Freestyle Metal X Preview
We take a look at an early version of Midway's heavy-metal-themed motocross racer.
What do you get when you combine the "live fast, die young" lifestyles of both motocross racing and heavy-metal music? More than likely, something that closely resembles Midway's current extreme sports project, Freestyle Metal X, a game that features nine professional motocross riders, massive environments, loads of insane stunts, and more grinding guitars than you can shake a stick at. We recently got to take a look at a previewable build of the PlayStation 2 version of the game, and though it has a few rough spots, Freestyle Metal X is shaping up to be a promising title.
In the current build, Freestyle Metal X features four gameplay modes, but its primary focus is its career mode. You'll start your career by selecting one of seven of the game's original riders, including such colorful characters as the Jamaican-inspired Bob Gnarly, the mullet-headed Wheels, and the ninja assassin Jien Yong. Riders have their own varying levels of strength, style, balance, and airtime, and these attributes can be bulked up by advancing through the career mode. You can also choose from a list of several different motocross bikes. Though each rider has one bike specifically designed for him or her, you can use any of the bikes in the game, and all the bikes are customizable both cosmetically and performance-wise. You'll also be able to customize a rider's name, trick list, and gear.
The progression of the career mode is similar to that of many other entries in the extreme sports genre, but with a few interesting twists. You start with one main area unlocked and a set of challenges for that area. These challenges range from performing tricks using specific ramps and obstacles to collecting a series of items or destroying a certain number of objects throughout the level. Cindy, a bubbly blonde who hangs around the levels, assigns you your objectives. Beyond a few goals that must be completed in a set amount of time, there are no real time limits in the game, leaving you with a lot of open time to explore the massive environments and figure out exactly how you want to attack them. You also have the ability to leave the level you're in and head to another one without having to quit out--all the areas in the game are connected, so if you find an exit that leads to another level you've unlocked, you can head on over there at your convenience.
Every level in the game also has its own set of competitions. Here, you compete against other characters in specific contests such as big-air contests, freestyle rides, and races. Winning these competitions earns you cash to purchase upgrades for your bike. Additionally, each level has a boss racer that you must defeat to complete it. These bosses are the game's nine real-life motocross racers, including such well-known riders as Jeff Tilton, Ronnie Faisst, Clifford Adoptante, Nate Adams, Kris Rourke, and Mike Jones. Defeating these riders in competition unlocks them in the rest of the game.
Freestyle Metal X's other modes are all fairly standard for extreme sports games. Quick play is like a practice or single-player mode, where you can race through any of the game's unlocked levels and hone your skills. Party mode is a multiplayer affair, where up to nine players can compete against one another in any of the game's competitions. The game also features a level editor that allows you to design your own environment, placing everything from ramps, jumps, and street obstacles wherever you like.
Freestyle Metal X also features a very user-friendly control scheme. On the PlayStation 2, you use the X button to accelerate, the square button to brake, and the left analog stick to steer. When pressed in conjunction with a combination of directions on the analog stick, the circle button executes one of your racer's many tricks. The triangle button acts as a modifier button of sorts--when pressed during a trick, it adds a combination move to that trick, such as a one-hander or no-footer. Furthermore, pressing and holding the R1 button builds your preload meter up. Once it hits its peak, you will perform a preload, which is essentially a speed burst that allows you to fly over small obstacles and get more air off jumps.
For the most part, the game handles very well, and the trick-combo system provides a lot of crazy stunt-oriented fun. There are, however, some flaws in the game's sense of physics. Generally speaking, landing in an awkward fashion will properly punish you with a horrendous crash, but there are also a lot of gray areas and landings that players really shouldn't be able to get away with. Sideways landings, backward landings, and some occasional mid-trick landings are just a few examples. Additionally, the trick buttons can be a bit unresponsive at times, leading to some instances where you're halfway toward the ground before your first trick is even pulled off. These are all fairly minor issues in the grand scheme of things, and they will probably be addressed before the game ships.
Graphically, Freestyle Metal X looks pretty good, but definitely not perfect. The game's environments are gigantic, with plenty of variety and interactive elements to keep things fresh and interesting. The character models for the riders all look quite good as well, every one with its own individual look and style. Unfortunately, the game suffers from some rough frame rate and collision issues. In the later levels of the career mode, the game will suddenly take a significant frame rate hit, seemingly at random. In one situation, there were definitely a number of other characters wandering about near our rider, which could account for the drop, but in another, we were sitting in an open field without anything else going on. Additionally, we also came across several trees and ramps that could simply be ridden through. Again, these are the kinds of things that will likely be fixed before the game goes gold, but they are certainly worth noting.
Thankfully, the game's audio is in significantly better condition. Of course, the most notable aspect of Freestyle Metal X's audio is its soundtrack. Though it currently features only five bands, the game has around 12 tracks, including songs from such esteemed metal icons as Motley Crue, Motorhead, Twisted Sister, and Megadeth. This soundtrack is definitely the crux of the game's atmosphere, so anyone who isn't especially interested in the heavy-metal style might be a bit put off. The rest of the game's sound is about what one would expect. The sound effects are all what they should be--engines revving, tires screeching, bodies crashing into the pavement, and so on. Voice work is scant, but not altogether missing, as Cindy the mission-assignment girl will explain all your missions in giggly, high-pitched detail, and every rider has his or her own short list of grunts and basic taunts.
Current physics and visual issues not withstanding, Freestyle Metal X is coming together quite well. Featuring an in-depth career mode, a good variety of characters, enjoyable multiplayer modes, and a quality soundtrack, the game has all the makings of an excellent motocross title. If Midway can hammer out the physics issues and polish up the graphics, there's no reason why Freestyle Metal X shouldn't be exactly the kind of game motocross fans everywhere can appreciate. Freestyle Metal X is scheduled for release in June for all three console platforms. Expect more coverage and a full review as the release date draws near.
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