and sketchy bike physics occasionally causing problems. Some goals are not even particularly well suited for dirt bikes and would have been more appropriate in a skateboarding or BMX game. Completing goals in a level unlocks its Big Air and Freestyle events, which are straightforward. Winning these events unlocks a checkpoint-based race against a rival rider. To clear a level successfully, you must win this grueling race. Unfortunately, sloppy physics, twitchy steering, and glitchy graphics can make winning a chore. Ultimately, FMX lets a decent trick system go to waste with its subpar, albeit varied, Career mode.

Beyond the Career mode lays a Party mode, basic level editor, and handful of mildly amusing mini-games, including a bus-jump event and an extreme version of human darts. Sadly, the multiplayer Party mode is uneventful, bowing to the omission of split-screen play (players must alternate and can only compete in select events). Perhaps the best aspect of FMX is the conjoined level structure. The interconnected levels form one gigantic, explorable world that accommodates lengthy free-ride sessions.

Replay Value : 70
You would expect a game that makes players unlock songs on its soundtrack to be deficient in goodies. Thankfully, FMX has a nice set of extras (videos, images) to uncover besides the obligatory selection of hidden riders, bikes, and outfits. The gameplay experience, however, is not compelling or fresh enough to entice the average gamer into unlocking everything or replaying the Career mode. A level editor and arrangement of mini-games provide extra diversion, but the absence of true multiplayer action limits FMX's long-term appeal.

Overall : 67
Freestyle MetalX borrows elements from Tony Hawk 4, Dave Mirra 2, and Aggressive Inline, yet manages to be less fun and involving than all those games. While FMX is competent, its Career mode lacks magic and its racing and freestyle components do not outshine those of other motocross titles. The weak audio-video presentation and lifeless multiplayer mode only worsen matters. Freestyle motocross enthusiasts and action-sports junkies may want to try this one, but everyone else should skip it.

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