Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2 is yet another release in the rapidly expanding trick game genre. Tony Hawks kicked things off with his endless cycle of skateboarding games in which you gain points for pulling off tricks on your skateboard. Dave Mirra, as you may have guessed, is basically the same thing, but with BMX bikes instead of skateboards.
I resisted this entire genre of games after playing Tony Hawks on the original Playstation and finding the whole experience more frustrating than fun. This reluctance was furthered by my lack of skateboarding knowledge, the game contained a huge list of tricks which I had never heard of. After all, in my own skateboarding experience I mastered little more than the ability to bruise myself repetitively. I first played Dave Mirra at a friend´s house and, during the next few days, found myself craving another shot. I think what got me hooked at first was the hilarious results to be gained from crashing spectacularly. As a beginner in the world of trick games I crashed a lot the first few times I played this but the models used for the bikers in the game are great, and upon impact they act like crash test dummies bouncing around all over the place in a painful looking but comical way.
The Xbox incarnation of this title includes two additional levels - Venice and Greenville. Neither are particularly spectacular, but then what do you expect when they decide to port a game and realise they need Xbox exclusive material to please the boys at Microsoft? They also claim it has "Super High-Rez Graphics" and I must admit they do look pretty nice. You can select from 14 top pros, and there are an extra 2 or 3 bikers - a big beardy guy, a wee kid and a stupid looking clown with bright red and yellow clothes on. They all have individual stats but unless you are heavily into BMX then you won´t care too much, just pick one you like the look of and get into the action.
There are ten huge levels to choose from (including the bonus two), and they really are huge environments with a range of different hazards and potential trick surfaces within them. The levels look great and will take a few plays to properly explore. They are a mixture of realistic environments and skate park style ramps. Most of the maps include some form of hazard, from water, to moving traffic, to helicopters. My favourite is probably the Devil´s Peak which is a crazy grand canyon style map with lots of nice craters and bowls in it. There is also a park editor which allows you to create your own skatepark, it basically allows you to rearrange the objects in the maps to your liking. I couldn't be bothered with the time it takes to do when there are 10 massive fully created maps to choose from but you can save your creations to the Xbox hard disk and this feature should add some replay value.
In order to score points in the game you have to pull off tricks, this means you need air and to add some spice to the equation you don´t score unless you land without crashing. The first thing you should do is learn how to get some decent height on your jumps and land again, then start to mix in the tricks. The longer you hold a trick position the more points you score and the real path to scoring big is trick combinations. You might take off, pull off a can-can and a tabletop and then land in a nose pick. Trick names mostly refer to what the position looks like but some are just bizarre. The controls system is pretty complicated but I found it fairly easy to master after some practice, all of the tricks are pulled off by pressing X,A,Y,B and pressing a direction on the left thumstick or d-pad. The difficult part is really getting the timing right, how long can you hold a trick for, when do you press the Y button to grind, how do you get the most air? The basic answer is - master the timing of your button presses.
The Main Menu offers a range of options. Proquest involves guiding your rider through "respect-earning challenges" and "medal-winning competitions" to complete the game and become "King of Freestyle BMX", how can you resist? Actually this is the best mode but it is not easy, on each map you intially have to score a set amount of points from a three minute run in order to get enough respect from the locals dotted around the map that they will speak to you. If you approach them before acheiving this then they will tell you to go away and call you "kid" even though you are clearly a grown man. After this you get the amateur challenges, then the pro challenges and finally, not required to complete the game, but there for hardcore fans - the hardcore and insane challenges. I found the pro challenges very difficult and have to admit I have never completed an insane challenge. The challenges are all kinds of things, some easier than others. It could be something simple like knock over four ladders or it could be something a bit tougher like nose wheelie 15 meters on a plank suspended in the air. Some of these tricks can cause serious frustration and I reached that nasty point where you nearly throw the controller through the tv screen a couple of times playing this game. If you manage to reach 10,000 respect points you will receive your first invitation to an Acclaim Games Competition, in competitions judges will score your run.
The other options include - Session, a timed run on any available level, minus the challenges. Free Ride, which is, you guessed it, a free ride doing whatever you want. The previously discussed Park Editor, the usual range of options and what they term "Cool Stuff" which is actually just records, credits, movies and saved replays - a bit of a misnomer really. Finally there is the Multiplayer, often a tack on in this kind of game I´m afraid Dave Mirra is no exception. There are a range of 13 games to play but for me the fact that you play one at a time, albeit with two pads, does not really qualify as multiplayer. The best game in this mode is Wipeout which allows you 30 seconds to have the most spectacular crash you can muster and then challenge your mate to beat your score, the score is linked to how much damage is done to your rider.
The soundtrack with the game is not bad if you like rock, including Black Sabbath, Rage Against the Machine and Godsmack. If you don´t you´ll be glad to hear that the game supports your own playlist so you can rip tracks from your own CD collection and arrange them into playlists which can then be selected to play while Dave Mirra is on. Unfortunately the music does cause one pretty major problem with the gameplay, something I´m suprised Microsoft did not insist was fixed before the release of the game. Every time a new track is loaded there is a horrible pause, your rider just hangs in the air for a few seconds before control and gravity return and the next track kicks in.
The game deserves criticism for the track loading pause but it doesn´t end there. The difficulty level is far too high, I don´t believe many people will fully complete this game and the fact you have to complete a bunch of challenges to unlock the next map makes progress very slow at first. I got bored with the same map and used a cheat to unlock the others, although I have since gone back and completed the challenges it is initially frustrating to be stuck on the first couple of maps until you have mastered the gameplay. Dave Mirra is also more than a bit buggy, there are areas of bad collision where you can suddenly fall through the map, the controls have a horrible habit of reversing at short notice and the camera is annoyingly moronic at times. This game has a high frustration factor, also in part due to the fact that you are on a bike and so cannot turn sharply, which means you are often forced to watch helpless as your hapless rider goes full tilt into a wall.
If you like this genre of games then Dave Mirra is certainly worth a look, expansive, nicely rendered environments, a huge range of tricks and a high level of difficulty, throw in the park editor and multiplayer games and you have decent replay value. However due to the fact it was not developed for Xbox first it can't offer more than a graphical improvement on the original and the camera and collision are sloppy. I would recommend renting this before you buy, if you buy. After all with Tony Hawks 4 now out it won´t be long until there´s a Dave Mirra 3 and it might take more advantage of the Xbox´s capabilities.