Before you ask, that's Edgar Torronteras, the "famous" Spanish motorbike superstar. What do you mean you've never heard of him?
Jokes aside, underneath the meaningless "celebrity" tie-in Extreme Biker is an action-packed motorbike game in the same vein as Micrsoft's hugely successful MotorCross Madness. In fact, rumour has it that Extreme Biker was re-worked after Executive Producer Daniel Bobroff saw MotorCross Madness at E3 last year.
But London-based developers Deibus Studios have worked hard to differentiate Extreme Biker from MotorCross Madness, and to bring something new to the genre. Let's see if they succeed...
Get Some Big-Ass Air
There are three different game types set across 23 tracks as diverse as the desert, arctic wastelands, hell and Paris.
The obvious distinction is between MotoCross and SuperCross races - the former are set outside in the fresh air, with sprawling hills and vast canyons, and the latter take place inside huge stadia, with a suitable rent-a-crowd on hand to cheer you on.
You can play single races or in Tournament mode, and most races see more first corner incidents than your average Formula 1 weekend.
The tracks are about as varied as you could expect for a sport which involves riding around a circuit getting ludicrous air. Some are tight and twisty, and others have long straights with tight hairpin bends. There are usually cross-over points, and the mid-air collisions are quite spectacular.
From what I know of the real thing, it all seems fairly authentic. You must maintain a constant rhythm of up and down the jumps - miss one landing and you can easily drop from first to last place while you recover.
That might sound daunting, but with inbuilt Artificial Stupidity, the computer controlled players often overshoot corners or misjudge landings as well, so you can usually catch up lost places if you keep everything vertical. The podium places are often decided by who has the cleanest final lap, which is again fairly true to real events.
There are three levels of difficulty, each with customisable aids such as correcting the position of the bike before you land. You can choose your bike class from 125cc, 250cc, and 500cc engine sizes, as well as being able to use a fully custom bike for all you tweak fanatics, changing all manner of suspension and engine variables.
The third mode of play is the Freestyle section, where you attempt to pull off a sequence of outrageous stunts in exchange for points. Again, various aids are available, and you can only do the most difficult stunts on the higher difficulty settings.
Unfortunately, although it is potentially the most exciting part, FreeStyle is also the most flawed and difficult. Whilst the videos and screenshots make this free-for-all stunt affair look totally mad, after ten minutes it's you who are totally mad.
Depending on the difficulty level you have chosen you have an array of up to 14 tricks you can perform. The most basic involve the simplest of key presses, but for all the really cool stuff you have to press numerous buttons in quick succession in various combinations.
That would be OK if the rider would actually do it, but more often than not he either refuses to do anything, or begins the trick far too late and crashes horribly.
And if you can activate the trick, you then have to control a "puck" and hold it in the middle of the screen - this represents the rider's balance. If you stray outside the zone, he loses control and crashes.
This is a novel approach, and it works in theory. In practise, I found myself limited by the number of keys I could press simultaneously on my keyboard. I imagine that using a joypad, especially a Microsoft Sidewinder Tilt, would make the control a little less of a nightmare.
Ah, the countryside
Developers have often said that developing a software version of a game can hold back certain 3D implementations because they are too slow. By starting with the premise of a 3D-card only engine, they can afford to be a lot more extravagant in the visual department.
This is the approach Deibus have taken with Extreme Biker. The render depth is simply enormous - easily as far, if not further than MotoCross Madness. The scenery is all highly detailed, with smooth humps and curved ramps.
Add to this the inclusion of lots of extra objects such as palm trees, rocks and even traffic, as well as the ability to go anywhere, and you can tell that a lot of effort has been put in to raise the stakes above and beyond the high standards set by Microsoft last year.
Don't be fooled by that minimum spec though - all this eye-candy requires some serious grunt to get moving. Even on my PII-450 with a Voodoo3 3000 the game would jerk every now and then on some of the larger tracks, and that's only at 800x600.
This may be due to 3dfx's D3D drivers (which are not the best in the world) but still serves as a warning to those with lesser machines.
The animation is excellent - riders shift their weight when they take corners, and even the far-fetched stunts are believable .. more so when you see the FMV of our man Edgar actually doing it!
The only black mark is the crash scenes. Deibus have used real-time physics algorithms to animate those unfortunate moments when your rider comes unstuck. The idea is to reduce the use of pre-calculated crash animations, which usually seem totally unrelated to the incident in question.
Unfortunately in the bid for realism they have overstepped the mark - while the rider clearly has skeletal underpinnings, they turn to jelly after a nasty fall and limbs start flailing around into positions that would make a contortionist wince.
It's funny the first few times, but then just becomes laughable.
The sound effects are good without being outstanding - the bikes sound like bikes, and apart from some bone-crunching grunts there isn't much else to comment on.
The soundtrack is suitably extreme with various rock / dance tracks - they complement the atmosphere without getting on your nerves .. like the constant FMV of Mr Torrontoras at the end of each level. The stunts are impressive the first time, but after that you appreciate the ability to skip them with a quick tap of the ESC key.
It is difficult to summarise Extreme Biker - the graphics are good all round, and the gameplay varied, but ultimately I wonder who will actually go out and buy it?
Hardcore biker fans will either love it for its fresh ideas compared to the ageing MotoCross Madness, or hate it and simply count the days until MM2 is released (first half of next year).
I know many racing-game fans shun bike games as "four wheels are better than two" which excludes them, and the control system, although about as customisable as you could hope for, is just the other side of tricky for beginners.
Which is a pity, because they would all miss out on what is a good all-round game in a genre where so few manage to get things right.
And big air IS cool.
Eye Candy Download The Demo
Try before you buy! Check out the demo (76Mb).
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