After the previous Extreme G games graced the Nintendo 64 with choppy framerates, muted graphics, and mediocre gameplay, it seemed like Acclaim had taken a potentially interesting concept and butchered it. While uninspired gameplay (a sloppy take on the Playstation hit Wipeout) plagued the series, it was clear that an equally pertinent problem was Acclaims poor management of the hardware. Choppy, inconsistent frame rates are a definite problem when the focus of a game should be speed and fluidity. However, Acclaim seems to have turned a new leaf with the third installment of the series, this time on the technologically superior Playstation 2 console. Extreme G III seems to be the kind of game that the designers were attempting in the first place. Although the core concept of the game—race jet-powered bikes on gravity-defying tracks while dueling with other racers—remains unchanged, some remarkably subtle changes (not to mention some not-so-subtle ones) have transformed Extreme G from a mediocre trend-follower to a well executed, exhilarating racer.
From the onset of the game, its clear that Acclaim has crafted a much cleaner and better-organized game. The slick-looking menus are easy to navigate, and there are a reasonable variety of options available. The meat and potatoes of the game is its career mode, which offers a league race, an arcade mode, and time trials. Also available are a two-player versus mode and a much-welcome two-player team race, in which two players can race cooperatively. In the League mode, players begin the game by selecting a two-rider team, then choosing one of the two riders to race with. Unlike the previous installments, in which weapons and power-ups were scattered about the track to be picked up during the race, Extreme G III features a money-based system (a la Gran Turismo) in which players purchase weapons, shields, and engine upgrades with money earned from the races. Ammunition and shield energy can be collected during the race itself by riding over long "energy strips" that run along the tracks edges. Players compete in a four-series, ten-track championship that runs through desert canyons, futuristic cities, and pristine forests.
Regardless of how many features are included in an action-oriented racer such as this, only the speed and fluidity of gameplay can make the game worth playing. If the previous installments could be likened to an economy-class car, the latest installment plays like a souped-up supercar. The short draw distances, blurry graphics, and inconsistent frame rates of the original have given way to sharp, fluid graphics, imaginative worlds, and tracks that sometimes seem to stretch endlessly into the distance. The tracks are sufficiently wide to allow room for fierce combat and driver error while remaining narrow enough to demand a sufficient challenge. The game controls responsively and intuitively (though it unfortunately lacks analog steering). I found it fairly easy to make small adjustments while racing and make hasty recoveries while in combat. The tracks are very well designed, requiring a bit of memorization and precise timing during sharp turns, while allowing for some mind-blowing speed on straight-aways.
Of course, youd be mistaken if you assumed Extreme G III was just about racing. The combat plays a pivotal role in the game and is seamlessly integrated into the frantically paced gameplay. Weapons and items that may be purchased over the course of the game include rockets, machine guns, land mines, shield generators, turbo boosters, and engine upgrades. Quite often, eliminating opponents by way of precision firepower is a wiser choice than trying to outrace them. The weapons are well balanced and are creatively designed without being outlandish. The combat can get extremely hectic at times, which, when added to the tortuously convoluted tracks and 600 mph speeds, makes for some very tense, exciting gameplay.
Perhaps what made Extreme G III the most enjoyable for me was the simple, yet unfortunately rare cooperative race. Single-player games seem to be the rage these days, and two-player modes are almost inevitably one-on-one only. The inclusion of cooperative play is a welcome breath of fresh air. As in the League Mode, players choose one team and select one of the two riders. This time, however, the earnings from races must be split between the players. For example, if player one places first and earns 15,000 credits and player two places fourth, earning only 3,000 credits, the total amount of credits is placed in a bank for the players to split evenly with each other. Accordingly, it becomes wise to use a bit of strategy and good will when purchasing weapons and upgrades. To then add the excitement of trying to bail out your buddy during a chaotic battle or "taking one for the team" makes for a simple gameplay feature that adds almost limitless replay value.
Extreme G III lacks originality, and to some extent it lacks depth. There are only ten races and I found the game only modestly challenging. Nevertheless, it is such a simple, well-designed game that repeated play was just a matter of finding the time rather than the patience. The races are fast-paced with solid track design and smooth, imaginative graphics (one level features some very cool rain that makes splashes on the camera as you race around the track). Despite the brevity of the league race, the well-chosen assortment of options and simple gameplay makes Extreme G III one of the finest racers of its kind.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.