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E3 to the Extreme

By Cliff O'Neill

This year's E3 had, by far, the biggest display of extreme sports games. All areas were covered, including skateboarding (THPS 4, Evolution Skateboarding, Simpsons Skateboarding), BMX (Dave Mirra XXX, Gravity Games, Toxic Grind, Mat Hoffman 2), snowboarding (1080: White Storm, Evolution Snowboarding, TransWorld Snowboarding), inline skating (Aggressive Inline, Rolling), water sports (Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer, Shaun Murray's Pro Wakeboarder), and motor sports (MX Superfly, Freekstyle). Even a few unlikely sports, like golf and volleyball, have been given the "extreme" treatment, with Outlaw Golf and Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball displaying zany (and sexy) action. In fact, more extreme-style sports games were on the show floor than the average gamer would care to play. Here's the lowdown on most of the ones mentioned above:

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 (PS2, GC, Xbox) - Hawk is back with new tricks, a completely redone Career mode, larger environments, and mini-games galore (how about a match of skateboarding tennis?). This version marks the return of Bob Burnquist and features cool new moves, like transfers and skitching. The controls are as tight and responsive as ever, and the graphics in the E3 build already surpassed those of the previous game. Each version of THPS 4 looked sharp, but, as expected, the Xbox version had the edge, graphics-wise.

Evolution Skateboarding & Evolution Snowboarding (PS2, GC) - Although Konami dropped the ESPN franchise, it continues to develop sports titles, including new skateboarding and snowboarding games. Apart from the fact that the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance will feature a skateboarding mini-game, Evolution Skateboarding will let gamers skate as Solid Snake and several professional skateboarders. Some of the environments will be based on ones from Konami's games, such as Castlevania and Metal Gear Solid 2. Other than the added "boss fights" (you use tricks to defeat boss characters), the game plays and feels similarly to Konami's previous skateboarding effort, ESPN X Games Skateboarding. Conversely, the spiritual successor to ESPN Winter X Games Snowboarding, Evolution Snowboarding, introduces new fighting elements, mission objectives, and simpler controls.

Simpsons Skateboarding (PS2) - The Simpsons invade the world of action sports with their very own skateboarding game, courtesy of Electronic Arts. Using Tony Hawk-like controls, you can skate as one of several popular characters from the television show and rip through environments based in Springfield. This game wasn't looking too hot, but its cartoony action won't be competing with the likes of THPS 4, so it will mainly draw fans of the show and the younger crowd.

Dave Mirra XXX (PS2, GC, Xbox) - Like your BMX action X-rated? Acclaim's new Mirra game on display boasted strippers and foul language, along with tweaked controls, a revamped Career mode, and the same solid trick system present in previous Mirra games. The Career mode is more open-ended and lets you earn cash to spend at Howard Stern's favorite strip club: Scores! This one will purportedly carry an M rating, the first for an action-sports game.

Gravity Games Bike: Street. Vert. Dirt. (PS2, GC, Xbox) - Midway's BMX game--the company's very first action-sports title--seemed like a poor man's Dave Mirra or Mat Hoffman, as the early demo version (PS2) didn't play too well and offered little beyond what other BMX games have.

Matt Hoffman's Pro BMX 2 (PS2, GC, Xbox) - Hoping to unseat Dave Mirra from the video game throne, Mat Hoffman's new game features improvements to its Career mode and trick system. Familiar controls, a nice selection of flatland tricks, and a new graphics engine look to separate Hoffman's traditional BMX action from Mirra's M-rated antics.

Toxic Grind (GC, Xbox) - This unique BMX title from THQ is similar to the snowboarding game Dark Summit, in that it blends action/adventure elements with action-sports gaming. Toxic Grind's trick system does not contain the depth of Mirra's or Hoffman's, but its Running Man-esque presentation and storyline (you must bike your way to freedom and trick through treacherous environments centered around a game show) and simple controls should appeal to an array of gamers.

1080: White Storm (GC) - A video of 1080: White Storm, the sequel to the N64's most popular snowboarding game, was on display at Nintendo's spacious booth, showcasing some slick tricks and a menacing avalanche. According to Nintendo, avalanches will occur randomly during gameplay and follow the rider down the course. The game will have several gameplay modes, including training, race, trick attack, and others.

TransWorld Snowboarding (Xbox) - The Xbox will be receiving another great snowboarding game; this one, from Infogrames and developer Housemarque, offers fancier graphics and livelier courses than Amped. Its gameplay is not revolutionary but incorporates and reworks elements from other snowboarding and action-sports games.

Aggressive Inline (PS2, GC, Xbox) - The completed PS2 version of Aggressive Inline joined the unfinished GameCube and Xbox versions at Acclaim's booth. Dave Mirra developer, Z-Axis, created the game, giving it a solid trick system, tight controls, and large environments. A mix of real and fictitious skaters (including a few females with revealing outfits and bouncy attributes) makes up the cast of skaters, with graphics and animations that are nicely done.

Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer (PS2, GC, Xbox) - While Activision's Pro Surfer will be arriving later than planned (it was originally expected last fall), it will still have the good fortune of being one of only a few next-gen surfing games available when it is released. The demo had lovely waves and water--complete with underwater activity--with gameplay that offered a fast and fluid surfing experience.

Shaun Murray's Pro Wakeboarder (PS2, GC, Xbox) - Pro Wakeboarder is not terribly different from other games in Activision's "Pro" series, save for the elements and physics unique to wakeboarding. In other words, the game has a familiar trick system, well-arranged controls, and series of obstacles and objects to trick on and off. Of course, the game revolves around water, and luckily, the E3 demo had great water effects.

Freekstyle (PS2, GC) - First we were given SSX, then SSX Tricky, and most recently, Sled Storm for the PS2. Now, EA Sports Big gives us Freekstyle, also known as "SSX on dirt bikes." Granted, it is easy to dismiss the game as a simple SSX clone, but it truly delivers an exciting experience, one filled with flash and crazy stunts. Like SSX, Freekstyle mixes track-based racing with tricks and adds plenty of attitude, supplied by the outspoken professional riders featured in the game. The controls are similar to SSX, and the sharp graphics show off the trademark blur effect during turbo boosts.

MX Superfly (PS2, GC, Xbox) - This is THQ's follow-up to MX 2002, featuring an emphasis on bigger air and wilder tricks to complement the subtle enhancements and additions made to the core gameplay and graphics engine.

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