It's Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed as TransWorld Skateboarding contests the throne held by that Tony Hawk dude.
A few years ago, games based on "extreme" sports were like mullets--a national embarrassment that brought ridicule from anyone who didn't live in a trailer park or have Motley Crue posters taped to their walls.
But then a guy by the name of Tony Hawk descended from the heavens and blessed us with a title that opened our eyes to the truth: Extreme games could be cool (well, he didn't actually make the game, but these stories tend to read better if you substitute "Tony Hawk" for "random computer geek").
Soon enough, the market was flooded with more extreme sports games than you could shake a corn dog at. The offerings ranged from the phenomenal (SSX Snowboarding) to the fulsome (MTV Skateboarding, which should have come packaged with a "get well" card).
The flood of extreme titles continues, and Infogrames hopes to ride the crest of that wave with TransWorld Skateboarding for Xbox. Borrowing its title from the alternative sports magazine, TransWorld Skateboarding may be a quality pinch hitter for those who've seen enough of Tony Hawk 2 (which also is heading for Xbox).
The basic gameplay should ring a few bells: Pick a famous skater, perform outlandish tricks in any number of posh locales, and open up cool extras along the way. Fortunately, TS has a little more up its sleeve than the tried-and-true skateboarding formula. New gameplay modes--Tag the Level, Nail Your Goals, and Skateboarding Magazine--bring an inventive twist to the table.
Tag the Level is an evolution of the tagging competition found only in the two-player mode of THPS. Players are asked to pursue the favored pastime of reckless endangerment, with such high-minded goals as smashing windshields, tipping phone booths, and upending fire hydrants.
Nail Your Goals is the steak and potatoes mode, in which players pull off tricks, earn points, and unlock a gaggle of goodies. We've seen this before, but no skateboarding game would be complete without it.
Skateboarding Magazine sounds like the most inspired mode so far. Players must track down TransWorld photographers (using a map) and then demonstrate their "skillz" before popping flashbulbs. Success in this particular game is measured by fame--those who have the right stuff, and get it immortalized on film, will earn the highest scores.
The lineup of skaters in TS is a little less illustrious than the dream team in the Tony Hawk camp, but they definitely hold their own. Bob Burnquist (a THPS defector) heads a roster that includes Brian Anderson, Kenny Hughes, Heath Kirchart, Rick McCrank, Colin Mckay, Matt Mumford, Arto Saari and Jeremy Wray, among others.
Piecing it all together is Barking Dog, best known for robbing PC gamers of sleep with Cataclysm, their stellar add-on to Homeworld.
They're putting the console's bulging muscles to good use, crafting detailed environments with reams of interactive elements. Pedestrians clog the streets (and practically beg to get bowled over), dogs nip at your heels, and flowing traffic is a constant road pizza in the making.
TransWorld will feature ten different locales, spanning the globe from Barcelona and London to New York, Vancouver, and Rio. The game also will tout a variety of unique environments, from the streets and sidewalks of a bustling city to the skatepark in some spoiled punk's backyard ("Dad, I'll just die if I don't get a half-pipe!").
You can rest assured that the music in TS is amazing. We know this because it's your music. Why settle for the half-baked opinions of others when you can run your own favorite tunes off the Xbox hard drive? Other skateboarding games have fared well in the music department, but for every ten people who would give their kidneys to punk rock, there's a guy like me who would rather roast over a spit than listen to another two chords from Green Day. The ability to call your own musical shots is a major plus, we say.
As expected, the visuals look sharp, but it's too early to tell if TS is prom queen material. With beautiful textures, sweet particle effects, and Xbox's signature dynamic lighting, TS is definitely in the running for top visual honors.
The biggest remaining question is how the gameplay will turn out. Gameplay is the heart of any sports game--without it, there is no chance for survival, especially when pitted against Tony Hawk and its near-perfect mechanics. The success of TS in this department is pending until we get a hands-on with the game. Don't worry, you'll know as soon as we do.
There are no plans for online play, but up to four people can go head-to-head (to-head-to-head) with the multiplayer options. We'll be back with more on this title as its late 2001 release date approaches.
Never wears knee pads.