Wednesday, January 12, 2005
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Body movin'
EyeToy: AntiGrav gets you into the game
BY MITCH KRPATA

What do the Power Glove, the Activator, and the U-Force have in common? All promised entirely new ways to play, and all were total crap. Gimmicky at best, these bizarre peripherals succeeded only in complicating the gameplay process, even though Lucas did make the finals wielding his Power Glove in the 1989 Fred Savage vehicle, The Wizard (in the process uttering the immortal line, "I love the Power Glove � It's so rad!"). Although the arcade industry's bread-and-butter has for decades been elaborate input mechanisms, home gamers have had to settle for light guns.

It was with some trepidation, then, that I hooked up EyeToy: AntiGrav, a futuristic racer from SCEA and Harmonix. "Your body is the controller," promises the back of the box. Huh? How could this possibly work?

Work it does, and damn well at that. The EyeToy, a camera that attaches to the USB port on the front of the PS2, is a snap to set up. Simply place it atop your television set, plug it in, and you're good to go. The AntiGrav manual issues dire warnings about the light setup necessary to maximize the EyeToy's performance, but I had no problem simply cranking up the overhead light in my living room. (Not that the camera's quality would mean much if the game weren't any good.)

Frankly, if this were a regular old racing game, it probably wouldn't be much to write home about. The tracks and racers adhere to a neon-drenched, cyberpunk aesthetic that I'm not sure was ever in style to begin with. And although the courses are huge, offering a ridiculous number of branching paths and several racing surfaces along the Z-axis, there are only five of them. To make matters worse, only one track is available at the beginning of the game; to unlock the second track, you must win on the first track not once, but three times, and repeat that for each level.

In addition to "Speed" mode, which is a garden-variety race to the finish line, there's also an SSX-style "Trick" mode, in which the goal is to rack up more points than your opponents by pulling aerial tricks. Tricks are accomplished by making different arm motions after your character flies off a jump. When your character gets enough air, four icons will show up at the bottom of the screen, dictating a sequence necessary to pull off that racer's unique super-trick. These, again, are standard issue for games of this type, although I appreciated that one of the tricks was called the "Reverse Curse."

An unimpressive multiplayer mode was also included. It's multiplayer in name only � one person races, and then the next person races his ghost. Obviously it would have been too much to ask of the EyeToy to track two players' movements at once, but an online mode could have worked well. Then again, I imagine making a new type of game is difficult enough without trying to master the PS2's sub-par networking capabilities.

Besides, the gameplay in EyeToy: Antigrav is what makes the game different, and what makes it special. This is the first time since Duck Hunt that I can recall a peripheral being so integral to a game. Control is simple and intuitive: to steer your character left, lean left; to steer him right, lean right; crouch or jump, and your onscreen avatar will do the same. As basic as this sounds, it's easy to see how such a concept could fail. Instead, one pass through the tutorial, which takes about five minutes, and you're well-equipped for the game.

There are a couple of gameplay facets that take special advantage of the EyeToy medium. Liberally scattered throughout the courses are brightly-colored rails, which your racer locks onto. While you no longer need to steer on a rail, there are obstacles to crouch under and jump over, and colored tokens at three different heights on either side. Picking up a sequence of tokens will provide a speed boost, or a huge point total in Trick mode. You may find yourself flailing all around the room in your efforts to snag the tokens, and if you feel like your roommates are laughing at you, you're right. But that's no reason to stop playing.

There are also flight sequences, which begin when you hit designated launch pads. These are the most physically taxing parts of the game. In order to maintain a straight and level motion, you'll need to stand in a slight crouch. To ascend, you'll need to stand on your tiptoes, and descending requires that you crouch much lower than you might expect. After playing for an hour, I found myself almost unable to stand. And I was definitely sore the next day.

The sense of connection you feel to AntiGrav is unmatched. Characters seem to have real weight and inertia, if only because you're fighting your own weight and inertia. Harmonix has taken what could have been an impossible assignment and turned it into a groundbreaking experience that could presage the next revolution in games. The game's not perfect, certainly, but in a year packed with sequels, this is the sort of innovative title I've been starving for.

And given that most courses take between four and five minutes to complete, you'll find yourself getting a much-needed workout without even realizing it. Imagine, a video game parents will actually want their children to play!

Score: 8.0 (out of 10)


Issue Date: December 24 - 30, 2004
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