Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone

EA's BIG brand has another hit on its hands with Freekstyle on the PS2. It's an extreme BMX racing title with stunning stunts and tricks, not to mention challenging courses and aggressive competitors. While it can be accused of lacking originality, the solid engine and intuitive controls remain outstanding. Building on the successful SSX formula means players will find that the play balance is excellent. This is a solid game and works on many levels. A mix of daredevil stunts, heart-pounding racing, and sheer entertainment value makes Freekstyle one of the best in this ongoing franchise to date.

Following the traditions and conventions of SSX, EA extends its BIG brand to include a BMX title Freekstyle. This title should appeal to the same extreme sports audience that embraced SSX, but the game's emphasis on pulling tricks differentiates it from the pack. Freekstyle's overall play structure is similar, and doesn't diverge from the formula with the player earning boosts by successfully landing tricks. Players will need to master two main elements in each race, gaining position and performing tricks. There are several modes included in the game. Firstly, there's a Freestyle mode which is a single race where you can practice. The main game lies in the competitive modes. The standard racing mode's object is to compete and win each race, on a succession of wild tracks. Players are given an entirely different set of indoor tracks in the freestyle mode. There's no one to fight here, you simply perform tricks to get high-scores. These modes can be played separately but are combined in the game's Circuit mode. This involves winning races in standard racing and reaching point targets in Freekstyle mode, so you'll have to be good in both aspects. This is quite challenging and will take some time to complete, but is the only way to unlock additional tracks, outfits and characters.

Another cool game-variation in Freekstyle is the Countdown mode where you have to perform as many elaborate stunts as you can before the timer runs out. Players will find the game's different modes provide plenty of variety and challenge throughout and adding to their trick books is one of the hardest things to do, especially later on when you need more advanced techniques. This does tend to get monotonous after awhile and while they are cool in design, they seem to be a little bit long, but this is a problem that also affected SSX. The upside to this is that small crashes and spills won't knock you out of the race immediately. The large tracks also means that it's possible to build up momentum during the first few rounds, then unleash your boosts during the last lap to give you the edge. This strategy is further encouraged by the Freakout special moves, which are really cool and powerful once you get the hang of the bullet time effect.

The tracks themselves are large, and players will also find that they offer plenty of obstacles and challenge. There are huge jumps in each course, and the size of each gap will have an effect on which stunts are performed. Bigger gaps mean more elaborate stunts can be performed. There are many different tricks to perform and these can be strung together to create. Performing the moves is surprisingly simple, involving the back shift buttons in different combinations. The key skill in doing the tricks is timing and knowing how long to hold the trick without crashing, which isn't as easy as it sounds. It's tempting to get greedy, but you also gain bonus points for clean landings, which makes it a matter of style. However, the tricks system is quite versatile and allows your character to have plenty of style. Players can also chain different moves together in the longer jumps. Additionally, some of the courses have secret branching areas which can get you to the finish line.

One of the biggest hallmarks of the BIG series is the boost meter, and Freekstyle is no exception to this proven gameplay convention. As usual, performing stunts earns you boost energy which is separated into two sections. On the left is the normal boost, which works as usual, but to the right is the more powerful Freek Boost, which can only be used once the left bar is filled. Once both of the boost bars are filled, a sick move called the Freekout is enabled. When you jump with both bars filled, you push all four shift buttons simultaneously, which unleashes a super cool moves, where the action slows down in bullet time, allowing you to chain many moves together for a short period of time. This effect is really awesome and makes the gameplay much more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise.

Since it shares the same engine and a similar structure with SSX, it should come as no surprise that Freekstyle's controls and interface are excellent. Playing is easy to understand and even with some complexity in performing the more complicated moves, Freekstyle never lets you down. EA BIG deserves praise for once again delivering an addictive freedom of movement that most players crave. While the racing is challenging thanks to the aggressive enemies, the courses are straightforward enough to allow for plenty of stunts without sacrificing intensity. What really makes the game shine is the fact that its tricks system is integrated into things seamlessly. This allows for many different maneuvers and makes performing the stunts feel seamless without ruining the game's flow. Each rider also has their own unique style and moves, so while the button combinations are similar, each character provides a different trick which makes the gameplay incredibly deep, and also makes replaying addictive and fun.

From a production and technical standpoint, Freekstyle is quite impressive. It takes full advantage of the PS2's powers with large, expansive courses filled with cool obstacles and objects. Character animations are well-done, which can especially be seen in the replay modes. The game moves along at an incredibly fast frame-rate and the engine doesn't suffer the usual PS2 jaggies, giving it a smooth appearance. From the stylish menu design to the cool course layouts, this is an exceptionally designed title, and the attention to detail is excellent, with realistic fire, dust, dirt and water effects giving the environments a realistic feel. Freekstyle's frenetic gameplay is further accented with cool voice-overs and announcers adding to the overall intensity. The music is appropriately intense and features metal soundtrack that fits the game's extreme nature perfectly.

Freekstyle's stunt-based racing action makes for quite an experience. It's replay value is very high thanks to the crazy stunts, and challenging play. Additionally, the many exciting modes of play add to the game's appeal, as does the fun atmosphere. The numerous modes of play and bevy of extra tracks, modes and characters should keep you occupied for quite some time. Freekstyle's highly polished appearance makes for an awesome atmosphere that sucks you right into its edgy world. It may be a tad unoriginal, but the game's emphasis on stunts keeps things fresh. What's more, the execution of Freekstyle is nearly flawless, making it addictive and enjoyable throughout. Players with an addiction to these types of game should enjoy Freekstyle's entertaining gameplay. It's outstanding and arrives on PS2 as another outstanding entry in EA's burgeoning extreme sports series.

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