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Amped 3

All hands to the PUMPED!

Ten-hundred hours. Having fallen 100 feet in a pink bunny suit, and ridden the back of a giant hot dog, I'm now collecting kitty heads.

Eleven fifty-seven. 200 people are stoked.

Fourteen twenty-three. A roasted pig's head on an extendable metal arm with a Brooklyn accent is telling me to go out and kill myself in order to publicise a brand of perfume. Apparently doing so will be "ill".

Fifteen hundred. I've been framed by Jdawg, but Wienerboy still believes in me.

Sixteen thirty-one. A comet is crashing toward the earth, but in bitingly satirical fashion we break off the story to see photographs of some celebrity woman falling off her snowboard.

Bit of a departure then.

Amped 3's presentation is basically a diabolical fusion of Music Television and hallucinogenic interpretations of surfer culture. Think of how Tony Hawk's Underground suddenly decided it wanted to be Jackass, and multiply that by stop-motion cut-scene skits with plastic toys, "Hotties of Amped 3" load-screen graphics, self-referential Strong Bad-inspired "cut-scenes are rubbish" interludes and six other mountains of superfluity, and then set it to a soundtrack of 300 mostly boring indie songs. It's as though the developers were working late one night, idly picking through's indie channel during a fag break, when a lorry load of toxic waste smashed into the building, fusing them, the game and the website with a life-size cardboard cut-out of Johnny Knoxville.

It thinks it's all very funny, but it comes off more like the loud, wacky kid at school who's secretly crying inside. I laughed at one thing in the entire game - "Erreren O'crock!" - and that's only because subconsciously I'm a xenophobic cretin after being over-exposed to the French on Canvas Holidays.

You can customise your character all you like. There's also a 'Bling' screen.

It's a sign that Amped 3 has shifted the series' approach somewhat, and as you can probably gather, I don't think it does the thing many favours.

Amped's traditionally been a challenging snowboarder, stubbornly refusing to make concessions to the approachability of its main rival, SSX. Until now anyway. In Amped 3, you can do all manner of complicated stuff as soon as you pick up the pad (at least once the game's walked you through it the first time); you can grind rails and other edges automatically and float unconvincingly between them without having to worry much about adjusting your trajectory or footing, while Tony Hawk-style manuals (known as "butters") and slalom-style "carving" allow you to link trick combos with ease. Whenever you land a trick, you also have a couple of seconds to link it to something else before the game banks the points.

Jump off a bank of snow or a ramp and tricks come naturally - the left analogue stick lets you flip, rotate or spin diagonally, and combinations of the face buttons perform grabs. By carefully holding the analogue stick only halfway you can perform "style" tricks which are shown off in slow-motion, although you'll have to budget enough landing space to accommodate your slower rotational speed. It's very easy to remain upright though, the game never seems to worry when you do the same things over and over, and handy multipliers mean that once you've found a decent collection of jump and rail-able objects in a row you're onto a six-figure winner.

The action is split between lots of small tasks spread over the various unlockable faces of each of the game's seven mountains. These are technically optional, but they generally form the core of the game as you use them to build up the "respect" points that fund access to story missions, which open up new areas.

Tasks usually involve navigating through hoops while performing tricks, matching another rider's points-total, doing big tricks at specific points, or briefly making use of a sled or other means of conveyance like a snowmobile or, in the case of the perfume marketing exercise, a hang glider.

You choose what you want to do on the main mountain screen, which offers an overview of each run that lets you zoom in and switch between individual tasks, and then select a "drop point" higher up the mountain and navigate to an objective marker from there to take part. Load times for this - and any resets - are negligible, and you can also roam around the mountain, which is divided into separate routes that just about thread together, randomly seeking out tasks for yourself if you prefer.

The draw distance is certainly impressive, particularly on steeper slopes.

As well as building up respect this way and unlocking new areas of the mountain - and subsequently whole new mountains - you can also try and build up huge combos for fun, which helps fill up a meter at the top of the screen. Once it's full, you're given a limited amount of time to show off in front of all the boarders and spectators who sit, stand and slowly arc their way around the mountain until you've impressed a set number of them. The number of NPCs dotted around is quite impressive and gives the mountain a sense of life, and although the effect of actually clipping through them is a bit jarring it does at least mean they're less of a hazard than they might have been. Some of the positioning's a bit suspect though - I ran into one chap standing in the canopy of a snowy tree. He looked bored.

One of the game's best ideas is a new "Builder" mode, which allows you to modify the layout of your mountain by adding items to grind and jump from. You can do this very easily by selecting Builder from the pause menu - and you'll definitely be glad of it when you're faced with a tricky task or unable to keep a combo going between two separate routes that you've otherwise mastered.

I also appreciated the way that the character development was shielded from me, so I didn't have to worry about distributing experience points to certain attributes myself - my boarder simply got better the more he plied his trade on a range of tasks.

But while there's a lot that sounds good on paper, and an enormous amount of content to work through (some of it nicely engineered, too), there are also a great many problems, and the atrocious presentation is symbolic of them - the cut-scenes are actually so nonsensical at times that you lose track of the plot, and the game has to tell you in plain text once they're over what your objectives are. For all its approachability, the core snowboarding is much less enjoyable and multi-faceted than it is SSX, and much less rewarding than it was in Amped 1 and 2. You get the impression that the game doesn't really want you to face the right way half the time, with analogue steering that either doesn't turn far enough or oversteers, and a camera that likes looking at the ground when you land instead of giving you an idea where to misdirect yourself next. Even so, stringing huge combos together, particularly on the faster, more complex routes, is much too easy, and style tricks are far too rewarding given their ease of use. On one occasion, I was trying to navigate down to a task at the bottom of a rail and jump-packed slalom by cutting the corners, and such was the set-up I couldn't actually avoid banking an enormous score in doing so.

One tree fits all.

The decision to rely largely upon small tasks doesn't help much. The mountain navigation screen is cluttered and unnecessary, and you're continually resetting to drop points to go off and find the next task rather than building up any momentum. Tasks themselves are often over very quickly, and the ones involving things other than boards are usually less than slick - at least on the early mountains, you can actually complete sledding missions by falling off and just directing your ragdoll tumble through the requisite hoops. You get the most enjoyment out of just boarding around trying to impress people, but this is infrequent next to all the mini-tasks, and the "get a high score" missions are relatively rare too.

The game also makes poor use of the 360's best features - its graphical capability and online elements. Technically the draw distance is impressive and the resolution on the character models - particularly in cut-scenes - equally so, but it all looks so bland. There's so little personality to the mountains, all of the characters are stereotypes, and the animation is often a bit glitchy and unnatural. Meanwhile the only online feature is the ability to upload scores for tasks, and since tasks are so throwaway and hard to definitively navigate back to on the complex map, I can't imagine myself going back to them regularly. Multiplayer is limited to offline co-op sledding.

Amped 3 certainly isn't awful, and will keep you entertained for a long time if you can get past the hideous presentation and get used to its stop-starty nature, but the most recent SSX was enormous too, and treated the sorts of tasks that Amped considers its core as a second string to its traditional racing and tricking. It felt more developed. While this turns out to be quite approachable after a slow start, it lacks the cohesion of EA's efforts - which feel like they're running out of ideas anyway - and the range and challenge of previous Amped games. And for all its girth, I felt stifled by the structure - at least when it wasn't burying me in an avalanche of forced cool. If Jackass was a religion, this could be its bible, but it's not, which makes it much harder to defend Amped 3's lack of focus and all the little contradictions.

6 / 10