Sometimes, games get canceled. It happens for a variety of reasons, but game publishers don't often own up to their cancellations. Instead, canned products--at least the low-profile ones--simply vanish off the radar, without notice. Gravity Games Bike: Street Vert Dirt was originally planned for release on all three major console platforms. Shortly after the PlayStation 2 release met with some of the worst reviews of the year, the GameCube version of the game was publicly canceled in a quarterly report from Midway. The Xbox version of the game, however, silently slipped off retailer preorder lists and was assumed to have met the same fate as its GameCube cousin. Yet a recent trip to the popular warehouse shopping haven Costco unearthed not only a great deal on 8,500 rolls of toilet paper for the price of $25.00, but also this gem of a game, in final packaging and officially licensed by Microsoft.
Wasn't it canceled? Why is it on shelves at a discount price of $19.99 but can be found only at this one particular chain? Midway obviously isn't terribly interested in talking about such an awful product, and we may never know the truth about how it finally came into being, but hey: Here it is. Midway's BMX game exists on the Xbox, and yes, it's just as awful as its PlayStation 2 predecessor.
Like Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX or Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX, Gravity Games puts you in the role of a BMX biker and gives you a handful of levels to ride around in. Most of the levels have goals that must be accomplished to unlock later levels. Goals in this game include the obligatory score-based tasks, as well as item collection--in this case, each level has letters throughout it that, when collected, eventually spell the word "gravity." There are also level-specific goals, such as breaking 10 lights by grinding on them or freeing a "chick" who has been tied to a set of train tracks. Other levels are competition-based, and you simply must score highly with the judges to earn a medal and proceed. You are allowed to replay each level as many times as you like, but you can only play in three-minute chunks.
On paper, it sounds like just another clone of the other alternative sports games. But the execution is where Gravity Games loses all of its points. The control scheme is a bit like that in the Dave Mirra games, in principle. One button is used for doing tricks, while another can be used to modify those tricks, turning supermans into one-handed supermans and so on. But the control in this game is so insanely stiff that it's difficult to jump at the right time, let alone effectively do tricks. The jerky frame rate and drunken camera motion only serve to aggravate you even further. The timing on the trick modifiers is seemingly split-second--you'll have to bust out the modifier move almost instantaneously after performing the base trick. Grinds and stalls are stupidly easy to balance, and the game's trick system actually rewards you for doing one trick over and over again, meaning the easiest way to score points is to merely stall the bike on a lip and continually jump up and down, landing a lip trick each time.
By the time you've done this seven or eight times, the points will be counting up at a ridiculous speed, and the balancing act is so easy to maintain that you could easily just rack up points for the entire three minutes of your run, achieving both score goals and the overly ambiguous "land a sick trick" goal all at once. The game has manuals, which, if done properly, will let you string tricks together and extend combos, but the timing on the manuals is also a complete mess. The game's one not-so-weak point is that it has pretty large levels. Unfortunately, the level designers forgot to include items to ride on and trick off of, giving most levels a cavernous, empty feel.
Further hampering the gameplay is a long list of bugs that make Gravity Games Bike a solid candidate for funniest game of the year. Your bike will get stuck up against walls, the frame will get hung up on rails, you'll occasionally respawn inside a piece of the level geometry--the list of broken gameplay elements goes on and on. Sometimes you'll even crash through walls and locked gates only to appear on the other side without having to actually open the gate via conventional means. It's also extremely easy to get hung up in corners and have no way to turn the bike around, because the front tire will just continually bump up against the walls. Getting hung up on the lips of ramps and other awkward areas is also a constant hassle. In short, the physics model in this game is a complete joke.
The Xbox version of this game isn't quite as muddy as the PS2 version was from a texture standpoint, but that's not to say that this game looks good in any way. Graphical glitches pop up throughout the game. For example, a lot of times you'll notice that you aren't so much riding on the ground as you are in the ground--the bike actually rides lower than the floor plane in some segments of the levels. Shadows break up from time to time, and the rider animation is very jerky. The game's sound is almost entirely nonexistent. Most of the levels are eerily silent, except for some occasional pedal noise and the sound of your bike crashing or landing. The soundtrack features a lot of music, but most of it consists of generic uninspired tracks, including a handful of rap tracks recorded specifically for the game by people who are credited as "special guest rappers" in the manual. In a fitting, budget-minded touch, the guest rappers must be down with the programming team, as many of the developers' first names are checked in one of the rhymes. Licensed songs include tracks from Sugar Ray, 311, and Disturbed.
Gravity Games Bike: Street Vert Dirt is an unfinished product that somehow dodged a billion bullets and ended up on at least some store shelves. In case you skipped to the bottom of the review without reading anything else, let's be perfectly clear: This game is, without a doubt, one of the worst products ever released. It will eternally battle Kabuki Warriors for the title of "Xbox game most likely to make your brain explode." With that said, you might as well consider purchasing this product. It's so bad that you might want to occasionally pop it in for both a laugh and a clear picture of what games look like when they need another six or seven months of development time and bug testing. Plus, with its spooky appearance on store shelves in limited quantities, there's probably some form of collector's value to be found here. Maybe it's all an evil scam.