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Matt Hoffman's Pro BMX 2 (PS2, Xbox) Review

Background Info

Screens (8)
Mat Hoffman and his outrageous crew of BMX aficionados invade the next-generation consoles in Activision's latest action-sports game, Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX 2. Unlike the previous Hoffman game, which appeared on the PlayStation and Dreamcast, Rainbow Studios, best known for its work on ATV Offroad Fury, Splashdown, and the Motocross Madness games, developed Hoffman 2. With strong competition from Acclaim's Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2, does this sequel have what it takes to compete?

(Note: Since the Xbox and PS2 versions of the game hit store shelves simultaneously and are virtually identical, this review covers both. Separate scores have been awarded, with details noting any major differences between the two.)

Presentation/Graphics : 75 (PS2), 75 (Xbox)
Hoffman 2 is an average-looking game, with smooth animations, detailed bikes, satisfying effects, and lively environments. The models of the riders are quite good, and all the pros have photographic facial texturing. Each level, though limited in size when compared with a level from Dave Mirra 2 or Aggressive Inline, is well constructed and full of animated objects (vehicles, pedestrians, wildlife, etc.). The frame rate could have benefited from additional optimization, but it runs smoothly enough.

Furthermore, the colors are subdued and the textures are bland, and there are some clipping issues. While the graphics in the Xbox version are slightly sharper than the ones in the PS2 version, the Xbox version does not exploit the Xbox's extra processing power. Overall though, both versions are graphically sufficient.

Presentation/Audio : 75 (PS2), 80 (Xbox)
Audio-wise, Hoffman 2 has adequate sound effects, great ambiance and a varied soundtrack. Save for the sounds unique to a BMX bike, most of the sound effects are similar to those in other games of this type. Each city in the game has wonderful ambient noises to liven up the experience, as well as yapping pedestrians. The game's soundtrack includes tracks from rap, rock, and punk acts, including Suicidal Tendencies, Ice-T, Crazy Town, Dub Pistols, N.E.R.D., Dislocated Styles, Bad Brains, Iggy Pop, and Erik B. & Rakim, among others. Not all the tracks are initially available, however, as you must find CDs in the Road Trip mode to unlock new songs.

The Xbox version has the edge in the audio department, thanks to multi-channel Dolby Digital sound and support for user-created soundtracks via the system's hard drive. However, the PS2 version has Dolby Surround, which widens the stereo field nicely. Both versions let you edit the inconsistent play list.

Interface/Options : 75 (PS2), 70 (Xbox)
Hoffman 2's interface is built around a rendered garage that has the game's professional BMXers hanging out inside. Included in the game are Mat Hoffman, Mike Escamilla, Cory Nastazio, Kevin Robinson, Simon Tabron, Seth Kimbrough, Nate Wessel, Ruben Alcantara, Joe Kowalski, Rick Thorne, and Day Smith. Every rider is rated in the following categories: air, spin, landing, grind balance, and manual balance. Although you cannot create your own rider or alter the appearance of the pros, you can acquire new outfits and bikes (improve stats) through the Road Trip mode. The game has a fair amount of options but, strangely, does not let you adjust the controls.

While the controls are tight in both versions--the control scheme is similar to the one in Tony Hawk 3--executing modifiers and switching between manuals is less intuitive in the Xbox version due to the awkward Black and White buttons on the controller. (Unfortunately, Microsoft's revised controller, Controller S, does not improve matters, because the placement of the Black and White buttons is still too far from the main buttons.) As with other multi-platform titles, Hoffman 2 simply feels better with a PS2 pad. That said, both versions lack a tutorial, and since the game introduces new gameplay features, even Hoffman veterans will need a practice session to familiarize themselves with the controls. Concerning load times, the Xbox's built-in hard drive results in quicker loading and saving over the PS2 version.

