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1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine

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by Activision

 

screen1-01.jpg (5194 bytes)The only sports I watch on TV are BMX, skateboarding, and rollerblading. I don’t necessarily consider these sports extreme: I mean, if I can skateboard, rollerblade, and ride a BMX bike, it must not be all that extreme. (Look me up in our E3 gallery; I’m the short, round one with a beard.) Still, if there’s anything I’ve wanted my whole life that I’ll know I’ll never get, it’s the ability to be really good at any of these sports. That’s why I welcome the flow of "extreme" sports games: They give me a chance to act out those fantasies and feel, for a virtual second, like a real skater. Or BMX rider. Or fruit-booter.

screen5-01.jpg (5529 bytes)Activision continues their series of such sports titles with the new O2 line. Future titles include Shaun Palmer’s Pro Snowboarder and Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer. Of course, the crowning jewel of the series is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, the game to which all of these will be compared, and from which all of these titles take their basic structure and control system. Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX is the first of the O2 line to debut, and, unfortunately, it doesn’t match the glory of THPS.

screen11-01.jpg (5994 bytes)As with THPS, MHPB features a whole crew of pro BMX riders: Mike Escamilla, Cory Nastazio, Joe Kowalski, Rick Thorne, Dennis McCoy, Kevin Robinson, and Simon Tabron. The game is built on technology developed originally by Neversoft for THPS and THPS2. The controls are very similar to THPS, incorporating a bunnyhop button, and buttons to do small tricks, big tricks, and grinds. The shoulder buttons handle your spins, and tricks are performed with d-pad plus a button combos. Levels are based on real locales and imaginary settings, including the Hoffman Bike Factory, La Habra, New York, and a construction site. For the most part the levels are pretty well-designed, and fairly large. There are many hidden areas, as in THPS, that add to the replay value of the levels, and as we’ve come to expect, you can do tricks off almost any obstacle in the level. You can also unlock old favorites from THPS and THPS2, such as the Warehouse and Burnside.

screen3-01.jpg (6003 bytes)The gameplay is pretty much identical to THPS and THPS2. Each level has a set of four goals: high and pro score, destroy a set of objects, and find the hidden cover. Rather than collect videotapes or money, in MHPB you collect magazine covers. In order to unlock all the various secret items, such as the Granny character or Tony Hawk on a girl’s bike, you’ll need to beat the game completely with every character. That means you’ll collect 30 covers and two gold medals with each rider.

screen10-01.jpg (6305 bytes)Music has always been important in the THPS games, and MHPB is no exception. Featuring some very cutting edge acts, such as Outkast and Jurassic 5, the game also throws in some real classics, such as Agent Orange and Newcleus. By far this is the best soundtrack on a "Pro Whatever" game yet, and one of the best soundtracks on any videogame. The tunes don’t get repetitive, mainly because they are all top-notch. Including some of the older extreme sports classics is a great way to keep the music alive for new generations. Skating and biking has always been intimately tied to alternative music movements, a connection I’ve always been a fan of. However, I have to note that the version of Jurassic 5’s "Great Expectations" is censored on MHPB: Somebody along the line had a problem with the rhyme, "I’ll get you open like a fallopian tube." Please, is anatomy that risque?

screen6-01.jpg (6534 bytes)Anyone here at GF! can tell you of my unconditional love for the THPS games. They made skating on a console system actually fun; nay, they made it a passion. MHPB doesn’t achieve the same level of adoration from me, and believe me, I wanted to love it. Basically, the game is perfectly designed – conceptually, everything is just spot-on. However, the execution leaves something to be desired, and underscores the fact that a big reason why THPS was such an instant classic is due to Neversoft, the development house that created a whole genre. Runecraft puts forth a valiant effort with MHPB, but doesn’t hit the Neversoft bar.

screen4-01.jpg (7118 bytes)The most annoying thing about MHPB are the repetitive freeze-ups. This didn’t happen at all on a PS2 with fast loading turned on, but it happens every three or four runs on a regular PSX. In multiplayer, the freeze-ups are even worse and more common. The game regularly freezes at the very beginning of a level, as if getting the music to play is just too hard for the system. After a few seconds the game resumes as normal, but not before you’ve had time to curse it and wonder if the thing just broke. Perhaps on a PC I would be tempted to blame it on my system, but there is no excuse for it on the PSX.

screen9-01.jpg (7337 bytes)The more subtle, but possibly as frustrating, major flaw in execution is poor collision detection and bounding. Your bike sometimes seems to extend far beyond its visible appearance, and at other times you can’t get onto an edge for a dozen tries. In the New York level, you are required to take out a set of hot dog stands. Several times you’ll hit the stand, blow the bulk of it out of the way, and still not receive credit. You usually have to turn around and re-approach the stand before you realize that you didn’t take out the roof. Jump to hit it, and you’ll get credit, but you’ll feel very bitter about it. These problems cause difficulty in transferring to and from obstacles throughout the game, too, which just doesn’t seem natural for a game based on the THPS engine. THPS is exceptional for its flawless collision detection and object bounding.

screen7-01.jpg (7685 bytes)The graphics on MHPB are nothing to write home about in general. They are grainy and full of sharp edges, much worse than either of the THPS titles on the PSX. There is a huge amount of clipping and draw-in. The draw-in is somewhat tolerable, given the complexity of the levels, but annoying. As if to mask the draw-in and clipping, most of the levels are very dark. The two daylight levels, La Habra and the construction site, look like they take place at dusk (although after our recent visit to LA, it occurs to me that it could just be smog). At any rate, expect to see a lot of fog, and when you don’t see fog, don’t expect to see much at all. In the first competition you’ll find yourself hitting terrain that has transitions and lips that are completely black. Frustrating? Yup.

Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX has a lot of potential. There are a lot of things being done right in the game. Perhaps it’s just impossible to make a BMX title for a current generation title that is really any good. Or at least it’s impossible to make it work well. MHPB will be very attractive to fans of BMX, but even they could be satisfied with Dave Mirra’s BMX when push comes to shove. Maybe iterations of MHPB will be better as it migrates to next-gen systems, and I anticipate that a lot of improvement will be made in MHPB2 (you know there will be one). But MHPB isn’t going to draw in the mainstream gaming audience the way THPS did, and it shouldn’t. If you’re a fan of the sport, check this out, but don’t blame me when you turn quickly back to your battered copy of THPS.

Shawn Rider

Snapshot

Ups: Lots of tricks; good level design; park editor; excellent soundtrack.

Downs: Collision issues; massive draw-in and fog; load freezes; censoring "fallopian".

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation

 

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