An improved graphics engine, varied challenges, a non-linear approach plus a greater emphasis on tricks are just the beginning for this sequel. 2K Sports' Amped 3 goes much further and loosens up the formerly Microsoft-owned franchise with a more open-ended approach for the Xbox 360. Playing the game is relatively straightforward, with mountains and stages to unlock, along with the usual character upgrades. However, there are cool twists, such as the ability to create your own courses and use sleds and motorbikes on the mountains that give the game a distinct flair. That said, the gameplay is somewhat traditional in many aspects. The controls are much easier to learn this time around, and players should be able to perform some fairly elaborate tricks with little effort. While most players will find the gameplay somewhat predictable, Amped 3's unique cut scenes give it a personality and feel all its own.
Taking an established franchise in a new direction is usually a risky move, but 2K Sports' makeover of Microsoft's Xbox Amped series on the Xbox 360 is a successful change for the better. For a snowboading title, the previous games always seemed a little stiff and structured while the new game injects the series with a new rebellious attitude and more style that makes for a less predictable experience overall. The changes extend to the gameplay as well, making a game that's less rigid in its approach to the sport, allowing for more style and less technical precision in the way you play the game. This gives Amped 3 a much more open-ended feel that better reflects the rebellious spirit of snowboarding. The developers have seemingly unleashed their inner punks in some aspects, as they skewer gaming conventions and clichés with an almost anarchistic glee at points. Amped 3's jokes don't always work, with some gags falling a bit flat, but the game hits its targets more often than not with more than a few genuinely funny points in the plot. As you progress through Amped's storyline, you'll be introduced to a wacky band of characters involved in a strange plot full of strange events and odd detours. The first few levels of the game let you practice the basics, and once you get beyond the story, you'll find a somewhat solid snowboarding title underneath the hip veneer. Your main interface in Amped 3 is a map of the mountain your skiing on which contains the courses and runs you can select. Once you've selected your course, a quick loading screen usually filled with jokes appears and you hit the course.
Not surprisingly, things are fairly standard from a gameplay standpoint once you're shredding the mountain, you'll find the usual array of stunts and tricks at your disposal, with the usual grabs, spins and flips complimented with a few techniques such as buttering and carving to complete as well. The game's controls are straightforward, with movement and tricks mapped to the controller efficiently. Holding down the d-pad allows you to perform an extra style move that increases you score exponentially. As your character gains skills, you'll also learn new moves and techniques which allow you to increase your scores even more. The game's trick system has been streamlined and simplified from the previous titles, making it very easy to perform much more elaborate stunts with little effort. This makes Amped 3 more accessible than previous titles in the series, which were more technical in their approach to the sport. This doesn't mean that you won't need skills and practice to make progress, but the learning curve is much shorter and you should be able to get the hang of most techniques relatively quickly. The game's intuitive controls make it quite accessible and the numerous hints and tutorial levels make Amped 3 surprisingly accessible. The snowboard physics and control seem realistic, allowing you to perform some superb moves easily while challenging you to perfect the timing and spacing of your moves.
In addition to the standard snowboarding action, players can also use a snowmobile and a variety of sleds in some of Amped 3's bonus games which adds some variety to the action, though the primary focus remains on standard action. Using these extra items can be a lot of fun. There's a really cool mini-game where the object is to cause as much damage to your character as possible by crashing your sled on purpose, which also helps to show off the game's physics models. Amped 3's many tracks are nicely designed with jumps and ramps and numerous rails and tree trunks that you can grind on. Chaining these moves together makes for a more impressive score. Along the path in each level, you'll find colorful rainbows pointing you to challenge points, where you can choose to perform a small challenge such as gliding through rings or performing jumps for a sponsor. Successfully completing these challenges allows you to earn medals, reputation points and cash that you can then use to purchase new gear and custom upgrades for your boarder. As you do this, you'll also unlock additional areas on the mountain. You can play any unlocked area at any time by navigating the menus, giving Amped 3 a non-linear feel. In addition to the standard challenge modes, you'll also find story challenges that move the game's off-kilter plot forward and add to the overall weird feel of the game.
The game's single player areas offer a solidly entertaining, if slightly predictable experience that doesn't really distinguish itself from other snowboarding games. However, several aspects of Amped 3's gameplay help it stand out from the crowd. While the standard courses offer a great deal of challenge, players can create and use their own layouts in the Snowbox mode, which allows you to place rails, jumps, small ramps and more elaborate objects such as ski lifts and lodges. These can be saved and used with other players and can then be played with friends as well. It's a surprisingly flexible system that gives you enough options to make designing your course worthwhile, and the simple interface makes the creation system easy to understand and use. While the previous games have featured elaborate online modes, Amped 3's scaled down Xbox Live support offers fewer options with only a few versus and challenge modes to compete in. However, it works nicely and allows you to compete online with little hassle. Still, the small scale is disappointing and one of the major drawbacks in an otherwise solid title.
From a visual standpoint, Amped 3 is a solid, if undistinguished title. It's courses are fairly large and the animations are fairly good as well. The game moves at a smooth frame rate throughout, with some light sourcing used. The snow looks realistic and the characters leave an imprint as they go down the course. However, the overall appearance of the game is somewhat flat compared to other 360 titles, and doesn't seem much more impressive from a technical standpoint than a traditional Xbox game. Some flourishes in its presentation make the game feel slightly more elaborate than what's expected from a current generation game, with better shadows and smoother details in the character models, but the overall effect of the visuals is somewhat disappointing. While the on-slope visuals are slightly disappointing, Amped 3 compensates for this with some of the more enjoyably offbeat cut-scenes seen in a recent game. These propel the wacky storyline forward with purposely cheap animation and effects that humorously satirize gaming conventions. The game's menus and iconography takes a hand-drawn punky fanzine look, which gives the game an edgy feel without becoming to obtrusive. However, it's not entirely original since EA's SSX On Tour took a similar approach with these ideas when it came out a few months ago. On the upside, the game's soundtrack is more interesting than usual with a large number of tracks from dozens of underground bands, with hundreds of songs available through the course of the game. While Amped 3 doesn't impress from a technical standpoint, its still a fine looking title with a decent presentation and loads of creativity that goes a long way in making you forgive some of its shortcomings.
With so many other snowboarding titles on the market, its interesting to see a publisher take chances to stand out from the pack. Amped 3 offers some surprises along the way, with its off-beat characters, strange plot and sometimes bizarre cut-scenes allowing the game to create a unique feel all its own. Playing a game with such a bizarre sense of humor makes for a more enjoyable experience, but Amped 3's actual play mechanics are generally solid with intuitive controls and accessible gameplay allowing for some cool tricks. While the graphics engine itself is only average, the developers have done a serviceable job in recreating the feel of snowboarding. The numerous mini-games and sub-quests add some variety, though the gameplay and controls can hardly be considered groundbreaking. While it's not as pretty or technically brilliant as some of the other Xbox 360, Amped 3's appeal lies more in the attitude it conveys and the atmosphere it creates. This isn't going to change the world, but its irreverent style and enjoyable and somewhat challenging gameplay makes Amped 3 an enoyable title that faithfully captures the rebellious spirit of snowboarding without becoming overly grating.