Gameplay : 75 (PS2), 75 (Xbox)
The "Hoffman vs. Mirra" video game battle began on the PlayStation and now continues on the newest systems. Neither Hoffman 2 nor Mirra 2 delivers a true simulation of BMX, but Hoffman 2's physics engine is somewhat more realistic, resulting in more challenging gameplay. Landing cleanly is even more vital in Hoffman 2 than in Mirra 2, and maintaining balance during grinds and manuals is a bit harder, too. Both games have a modifier system that lets you modify tricks on the fly, but Mirra 2's modifier system is tighter and more flexible. Another area in which Mirra 2 tops Hoffman 2 is in level design, with levels considerably larger than Hoffman 2's.

However, Hoffman 2 has something Mirra 2 lacks: flatland tricks! Ever since the first BMX games appeared, BMX enthusiasts have been screaming for flatland tricks. Thankfully, Rainbow Studios listened to the screams and added a smorgasbord of flatland tricks in Hoffman 2. To do a flatland trick, you simply perform a manual and then enter a short button combo. As long as you maintain balance, you can flow seamlessly through several different flatland tricks. This lets you ride in style and rack up major points.

Beyond flatland tricks, Hoffman 2 has all the basic grinds, stalls, and air tricks you would expect from a BMX game. You can also wall ride, power slide, and do foot plants, as well as perform special tricks upon filling the "adrenaline" meter. Manualing between tricks keeps your combos alive, and modifying grinds, stalls, and manuals adds extra points. As expected, every level contains a myriad of ramps, rails, and miscellaneous objects to shred.

Sadly, Hoffman 2 loses luster in its Road Trip mode, a career-style mode that lets you tear through eight cities across the US. Amped and Aggressive Inline were two of the first action-sports games to remove a timer from the career mode, and Tony Hawk 4 and Acclaim's next BMX game will follow suit. These games also incorporate an open-ended goal system. Unfortunately, Hoffman 2's Road Trip mode ignores the innovations that have occurred and instead imposes a restrictive two-minute time limit composed of repetitive goals, requiring you to smash objects, collect items, meet preset high scores, and perform specialized stunts or tasks. This type of rigid, monotonous goal structure is quickly becoming outdated, making Hoffman 2 seem behind the times. What's more, Hoffman 2 copies Mirra's "hierarchy of goals" format, wherein the goals in each level are split between classes (in this case, amateur, semi-pro, and pro).

But the Road Trip mode is not a total miss as it contains some unique and worthwhile challenges. Moreover, there are gaps to clear, hidden challenges to complete, and bikes and outfits to collect. Plus, each rider has his own set of videos, forcing you to play through multiple times to unlock all the game's videos. You can also gather pictures (and edit them) for an in-game scrapbook by busting tricks near camera icons. The obligatory Session and Free Ride, both of which are self-explanatory, round out the list of single-player modes.

In terms of multiplayer, Hoffman 2 has several competitive modes for two players. Four of these--Trick Attack, Tag, Horse, and Graffiti--should be familiar to Tony Hawk fans, while the others (Treasure Hunt, Push, and Half-pipe Hell) are relatively fresh. The most enjoyable one of the bunch is Push mode, which debuted in Shaun Palmer's Pro Snowboarder. In this mode, you and another player compete for screen space, with the more skilled rider reducing the other player's section of the split screen.

Replay Value : 80 (PS2), 80 (Xbox)
You will have to play through the Road Trip mode numerous times to obtain each rider's selection of videos, outfits, and bikes. There are also secrets to discover, like hidden characters, and a scrapbook to fill with pictures. A park editor helps stave off boredom when you grow tired of the included levels, and the multiplayer games add some excitement and variation. The trick system itself is deep and takes time to master, with plenty of trick lines throughout the levels. While the Xbox version boasts an extra rider (Chad Kagy) and level (London), they are not playable in the Road Trip mode.

Overall : 76 (PS2), 76 (Xbox)
Apart from having cool flatland tricks and an interesting road-trip theme, Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX 2 is rather stale. It does have a solid trick system and a good amount of replay value, but there is nothing terribly compelling about the overall experience to warrant a purchase from action-sports buffs. For now, Dave Mirra still rules the world of virtual BMX.

By: Cliff O'Neill 9/25/02

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