Here's an amazing array of extreme-style sports hiding beneath a too-shiny cloak of corporate cool.
If you can get past the cloak of corporate cool that Xtreme Sports wears like a temporary tattoo, you'll discover a game that offers an amazing array of extreme-style events--and does so very well.
But shaking off that boardroom feel takes some doing, like maybe turning down the sound altogether and putting in Radiohead's Kid A. Xtreme Sports is a game designed by gamers (so far so good), presented to a committee that's part of a mammoth corporation (whoops), then sent back to the gamers with changes to be made. The finished product is a pretty good game that plays great, but attitude-wise, grinds like sand in your swimsuit.
As anyone who's ever spent any time in a corporate boardroom can tell you, a camel is a horse designed by committee.
Xtreme Sports works hard to conjure up a cool 'tude, right down to its groovy awesome excellent title. It works too hard, in fact. So much so, that the resulting atmosphere is a cool so manufactured it might as well have a thermostat. Close your eyes while the soundtrack plays and the voice actors speak, and you can almost see a roomful of pony-tailed 45-year-olds sitting around a table sipping Dasani water and wondering, "What are the kids hip to these days?"
In fact, the soundtrack and dialogue come off like what those people envision MTV to be like--not that they've actually watched it since Martha Quinn's original acne outbreak cleared up. These cats think Carson means Johnny and TRL is the girl group that does that Waterfalls song. Sure, MTV 2000 sucks like a five-dollar hooker, but even at its worst, it's not as bad as this.
What we're presented with is a VH-1 vision of Generations X and Y, and the results are laughable. The dialogue includes more "dudes" and "awesomes" than a Bill and Ted fan club convention, and the announcer (whom I'll gladly shoot in the face if I ever meet him) comes across with an incessant howl that recalls nothing so much as the vocal stylings of one Diamond David Lee Roth. And not the lovable idiot Dave of Van Halen's glory days, either, but the sad sack moron who pisses and moans his combed-over way through the Behind the Music segment on "the bad boys of rock 'n' roll."
In Xtreme Sports, you select a player from a cast of entirely nondescript and wholly stereotypical characters, from the black Jamaican guy who introduces himself with a hearty "Yah mon!" to the blonde Swedish chick who sounds like the Swedish Chef from The Muppets, to a handful of white British and American guys and gals who like to say "dude" and "bro" way too much. It's almost as if the producers of The Real World got to choose the cast. The characters are so cliched that I half expected to find hidden ones who were right out of the Hollywood handbook, like maybe a French guy named Pierre who smells bad, a cowboy named Tex with boots and a lariat, or maybe even an Eskimo with a harpoon and a fistful of blubber.
Thank god the corporate muckety-mucks kept their hands out of the actual gameplay. The gang at Innerloop--obviously against great odds--have come up with a grab-bag game that looks great and is eminently playable.
There are six events in all: snowboarding, speed hang-gliding, bungee jumping, mountain biking, skydiving and surfing, and driving a four-wheel ATV. You can choose to take 'em on one at a time, enter mini-tournaments that combine three varied events, or swallow the whole thing iron-man style in a challenge that'll have you boarding down a snow-covered carapace one minute, then biking its lower, bare-faced slopes on a mountain bike the next. In fact, in one amazing sequence, you snowboard halfway down a mountain, then run to a waiting hang-glider, and take a dive over the edge.
There are a total of 12 tracks in five locations, including the Himalayas, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Maui. The graphics are great, regardless of locale. In fact, the backgrounds are sometimes so awe-inspiring that they outperform the on-screen action.
Winning all the events at every locale requires a combination of speed and style, and there are tricks aplenty for you to earn and learn. You can tackle 'em on your own, or challenge a friend to play--assuming that you're close enough to any single person in this world to admit that you own or have rented such a schlock-infested piece of propaganda. Again, just make sure Kid A is playing loud before your friend even arrives.
Sadly, all the corporate booshwa here is just a sneak peak at the future of gaming. As independent programmers are gobbled up by mammoth corporations, the little guys who make the games are starting to lose control over the finished product. It's the same plague that infects the movie, music, and publishing businesses, and it's only going to get worse.
As the stakes rise, the artists lose control, and the guys with suits start sticking their stupid, senseless fingers in any available orifice, probing away like insensitive alien invaders and leaving their insipid imprint on everything they touch.
As my son put it, "This game was designed by mean old men who just wanted to twist our minds."
I couldn't have said it better myself. And yes, I am proud of him.
- Turn down the sound and put on something decent. Did I mention Radiohead's Kid A?
- Read George Orwell's 1984 to get an idea what creeping globalization holds in store for us all.