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Xtreme Sports (DC) Review

Background Info

Screens (4)
For the extreme sports lover who wants to experience multiple sensations, Infogrames and developer Innerloop have crammed six intense extreme sports onto one Dreamcast GD-ROM. The fittingly titled Xtreme Sports combines three land-based thrillfests (snowboarding, ATV racing, and mountain biking) with three aerial-based ones (speed gliding, bungee jumping, and sky surfing), and it mixes and matches them into exhilarating multi-event races. While the six extreme sports included are not executed well enough to stand on their own, each contributes to the game's overall fun factor. Those who lack the willpower, skill, and virtual endurance required to tackle Xtreme Sports' vast, rugged environments need not apply.

Presentation/Graphics : 90
If I could bottle up the graphical prowess that Innerloop has exhibited with Xtreme Sports, I would greedily sell it to unskilled and inexperienced game developers, many of whom would kill for such design skills. Alas, I do not have such an ability, so I can only write about the breathtaking environments Innerloop has brought to the Dreamcast. Okay, I will admit those two sentences make me sound like a graphics tart, but the environments in this game look that damn good. Unfortunately, sub-par character models and animation, not to mention strange texture morphing/warping problems, detract from the overall look.

Xtreme Sports cuts straight to the action, bypassing a traditional FMV (Full Motion Video) opening that is commonplace in today's extreme sports games. Instead, the game's title screen, which showcases the in-game graphics in the background, appears after the obligatory developer and publisher screens. As I have stated in recent reviews, FMV and CG openings have overstayed their welcome and have little place on next-gen systems. It is not that I am entirely against the use of FMV or CG sequences in 128-bit games; but if you have a great game engine, why not show it off and get the most out of it?

>From the moment you hit the first track, the game's tremendous draw distance will astound you. In fact, the only pop-up you will see is the occasional tree or object pop into view. The rich, texture-mapped mountains remain visible for as far as the eye can see. Environments are well varied, ranging from frigid to tropical locales, and are based on five exotic locations around the world. After races, awesome letter-boxed replays highlight the terrific scenery and add extra polish.

Other graphical niceties include animated objects (e.g., birds, planes, helicopters, cars, etc.), realistic smoke effects, slick tire marks left by ATVs, and a blinding lens flare that will make you reach for your sunglasses. And I am not joking about the lens flare, because it is truly blinding! This is one game in which the lens flare actually affects gameplay instead of simply serving as eye candy. Although not super-fast, the frame-rate is consistent -- even during two-player split-screen games -- with only minor occurrences of noticeable slowdown.

Sadly, weird texture-morphing problems plague the environments, which are otherwise solid. The effect is a bit difficult to explain. Basically, the background objects within the environments -- namely, the mountains -- steadily increase in detail to compensate for the near-endless view of the horizon. What this means is you will notice strange texture changes and warping as you race through each environment and get closer to the background objects. This distracting flaw remains throughout the game, although some tracks do not suffer from it as badly as others.

The four fictional characters in Xtreme Sports are lackluster, as is their animation. Each character consists of a limited number of polygons and a small amount of detail, which stands in stark contrast to the detailed extreme-sporting equipment. Animation ranges from serviceable to downright laughable at times. While the overall animation is fair, the "fight" and bail animations are quite goofy, and most of the trick animations are disappointing.

Overall, Xtreme Sports has some of the most impressive environments of any video game, but they are not without imperfections. The bland polygonal characters and weak animation, on the other hand, are below the Dreamcast's standards. Nevertheless, Xtreme Sports is a visual treat, and it might even attract the biased eyes of hardened "PS2 fanboys."

Presentation/Audio : 80
Xtreme Sports has one of the hippest soundtracks to hit the Dreamcast this year. Artists under the Ninja Tune label provide the fresh beats for the game, which fit the game perfectly. However, those who are expecting a rock- or rap-based soundtrack will be disappointed, as there are no rocking guitars or "dope rhymes" here -- only smooth, funky instrumental beats with some occasional voice samples mixed in. For the aurally picky, Xtreme Sports lets players customize the playlist to suit their particular taste.

Sound effects are a mixed bag; some are good, and others are mediocre. The ATV sound effects, for example, are lame, while the ones for the mountain bikes are well done. There are also plenty of atmospheric sound effects, most of which are quite good. The characters in the game make up four different nationalities: American, Jamaican, Swedish, and British. Unfortunately, the characters' lame voice samples are annoying, and they do a lousy job representing each character's nationality.

The race announcer is just as annoying, but he at least serves a purpose. One nice thing about the announcer is he tells you how many seconds ahead or behind you are of the competition at the transitional points of the race. He also lets you know when you are running low on time. This is good for those who tend to ignore the heads-up display.

