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Activision PS2 Holiday Buyer's Guide
Written by John Benedetto
December 13, 2002

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Looking for some gift ideas for the holidays? Whether you’re shopping for a game lover you know or are trying to come up with gift ideas to hand the relatives so you don’t end up yourself with a couple of sweaters and a pack of gold-toed socks, Activision has recently released a bevy of new titles worth consideration, all for $49.99 or less. While none of them happen to be Bloody Roar 4 (hey Activision, hint, hint) they are all very entertaining and would certainly enhance your PS2 library.

First off the line up, we have three titles from Activision’s O2 line, which specializes in extreme sports titles. Among the lineup are Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer, Matt Hoffman’s Pro BMX 2 and the remarkably successful franchise and flagship title, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. Kinda makes you wonder why they did not call the division Activision PrO2, since they like the word Pro so much. But hey, who am I to question people with business and marketing degrees?

Activision has definitely found a winning formula for these types of sports simulation games, and while each differs slightly, they all have a lot of features in common. Every game is crafted as if it’s actually one of the highlight films that can be found for practically every extreme sport, from waveboarding to skiing. Each opens with a rocking music track and full motion video footage of the featured athletes on the game, and there is more video to be found throughout the games, both as level intros and secrets to be unlocked. Every game features big time heavy hitters from each sport, not just the title character, so you have a multitude of choices when it comes time to pick a character. Also, each game follows a similar format wherein you select a character and try to take them on a quest to become professional athletes. All of the games also feature fantastic soundtracks that have both cutting edge mainstream artists as well as less well known underground groups. Honestly, all three of these games are worth a look just to expose yourself to the soundtracks of each.

Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer:  7 out of 10 KeysKelly Slater’s Pro Surfer takes you to some of the best beaches in the world on your quest to become a professional surfer. It boasts an impressive display of graphic engineering in the form of the water animation and wave generation, and Activision proudly claims that there is an unlimited number of interactive, populated waves — "you’ll never surf the same wave twice." At the risk to my reviewing credibility, I will admit that I did not play Pro Surfer long enough to test this claim, so we will have to take their word on it. This game pursues the career goal more ambitiously then the others, one of the first goals of the game is to pull off great tricks as a magazine photographer snaps photos. While the photography aspect exists in the other games as well, Pro Surfer incorporates it well into the goals of the game. Trying to do a "Nuclear Grab" is hard enough, without having to worry about when the camera is going off. Overall, when compared to the other two games, it’s obvious that Pro Surfer is the first title in a new franchise, as it has the least number of features of the three. Despite this, Pro Surfer is a very solid game, and one I would highly recommend for surfing fans of any experience.

Matt Hoffman's Pro BMX 2:  7 out of 10 KeysMatt Hoffman’s Pro BMX 2 follows a very linear plot involving a BMX bike tour road trip, with stops at different cities. This game blends both realism and video game style surrealism into its environments, with mundane things like pedestrians and less mundane things like helicopters making the lists of potential obstacles. This game is more goal oriented then Pro Surfer, in the sense that while you tear around the course, you have certain things you need to accomplish, like acquiring gas for the van or opening a warehouse door. Pro BMX 2 also possesses the only litany of flatland tricks to perform in any BMX game, which is especially useful if you happen to be afraid of heights. Other neat features include a revised course editor to craft your own BMX paradises, a Trick Tweaking system that allows you to enhance your combo linking and the two player Push mode. The last is a head to head competition where the better you perform, the larger your screen gets, and the smaller your opponent’s. The first to "squash" the other player wins. Definitely a fun party game.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4:  8 out of 10 KeysIn Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, you can definitely see the experience behind the previous Tony Hawk games come to bear. The game won me over instantly by providing AC/DC’s TNT as the cover song. What sets Pro Skater 4 apart from the other O2 titles is that this is a game that even someone who no interest in skateboarding can enjoy, thanks to the interactive nature of the environment and the sheer entertainment value of many of the level goals — such as outrunning "Officer Dick:" before he can bust your friends for boarding at their favorite spots. While Pro Skater 4 does not tamper much with the established formula, it does add some new improvements to the franchise, such as the ability to cruise free-roaming levels, with a whopping 190 goals to accomplish and, fortunately, no time limit. There are also new tricks like car skitching, and online game play with games like Capture the Flag that can include as many as eight players at a time. The gameplay is similar to Pro BMX and Pro Surfer, though you can play to your hearts content before you enter the pro circuit. Additionally, Pro Skater 4 features the popular "Create-a-skater" feature, which is pretty versatile, that allows you to make up your own character. Another entertaining aspect of Pro Skater 4 is the sheer amount of abuse that the athletes suffer at your inexperienced hands. While the other games take steps to communicate the extreme nature of their respective sports, Pro Skater 4 takes it a step further with spectacular crashes and wipeouts, spurting blood and the occasional limb clutched in pain. Of course, the whole reason one plays a video game instead of just going outside and hopping on your board is the ability to get back up despite the most grievous injuries they may have suffered, and that’s exactly what these little pixelated troopers do. Which is good, because if there were a health meter involved, I never would have gotten past the first level. Pro Skater 4 also boasts the most impressive song track list with bands like System of a Down, De La Soul and the Sex Pistols making the cut, to name a few.

