After many months of controversy, BMX XXX is, ahem, 'barely' a week away from release. We've been watching this one's progress for a while, and some of the signs have actually been quite promising. Constructed by the team responsible for the excellent Aggressive Inline, triple-X looks like a reasonable BMX title despite its lewd tendencies, and truth be told we were looking forward to playing it. Having done so though, we're not exactly enamoured, and don't think you will be either.
There are several immediate differences when compared to Tony Hawk et al. First of all, there's no timer, something which departed with Z-Axis' previous skating title. Instead there's a health meter, which empties as you bail and land splat face-down on the concrete and fills with each successfully completed challenge. New levels are opened up by completing a minimum number of goals in each, and the notorious stripper videos are unlocked by the most difficult challenges. But ignoring them for a moment...
The vaunted 'humour' element is extremely brazen. Expect to hear sex jokes, foul language and wacky, perhaps even zany, explanations as to why you're grinding a particular bar or switch, or skitching a cop car. There are some 'clever' bits, like a Winona Ryder look-alike shoplifter (surely she's too pretty to lock up?), but on the whole it's a 'point and laugh' kind of humour rather than a hearty laugh out loud spectacle.
The challenges you're faced with involve all sorts of lewd tasks, generally centred around someone's bodily functions, but it all feels a bit too Beavis and Butthead for our liking. Challenge briefings may be 'funny' but they aren't all that descriptive, and you often have to sit there watching the seconds tick away on the challenge clock, desperately trying to figure out where you're going and what you're meant to do.
And despite so unashamedly borrowing from Tony Hawk throughout Aggressive Inline, Z-Axis hasn't opted to pilfer one of his latest additions, the 'restart challenge' menu option which skips you back to the start of a task. For the first half an hour or so, triple-X is immensely frustrating and directionless, and you won't amass too many points or challenge wins, and you probably won't unlock anything - we didn't! Admittedly we were without a manual, but it's a skating game... how hard are they to unravel these days?
Actually, triple-X is harder than most because we were forced to get our heads round a mostly new control system, and for all the debauchery we've seen, the game's levels are actually rather barren, with so few ramps, rails and other obstacles that it's difficult to pull off a decent chain. You won't be looping levels endlessly and scoring tens of thousands of points right off the bat here, unless you can find the momentum of a freight train and boast dexterity enough to keep the balance pendulum centred for long periods of time...
Visually and aurally it's a game that belongs on PS2, or perhaps even PSone at times. Playing the Xbox version felt rather awkward, because the level design is quite bland, the animation is too smooth and too stiff in equal measure, and the character models and skins overall are too low-poly - something which leaves the semi-naked riders looking downright ridiculous. To be honest, not since Orchid in the original Killer Instinct have I seen such angular assets.
The music is pretty varied, calling on the likes of De La Soul and The Neptunes, but I wasn't all that taken with it. It was better to throw in my own custom skating soundtrack, which thankfully I was able to do.
Kiss your dignity goodbye!
And now it's time to address the stripping element, something that at least one of you arrived here for exclusively. Those obsessing over the prospect of topless women should head over to our private boutique of naughty shots, courtesy of publisher Acclaim, here. The rest of you can read on.
The stripping element is actually quite silly. Surprised? From what we've seen, the game has been weighted to grant easy access to the first 25-second clip of some lass in a "Score" club, but after that you'll struggle to unlock the rest, as only the toughest challenges yield video footage.
As for the content of these videos, it is quite simply some vaguely attractive girl dancing around and losing the top half rather quickly. There's nothing south of the border. Curiously, as an incentive to play more it's rather ineffectual too, because for the effort you have to put in for these 'treats' you'd expect to earn a two-hour on-screen orgy with limbs flailing everywhere.
The moral issue is somewhat tricky to assess, but purely from my own perspective, I'd say this isn't porn, but it isn't particularly classy either. Truth be told it's just cheap smut packed in to give the game a gimmick. Acclaim probably reckons it'll get lost in the Christmas sales frenzy otherwise, and they'd be right, because the game itself really isn't all that much fun.
The first thing you realise when you pick it up is that the new control system and the game's collection of half-pipes, rails and other assorted skating apparatus don't yield the spectacular results we're used to from Tony Hawk, Mat Hoffman or even Z-Axis' own Aggressive Inline and Dave Mirra 2.
Tricks are harder to pull off, challenges are indistinct and pretty unoriginal (using the S-word in telling us to skitch a car doesn't really count as innovation) and the reward is more of the same, or a few seconds of watching some spandex-clad stripper joylessly dance her clothes away - hardly an evolution for the genre, and as a result, compared to the likes of AI, THPS and even Mat Hoffman, triple-X is left severely lacking.