Interface/Options : 70
Xtreme Sports has a very stylish menu system, but it is hampered by long load times between menu screens. All the standard options are here, save for a control configuration option. Since there are several events, each of which has its own simple interface, the lack of a customizable control feature is understandable. The manual does a good job explaining the controls for each event, as well as listing the trick commands for each. It also lists limited information about each character, including their name, nationality, and age. Interestingly, all the characters are under 23, yet they look 25-ish. ;-)

Unfortunately, the manual does not explain the game's 'bonus track' or 'bonus item' features, nor does it give any details about the planned Internet options. (The Dreamcast-exclusive Xtreme Sports Web site was still under construction at the time of this writing.) Although the game does not support online play, players will most likely be able to download stuff -- presumably extra courses and special competitions -- from the exclusive Web site.

Another oversight in the manual is the lack of a control diagram for each event. While the manual does explain the basic controls for every event, it fails to mention the 'hit' button. This button lets players knock opponents out of the way, which is actually a big part of the game. Luckily, the loading screens offer some gameplay tips, so I discovered this nifty feature there.

Regarding the control interface, each event has its own set of controls, but there are a few universal buttons; e.g., the X button performs a speed boost, while the Y button is used for tricks. Likewise, players use the analog stick or D-pad during every event to control movement and to enter trick commands. Speaking of tricks, except for snowboarding, trick execution is very limited (only three tricks for each event) and extremely awkward. To do a trick, you must first press the analog stick or D-pad in certain directions and then hit the Y button immediately after. If you are accustomed to extreme sports games like THPS and Mirra BMX, you will likely have a tough time adjusting to this.

During the transition period between events, you must tap the A button rapidly la Track & Field to increase your character's running speed. Also, you will need to time the press of the A button to complete certain events successfully. For example, toward the end of a speed gliding session, you must press the A button at the right moment to land within a marked area. Similarly, you must press the said button at the end of a bungee jump to grab onto an iron bar and release from the cord.

Gameplay : 65
Xtreme Sports is more about racing and discovering shortcuts than it is about doing tricks and scoring points. However, tricks are an important part of the game because they will increase your amount of speed boost, which is a major element of Xtreme Sports. Unfortunately, with limited tricks, unrealistic physics (e.g., ATV racing is too bouncy, snowboarding is too stiff, etc.), and various control issues, the game's six events lose a great deal of their appeal. Thus, with the possible exception of snowboarding, none of the events here are good enough to stand on their own.

Nevertheless, what makes Xtreme Sports fun and addictive is its multi-event aspect. Although the AI can make things very frustrating, nothing quite beats the feeling of transitioning from event to event. When was the last time you played an extreme sports game that let you bungee-jump off a mountain, then race downhill on a mountain bike? Naturally, those are only two possible events that can make up a race; most races consist of several events. This mixing and matching of events is what makes Xtreme Sports unique, so it is unfortunate the developer did not handle the gameplay with better care.

As mentioned before, the speed boost is a major part of the game, as it can -- and will -- affect the outcome of the race. You start with a limited amount of speed boost, but you can gain more by doing tricks or knocking down an opponent. In addition, you can also get a quick start at the beginning of the race by pressing the right trigger button at the correct moment. All this emphasis on speed boosts and quick starts takes some freshness out of the gameplay, making it feel eerily similar to games like Hydro Thunder, 4 Wheel Thunder, and SSX -- all games that rely on speed boosts.

This itself is not really a problem. The problem, of course, is the tricks are so awkward to pull off that earning extra speed boost is more of a chore than it should be. Meanwhile, your computerized opponents are cruising through the environments without breaking a sweat. And since there are no stats to upgrade, the best you can hope for is a flawless race, as the difference between finishing in first and finishing in last is usually just a matter of seconds.

Eventually, you will get the hang of things and master each event. The Practice mode lets you practice the first four events (you must unlock the other two), so it is best to get some practice before entering the challenging Championship mode, in which you race several tracks and must finish first overall to move to the next difficulty level. Only heavily skilled gamers will be able to master the Pro mode, as this mode's killer AI is relentless. Of course, you can always school an unskilled friend in the Single Track mode to build some confidence, or try to best your old time in the Time Trial mode. You can also search the tracks for bonus items needed to unlock the game's six bonus tracks, where changes of scenery and an array of different challenges await you.

Replay Value : 75
Xtreme Sports is a challenging game that has several events and environments to conquer. While the Championship mode is big enough, the lone gamer also has the Time Trial mode to enjoy. The bonus items and tracks give the one-player game additional replay, too. Possible downloadable goodies from the Xtreme Sports Web site offer further long-term enjoyment. And although the game lacks a four-player mode and an online multi-player mode, two players can race head-to-head in the Single Track mode. Unfortunately, the limited gameplay significantly downgrades the overall replay value because it is not fresh or long lasting enough to stimulate the average gamer beyond 30-minute sessions.

Overall : 76
In the end, Xtreme Sports is one of the neatest extreme sports games I have played; sadly, it is also one of the most stale, gameplay-wise. The environments are jaw dropping, the music is funky, and the events are varied -- but, ultimately, Xtreme Sports does not live up to its full potential. This one is definitely worth a rental from anyone who wants to experience extreme, arcadey multi-event races, and it will eventually make a great purchase when its price drops. Until then, you should invest in a deeper extreme sports game, such as Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 or Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX, if you have not already done so.

By: Cliff O'Neill 12/29/00

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