Street Hoops:  7 out of 10 KeysWhile not originating from the O2 division, Activision’s Street Hoops is extreme in its own way. In this Street Basketball simulator, your hot-dog skills are just as important as your ball handling, and putting on a good show for the audience almost equals winning the game. Street Hoops opens with a full motion video sequence similar to those that worked so well in the Pro series of games, and features some spectacular footage of basketball skills that even the Harlem Globetrotters would notice. Street Hoops features eight real life street basketball legends as well as the ability to create your own player with the Create Baller. The latter is not as detailed a creator as the one found in Pro Skater 4, but its worth checking out just to see your character grow as you adjust his or her height. Street Hoops also features 10 courts from around the country, each with their own personality, level of skill, and style of play. Street Hoops also has its own version of the pro circuit — you can place bets on your games and use your winnings to buy new accessories and tattoos. Another similarity with the o2 games is the excellent soundtrack, which features hip-hop heavy hitters DMX, Ludacris, and Xzibit. Street Hoops provides an exciting variation to the basketball genre, with interesting modes of play like Lords of the Court and World Tournament. An aspect of these modes is that one player can be the main player, meaning the winnings and records are awarded to his save game, but other players can play on his team. If you are a fan of basketball games, and interested in a new style of play and management, then Street Hoops is definitely worth checking out.

Switching gears entirely, Activision’s three other titles all have one thing in common: They all feature characters from Marvel Comics. Activision did a fantastic job of capturing the essence of the X-men, Spiderman and Blade in their respective games. Each one is a delight to fans of the comic books and movies, as well as hardcore video gamers. In fact, Activision went so far as to actually use the voice talents of Toby Maguire, Willem Dafoe and Patrick Stewart for Spiderman and X-men, respectively. (Blade does not feature Wesley Snipes, but it sure sounds like him.)

X-Men Next Dimension : 7 out of 10 KeysWhile not actually affiliated with the movie, X-men: Next Dimension definitely has many of the mutant faces we saw on the big screen, as well as some other surprising additions. Old staples such as Cyclops and Wolverine as well as lesser-known characters like Lady Deathstrike and Forge are available for play. In total, there are 24 total characters, which is sure to delight fans of the comic book. As is the story line, which combines a few diverse story lines from different years into a new one. Older readers of X-men will be surprised to find elements of the classic storyline Days of Futures Past included in the Next Dimension’s plot. Speaking of plot, X-men: Next Dimension finds a unique way to incorporate story line into a fighting game, with a story mode that intersperses cinemas that further the plot with fighting levels. What makes this really work is the option to select various characters for different matches, as the story progresses. So you may play as Wolverine for the first few rounds, and then switch to Phoenix when Juggernaut attacks the Mansion. Another aspect of the game that is extremely well done is the use of variable levels. While this is nothing new for fighting games, X-men pulls it off with such style that you really feel that you are in a comic book. Things like throwing your opponent out a window and down two levels or blowing him into a car with a plasma blast, definitely crank the action up a few notches. Other then this, Next Dimension is a standard fighter, with one additional exception. Each character has a total of four super meters, which have to be filled to enable various super powers, which differ with each character. While that aspect is not new, the ability to manage to meters is, and by pressing various buttons, energy in one meter can be sent to another. While this is certainly a technique that takes a little practice, it adds yet another dimension to the fighting game. There are two flaws with Next Dimension: For one, character graphics are rather stylized, with exaggerated heads and hands. This is similar to a style that was seen in various X-titles from Marvel from time to time, and in my opinion detracts from the game, though this is largely a personal gripe. More importantly, the actual fighting is rather stiff and awkward, and not at the speed or fluidity that a fighting game on the PS2 is capable. However, neither of these gripes hurts X-men: Next Dimension all that badly, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the X-men.

