Who hasn't dreamed, at one point or another, of being a professional athlete? As common as it must be for people to wish they had the talent, celebrity, and salary of pro football, basketball, and hockey players, for example, there's something particularly appealing about being the master of a freestyle solo sport. Say, for instance, snowboarding. It'd sure be nice to get paid and showered in sponsored equipment just for pulling off incredible stunts in the cool, crisp mountain air. In reality, very few are anywhere near cut out to be pro boarders. So, Amped 2, like its 2001 predecessor, lets you experience an abstract version of the rags-to-riches process of going from an enthusiast snowboarder to a seasoned pro. In addition to this unique approach, the game features more than a dozen real-life pro riders, various locations modeled after popular real-life snowboarding venues, a huge and diverse soundtrack, and online play for up to eight players at a time. Also like its predecessor, Amped 2's main area of weakness, unfortunately, is in the gameplay itself. Though there are some interesting new additions, Amped 2 remains rather cumbersome and is simply not as enjoyable as other alternative sports games. Certainly, fans of the original Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding may beg to differ, but these are the same people who'll be fans of Amped 2.
Amped 2 is not the only snowboarding game to be released in the past several weeks, but, for better or worse, it's a very different game than the superb SSX 3. SSX 3 has no real pretensions of realism, and its over-the-top, arcadelike gameplay is easier to grasp and probably easier to master than Amped 2's system. SSX 3 is also primarily a racing game in which you compete against other riders to get to the finish line first, whereas Amped 2 is focused squarely on tricking. The Xbox version of SSX 3 also doesn't offer any online play, whereas Amped 2 does, and the online play is probably this game's most compelling feature. Ultimately, Amped 2 provides somewhat of a more true-to-life snowboarding experience than SSX 3, but that's a relative comparison. It would be highly dubious to describe Amped 2 as "realistic," on its own merits, for a number of reasons.
Though the gameplay of Amped 2 will be familiar to those who played the original game, as well as to those who've played other alternative sports games, its unique use of analog control is something that takes considerable getting used to. Fortunately, a step-by-step tutorial is available to walk you through and let you practice the basics. It must go on the record that the instructor of this tutorial is just painfully uncool. He makes condescending kindergarten-style phrases, like "Great job!" when you perform rudimentary tasks and makes hopelessly failed attempts to be hip by using such words as "sick," "tight," and the ever-popular "rip dog." It's a remote possibility that the madness coming out of this guy's mouth was intended to be funny. At any rate, he does ultimately help teach you the ropes, so he deserves a little credit.
As in the previous Amped game, the left analog stick is used for turning, accelerating, and braking, as well as for spinning and flipping in midair. Additionally, it's also now used for pulling off butters, the snowboarding equivalent of the skateboarding manual, which, just like in the Tony Hawk series, is used for linking tricks together into combos. All this is really too much functionality to dump onto just one analog stick. It's difficult to wind up for a spin since doing so causes you to turn. It's difficult to wind up for a backflip since doing so causes you to slow down. With practice, you'll learn to compensate for the sensitive control and overlapping functionality of the left analog stick. That won't change the fact that this is a rather clunky and limiting control scheme, even if it does force you to keep a steady hand.
Meanwhile, the right analog stick is used primarily for grab tricks. You get a different midair trick by pointing the right stick in one of eight directions, and these tricks may be tweaked by using the shoulder buttons. Since the A button is used for accelerating and jumping, you'll need to quickly slide your hand over from the A button to the right stick, which seems clunky, but actually is a reasonable simulation of how a real-life snowboarder must go out of his or her way to grab the board. Other than that, the B button is used for sliding on rails, and the Y button is used for lip tricks--when you balance on your board at the edge of a half-pipe or quarter-pipe. In addition to snowboards, Amped 2 features snowskates, which are like snowboards only without bindings to keep your feet in place. When riding on these, you may also execute kickflips in midair with the X button.
In addition to using butters to link together railslides, grab tricks, and such, Amped 2 also lets you earn extra points by pulling off moves with "style," as the game puts it. Rather than try to spin as hard and as fast as possible while in midair, you may gently apply the analog sticks, which causes a style meter to fill up as your trick is being executed. The idea is to alternatively reward the player for using finesse rather than grinding out the most insane trick possible, and it's a good idea. Too bad there's no real visible difference between a trick done with "style" and a plain-looking trick.
