When I first heard of Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding I was intrigued by the concept. Although I really enjoy the over-the-top extreme sports action in games like SSX or the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series, there is something to be said about a game that involves a sport like snowboarding and tries to model it after the real world experience of the sport. No crazy levels, no outlandish characters and no mid-air break dancing tricks. Just man and board trying to take over the snowboarding world. Cool.
Amped did succeed in immersing me into the 'real' snowboarding world it sets out to create. The little touches, like the mild changes in weather, the sound of your board carving on the groomed trails, and that sparkle on the fresh powder are just a few of the elements that made me feel like I was really there. It's a true graphical showpiece. Sadly, the number of technical problems that plague Amped ruin the whole experience. I found that fun was a sporadic occurrence after I put a few hours into the game and got over the eye candy.
If I had to describe Amped in one word, it would be 'unpredictable' (quite often that can be considered a virtue in a video game, but I didn't appreciate it in this one). Allow me to illustrate: The collision detection was erratic—sometimes grazing an obstacle would send my boarder flying out of control, other times it wouldn't. Scoring, very important in these kinds of games, seemed inconsistent—what I thought were huge hits would often score really low, and sometimes a simple 540 grab would score unusually high. Landing my boarder was also a time for crossing my fingers—on some occasions he'd land a huge hit even though he was perpendicular to the slope, other times he'd land perfectly on the snow and crash. These are just some of the head-scratching situations I encountered. Considering that this game becomes sadistically hard later on, the unpredictability made 'mastering' the game an impossibility and the resulting frustration led me to not care about reaching number one in the world.
Another glaring problem I found with Amped was its level design. Finding a good line and getting into a comfortable groove seemed impossible thanks to the extremely cluttered environments. Big hits were hardly ever lined up correctly, meaning you'd have to carve really hard to prepare for the next one, losing your momentum in the process. And far too often those big hits would send me smashing into a chair lift cable, a tree or some other kind of unavoidable obstacle. In the huge air world of professional snowboarding, less is definitely more when it comes to big hits and obstacles on the slopes, and the more spaced apart they are the better—factors the developers ignored when building these levels. To be fair, there are some really sweet hits in the game, and the Altibahn level is a well designed jaw-dropper, but they are the exception, not the rule. Mix the bad design and flawed gameplay together, and there is no way Amped can be considered anything but mediocre.
Had Amped ironed out its gameplay glitches, or made the game a little more approachable to the casual gamer or newcomer to the genre, it would've been a great snowboarding title. Amped ultimately ends up shooting itself in the foot by being too hard for its own good, forcing the player to struggle against the gameplay, all the while making it impossible to predict so as not to allow gamers to adjust their playing style accordingly. It was an ambitious attempt, at least, but maybe the sequel can improve upon the formula.
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