Back in 1999 very few people, except the hardcore crowd that followed and took part in activities like skateboarding and roller blading, enjoyed extreme sports. Then in late 1999 a game came out on the PlayStation that changed the world as we know it. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (originally known as Tony Hawk's Skateboarding in this country) was released to amazing critical and commercial success and two sequels later and with another on the way, the series seems unstoppable. Now extreme sports games are very popular amongst developers and the public, with new contenders to the throne appearing all the time. None of these games, however, have been able to beat or even match the greatness that the Tony Hawks games possess, and now Z-Axis are trying with their new inline skating game, Aggressive Inline.
The first thing that strikes you when you play is the sheer size of the environments. The environments were big in Tony Hawk's 3, but Aggressive Inline takes the environments to an entirely new level. The first area alone is staggeringly large. You start in a city street complete with traffic and pedestrians, which is large enough to be a level in its own right. However, upon completion of a few challenges an entire new area is opened up, presenting the player with a massive movie lot to skate round. Complete with blue screens, special effects and a lot of cameras, this area is a great example of what to expect in the six other environments the game has to offer.
If you have experienced any of the Tony Hawk's games then you will be right at home with the controls in Aggressive Inline. You have grinds, grabs, 360s, manuals and all the rest, but Aggressive Inline adds an action function. If you press the action button near a pole you will grab onto it, you can grab cars, talk to people and perform various other moves with the environment. You can also skate backwards with a simple press of a button. Sometimes you come out of tricks backwards, but this in no way hampers your ability to pull off flashy moves. Your top speed is reduced slightly, but learning how to continue tricks whilst facing backwards is vital if you are going to rack up the huge combo scores. These are small touches, but they give the game some much-needed originality in what could have been seen as a blatant Tony Hawk's rip off. Just as in Tony Hawk's, you gain attribute points as you play through the game. The more you use a certain move the better you will become at it. It is a simple system and works very well. Some challenges can only be achieved once you have achieved certain skill levels so honing your skills is an important part of the game.
The main innovation in Aggressive Inline is the juice meter. Just as in Tony Hawk's, Aggressive Inline features a meter that fills up as you perform tricks. When it is full your top speed increases and your special tricks become available. This all sounds very Tony Hawk's-like, but the difference comes from a lack of time limit. In Aggressive Inline you can continue in the environment until your juice meter runs out, meaning that you can in theory skate forever. This gives you much more freedom to have a go at whatever challenges you feel like doing and you never get frustrated by time-outs ruining a challenge that you had nearly completed. That isn't to say that timed challenges are not part of the game. Within the game various people that you talk to set you timed challenges to get certain scores or to perform certain tricks. This creates a brilliant balance between frantic point-scoring and more adventurous goal-achieving.
Z-Axis have done a great job creating massive environments to skate in. They are filled with everything that you would expect in a living, breathing world and none of this has come at the cost to the game's draw distance or frame rate, which are both excellent. The game moves beautifully and the skaters glide around the environments with superbly fluid movements taken from actual skaters. The skater models are not the best, but they suit the style of the game. The textures are extremely solid and give the game a vibrant look not found in the fairly drab-looking Tony Hawk's games. The visual differences between this and the other versions are slim. The game loses out to the Xbox version, with a shorter draw distance and slightly less detailed textures, whilst the GameCube version is almost identical.
The soundtrack in extreme sports games is always important as it plays a big part in getting the player in the right mood, and Aggressive Inline doesn't fail to deliver the goods. While it doesn't have the big names that are found in the Tony Hawk's games, there are plenty of catchy, fun tracks that complement the game brilliantly. The sound effects are top notch and while the game doesn't have surround sound support, it doesn't hurt an impressive aural package.
A multiplayer element has been included, but it sadly isn't as good as it could have been. There are five game modes to choose from, but none of them grab you like a great multiplayer game should. You can have fun with them, but after a while you will be wanting more. Also, there is no support for four-player play. This may not concern everyone, but the game would have been a lot more fun to play with three friends (or enemies). This is only a minor blemish to a great game, however, as you will be playing the single-player mode so much that the multiplayer modes may never get a look in.
As is now standard in extreme sports games, a skate park editor is included. While I found that I had little skill in creating fun areas to skate in, it was very easy to create a skate park in a surprisingly short amount of time. If you are prepared to spend longer with the editor you will get quite impressive results.
If you love extreme sports games, this is a no-brainer. Go and get the game. Even if you have no interest in inline skating you will find a lot to like here. It may not be the big name game that you have been waiting for, but as a filler game it is superb and hopefully the start of a very successful franchise.