Unfortunately, the "style" system doesn't change the fact that the physics in Amped 2 leave a lot to be desired. The game's realistic aspects apply primarily in ways that make the game less enjoyable to play. Landings are still quite unforgiving, which was also an issue in the first Amped. If you land sideways or a few degrees off of parallel from the snow, you bail, obviously lose the points for your trick, and somewhat slowly get back on your feet. Even if you do manage to land upright, unless you line up your landing perfectly or almost perfectly, you'll take a hit to your trick score. Transitioning straight into a butter requires some very stringent timing, too. On the other hand, you almost magically stick to rails with the B button, and rails are pretty common, so you'll frequently aim yourself at these to keep from botching a landing. This is kind of strange, since one would expect that it must be harder to land stably on a thin rail than it would be to do so onto relatively solid footing. Also, the action in the game just feels too "floaty" overall. There's very little sense of speed or acceleration, either while on the powder or in the air. Amped 2 also has some pretty glaring issues with clipping and collision detection. On the occasions when you do miss a rail, you'll often pass clear on through it, and sometimes you'll pass through other obstacles. The back button on the controller resets you back on track, should you get stuck.
The actual structure of Amped 2's main mode of play, the career mode, is good and is like that of the first game. There are a ton of venues and events to unlock, and there's next to no loading time when switching between them. The game's diverse soundtrack plays constantly in the background, so there's really no interruption, which is great. After you create your rider, by simply choosing a look and a name, you then head off and start doing your thing on the mountain. You may coast down the mountain of your choice in a leisurely fashion to just scope it out, and whenever you're ready and whenever you want, you can start tricking and racking up a high score. Separately, you'll also want to impress the media by tricking in particular places where you see a big, floating camera icon. Plenty of ramps and rails are around to facilitate your efforts, and there are a few other points of interest to look out for as well. Each mountain has a number of gaps to jump, particular trick challenges to pull off, and snowmen to run into. The snowmen are supposed to be funny, but they come off as pretty stupid. Located in remote areas of each mountain, you'll know when you're close to one of these guys from their incessant, high-pitched babbling. The developers must have thought this was funny. Some other people might, too.
As you accomplish goals on each mountain, you'll unlock photo shoot events, in which you need to ride or jump through a series of rings while performing tricks. You'll also unlock sponsor events, in which you need to go through a run while pulling off whatever type of trick that sponsor happens to fancy. You'll also get to race alongside some pro boarders and participate in some challenging events where you'll be trying to out-trick a number of other competitors on the way down a mountain. Overall, there's a lot to do in Amped 2's career mode, which rewards you primarily by unlocking tougher, new venues but also improving stats for your rider and presenting him or her with plenty of licensed clothing.
You may take your rider online, and that's where Amped 2 is probably at its most entertaining. The two main online modes are "just ride" and "session," and the difference is mainly that the latter mode offers more customization options, while the former is a pure high-score contest for up to eight players. It pretty much boils down to scoring either way. Our time spent racing online was completely lag free, and, as is the case with any Xbox Live-compatible game, it can be fun to banter with other players in the middle of a match. In particular, since this game isn't so much about direct competition (i.e., killing each other), players tend to have a slightly better attitude than in some other online games, and they may be willing to give you some pointers about how to hone your technique. Also, much like the competitive events of the career mode, it's basically just more fun to be gunning for other players' high scores than for arbitrary, abstract goals. Amped 2 also offers a split-screen multiplayer mode for two players, though unlike the recent Crimson Skies, you can't both go online. Amped 2 also supposedly offers compatibility with Microsoft's XSN Sports network, which allows you to form "packs" of boarders with other like-minded players. This functionality hasn't actually been implemented yet, though.
The original Amped, a first-generation Xbox title, showed off many of the system's proprietary graphical effects and came off looking great. Graphical standards have continued to increase rapidly since that time, and today, Amped 2 looks pretty good, at best. The game doesn't run smoothly, and many of the rider animations look stiff. The snow, which is heavily bump-mapped and sometimes sparkly, tends to look too flat and thick rather than powdery like the real thing. Trees look fine from afar but are horrendously pixelated up close. Amped 2 does sport an impressive draw distance, meaning you can see a great deal of the environment at any given time, and some nice ambient lighting is well used to create convincing day, afternoon, and night weather. If you don't look too carefully at the game, it'll give you the impression that you're actually out on the slopes.
Like its predecessor, Amped 2 is noteworthy for including a downright incredible number of unheard-of songs, which stream continuously, one after another, as you play the game. You can add them to a favorites list or rip your own music if you prefer. Genres include everything from emo to reggae, with plenty of rap and rock in between. The variety and volume is certainly the best thing about this soundtrack, which spans literally hundreds of songs. The rest of the audio in Amped 2 is fine, but it's nothing remarkable, aside from the aforementioned tutorial instructor and the snowmen. The only other thing is that some of the speech you'll hear from people on the sidelines repeats too often for its own good, and sometimes they'll refer to female riders as "man," though maybe that's meant as a term of endearment.
Amped 2 is a predictable-enough sequel. It adds a couple of new control features to the original game, but it doesn't address the underlying flaws of the system. It adds a good online play component and gives you plenty of snow to shred. The game can primarily be recommended to fans of the previous title, though if you didn't play the first one and you like the idea of a snowboarding game you can play online, Amped 2 would suitably fit the bill.