Blade 2 :  8 out of 10 KeysWhereas the X-men have always been some of Marvel’s most popular characters, the vampire hunter Blade was less well known. In fact, when the original movie came out, very little emphasis on the comic book origin was made at all. This of course changed with the surprising success of the movie, and Marvel was very proud to claim Blade as their own when the sequel arrived in theaters. Plotwise, Blade II the game only loosely follows the movie script, despite yet another full motion video sequence opening which is actually a commercial for the movie, now available on DVD. What Blade II lacks in following the plot (not a lack at all, in my opinion) it makes up for in style however, and Blade II does a terrific job of capturing the elements of the films that made the movies so great. Blade’s utter disdain for the vampire scum — "suckheads" — that prey on humanity is readily apparent. From the casual manner in which he dispatches the bloodsuckers in droves to the little quips he makes about how much he loves his gun, you can tell Blade is a man who enjoys his work. Blade II follows a linear plot line, which involves three levels, each with approximately five sublevels that need to be completed in order. There are a few secrets to discover and sub-objectives to track down, the ultimate goal being to garner enough points to unlock new weapons. However the main goal of the game is to kill vampires, the number or opportunities for which are usually in the triple digits for each level. Blade carries an arsenal of weapons straight out of the movies, including his Mach Pistol, UV grenades, and the boomerang of death called The Glaive, to name a few. While selecting the right weapons is not necessarily crucial to the completion of each level, it certainly can make things easier, especially when you consider that Reapers (those crazy-mouthed vampires from the movie) can only be killed by UV Grenades, for example. This is also a game that definitely deserves its M rating, with lots of blood and gore and even the occasional profanity. All of this adds to the atmosphere of the game, and keeps it authentic with the movies, and Blade II would not have been nearly as good with a lesser rating. Blade II’s biggest flaw is the rather unorthodox combat setup, which involves using the right analog stick to attack enemies. While this allows for some varied combat in a 3D environment, it’s rather counter-intuitive at first and is made worse by the poor choice of buttons for other options, like attack and jump. However, your time is well spent learning this new way to kick some butt, as once you get the hang of it, Blade II becomes very entertaining indeed.

Spider-Man:  9 out of 10 KeysAnd since Blade actually is considered to be part of the Spiderman universe within the "Marvel-verse," it’s only fitting that we now look at Spidey. While this is actually the third Spiderman title that Activision has done (the first two being for the PSX) this one is closely tied in with the wildly popular movie. Activision very wisely kept the same elements that worked so well in the first two games, which includes an excellent play control system that allows you take full advantage of the wall-crawler’s abilities, including a few options that were not seen in the movie, like the Web-dome. The game follows the plot of the movie, in that the Green Goblin is your ultimate nemesis. However, it fills out the villain list with other Spidey classics like The Vulture, Scorpion and Shocker. Spiderman follows a linear plot, but the levels are varied and exciting, with many challenges existing in each one. Many times Spiderman’s role as a hero comes into play, as he is forced to deviate from his goal of stopping the bad guy to rescue civilians and repair any damage that the super-villain has caused. The original Spider-man games were excellent, and this latest addition only improves upon their strengths. The wisecracking Webslinger we all know and love is brought to life in beautifully rendered graphics that really leap off the screen during the aerial web swinging levels. This is also a game with an almost perfect level of difficulty, easy enough to keep you playing, but difficult enough that you don’t get bored. While some people familiar with the first two Spidey games may feel that Spider-man is too similar, the improved graphics and sound, as well as the A-list talent, should alleviate those complaints. An excellent game, and one for a wide range of ages.

 

 

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