It can't be said often enough: the videogame industry has become bleached of originality. Every month, titles are released that are either mechanically or conceptually near-identical to titles that are already out there. And they keep getting made because they make money. I don't understand it. Who are the people who buy these games and convince the industry that producing more conceptually-challenged drek is a recipe for success? Well, whoever those people are, I sincerely hope that they knock it off, or we'll wind up with more games like Freestyle Metal X.
As "extreme sports" have become more and more popular, the videogame industry has of course followed along. Most extreme sports games follow a fairly simple formula: the user will learn a trick system that is used to generate points, the game takes place on a series of large areas in which the user produces points by using tricks on the various landscapes and the whole thing is usually tied together with graphics and music that is judged to be appealing to the teens-late-20's fans that make up the core of the extreme sports audience. With practically every extreme sport getting representation on the store shelves, it's not surprising to see companies to start to double up, and that's where we get Freestyle Metal X, a game based on the extreme sport of motocross, although it's hardly the first to try and model the sport.
To start on a single, and brief, positive note, Freestyle Metal X offers up a new look at the "area" system that makes up the "physical" spaces in extreme sports games. Like the conventional videogame "levels," extreme sports games have areas, each usually corresponding to a unique physical environment, each with their own unique attributes. In this game, rather than keep the areas separated, the developers have decided to allow the user to ride from one area to the other. By combining the levels into a giant Grand Theft Auto-esque world to explore, the developers manage to up the immersion factor and pique the curiosity and explorative desires of the player. Combined with the fairly large levels, this means that the most fun that the player can have with this title is just cruising around, checking out the sights and paths that lead across the various levels. This is the most fun the player will have because the rest of the game is an exercise in half-assed plagiarism.
Indeed, Freestyle Metal X is one of the worst "me-too" offenders that I've ever run across. Everything about this game screams "Tony Hawk-rip-off" at imbecilic volumes. I swear, I felt my IQ drop as I was playing the game, the sounds of brain cells popping melding nicely with the oh-so-bland cock-rock soundtrack that seems to be a requisite feature of sophomoric extreme sports tie-ins. I had to take breaks to go read some Dostoyevsky before I started drooling all over the controller and electrocuted myself. Actually, I could probably have read some X-men to get some greater intellectual stimulationI'd say that Freestyle Metal X aims to appeal to the lowest common denominator, but even that might be too much praise.
The tone is set right from the beginning. I became confused as to what game I'd actually put in my PlayStation 2, as everything looks like Tony Hawk. The opening splash-screen, the intro movies, the pause screen, the font, the fact that the game has Motorhead's "Ace of Spades" on the soundtrackI know that original content is an exception in the videogame industry, but this is ridiculous.
And it's not like the game takes what it rips off and does anything good with it. Rather than having people integrated into the environment giving you challenges, a la Tony Hawk, Freestyle Metal X has awkwardly out-of-place and scantily-clad babes standing around, waiting to make some sort of cheap double entendre in the process of giving you a new goal. And those goals? Some are based around tricks, appropriately enough. Some are just relentlessly stupid, like "run over 4 wolves." Yeah, running over wildlife, that's so extreme, it just might work. Even better, it's possible to pass many of the goals even if the landing is botched. It doesn't matter if the biker breaks their neck jumping the barn, so long as the barn was jumped.
I hate to say "the worst part" in reference to a game with so many attributes that could compete for that designation, but the worst part of the game is its control system. It appears at first to be another bright spot to the game, utilizing a small, but not too small, amount of buttons to create an incredible amount of permutations, and thus, unique tricks. Where it all goes horribly wrong is that it's nearly impossible to pull off tricks unless you time things exactly. In a game where the player also has to concentrate on steering and pressing down the gas, having requirements this draconian is obscene. It's bad enough that Freestyle Metal X is offering up reheated gameplay, but to give it a controller-breaking level of difficulty is just sadistic.
I know that there's going to be people to object to this take on Freestyle Metal X. After all, it is a "competent" game. It is possible to play the game, learn its subtleties, become a master at the trick system and to derive some enjoyment thereof. But that doesn't change the fact that Freestyle Metal X does nothing that hasn't already been done by superior games that have already beat it to market, in some cases by years. From a practical viewpoint, this is a thoroughly mediocre game. But it is also a mediocre game that is a cynical attempt to cash in by taking an already-existing set of games, tweaking them slightly, and then soaking it in flavor-of-the-month youth-culture packaging. I'd rather play an uneven game that at least tried, rather than an uninspired piece of schlock desperately attempting to piggyback its betters to financial success.
As the game loudly and crudely screams its carefully marketed 'anti-establishment' message, it also manages to ask "Why care anymore?" When videogames are capable of so much, yet consistently deliver so little, it's hard not to feel a little depressed. But that could be the Dostoyevsky talking.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.