GerbilMechs 073 : The Experts

06Jan04 (Monthenor): Welcome back! It was harder than I thought to start drawing again, so the backgrounds are kind of sparse. Of course, it's hard to just get out of bed in the morning when it's a holiday break and -10 outside.

So what did I do over break?

Tony Hawk: Underground: Ouch. I've been a big fan of Hawks 2, 3, and 4, but Underground just didn't cut it. The problems all stem from their new focus on a storyline and freedom from skateboarding. The frequent cutscenes, while advancing the story, completely interrupt the flow of the game. Sometimes you don't even get to see how many points your l33t c0mb0 scored before the game stutter-steps into the next segment of inane banter. Also, the merchandising is getting out of hand: not only do they force you to join an amateur skate shop (which I'm pretty sure is fictional), but one entire chapter involves you trying to get shoe sponsorship from several real-life companies. I'm sure they paid handsomely to be included.

The much-hyped walking and driving portions are shit. Pure steamy shit. Your walking controls are far too analog-sensitive and look completely unnatural. It's only useful in a couple places where you want to climb and is only strictly necessary in the missions that explicitly force you to run. The driving is even worse/more useless. Every car handles like it's tires are bald. And made of ice. While driving on ice.

The trick editor and create-a-skater options are both very well done, and some of the individual goals are fun. The last "boss", especially, actually gave me a challenge that Tony Hawk 4 never did. Also, the new skill system makes you do complete specific little goals to increase your skill points (i.e. Grind for 10 seconds to increase your Grind stat). It makes sense and adds a few welcome sub-goals that don't involve cutscenes.

You'll perhaps notice that all the negatives I bring up have to do with things that aren't skateboarding, while all the positives are about skateboarding. Maybe Neversoft should rethink this push to make their skateboarding game do non-skateboarding activities.

Futurama: Mostly good. It's as funny as the the cutscenes. The levels themselves are boring platforming tripe occasionally livened up by in-jokes for fans. Also, this is the first game in a long time that forced me to use a cheat code. There was one board that, theoretically, I could have beaten, but I was not having any fun. Imagine if you will Dr. Zoidberg riding a blue scaly "horse" down a swampy path. Now imagine that this horse takes huge floaty jumps that might not leave you time to jump again before the next obstacle. Now imagine that this horse tries to steer its own way, fighting your joystick input. Now imagine that the least little tap against the tiniest tree root in your path will kill you. Now imagine you have a two minute time limit to reach the end. You now are in my own private hell with me. My last attempt I actually died within sight of the end, brushing my horsie's flank against an evil tree obstacle.

Verdict: if you can find the cutscenes somewhere, there's no reason to play this game.

Xenosaga: Der Wille Zur Macht: Brilliant. Just as good as I remember. I bought it from Gamefly for cheap, and eagerly await the second chapter. I've already sunk thirty hours into finishing the game, and another five into the card "minigame", and am now leveling my characters to completely sick heights in preparation for stomping the game down again. Dare you face my Realian Bomb deck? I thought not.