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ups: Great snowboarding sim; good control scheme; excellent design; indy music soundtrack; finally a personality!; no skiers.
downs: Quality of jokes and skits is inconsistent; realistic, but without catching the real majesty; too niche for most gamers.

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Amped 3 Review
game: Amped 3
three star
posted by: Shawn Rider
publisher: 2K Games
developer: Indie Built
ESRB rating: T (Teen)
date posted: 10:23 AM Tue Nov 22nd, 2005
last revision: 12:49 AM Tue Nov 22nd, 2005

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Click to read.Amped 3 inherits a somewhat troubled past. The series has its roots in the hey-day of snowboarding videogames when Cool Boarders still ruled atop a mountain of wannabes. Up until then, most snowboarding games had taken a fantasy-tinged approach to the sport, and as a rule they felt cartoony in the Saturday Morning sense. Then Amped and SSX came out at the dawn of the new gaming generation (which is now the previous generation). SSX embellished the fantasy angle of snowboarding games to hyperbole. It added dazzling visual effects and outlandish tricks and airs, mixing it all together with a greatest party hits soundtrack that made gamers flock to it. Of course, all that was on the PlayStation 2.

On the Xbox, developer Indie Built held down the snowboarding snowfort at Microsoft Game Studios and created a detailed snowboarding sim crafted with love: Amped is to Tricky as Project Gotham Racing is to Need for Speed. Although Amped never gained the critical acclaim or commercial success of its main rival, it did offer real-life snowboarders a quality simulation of their favorite thing. It was to snowboarding and snowboarding fans what Gran Turismo is to racers and car lovers.

Fast-forward a generation, and we find Amped 3 at the front of the new next-gen pack. Although Indie Built has moved into the 2K Games stable, they remain true to their vision for Amped: creating a great snowboarding game for real snowboarders. This time out, Amped features a much better story mode with insane cinematic sequences that exhibit qualities ranging from \"great sense of humor\" to \"relatively psychotic.\" Overall, the changes are for the better, and Amped 3 exhibits the most personality we\'ve seen so far from the series. And what\'s better is that it manages to capture some true qualities of the social sphere surrounding the sport, making Amped 3 a must-play for any snowboarder.

The general construction of Amped 3 will be familiar to anyone who has played the previous games. You create a character and hit the slopes, using a very nice mountain map as your guide to individual challenges on the mountain. These challenges are basically of a few types: story challenges advance the overall storyline; media challenges get you respect points and cash for completing big trick challenges at specific locations; skill-based challenges are just like they sound and earn respect points.

Amped 3 revolves around earning enough cash and enough respect to advance the story. Your created character will become a major player in a five act drama. Throughout your adventures, you\'ll travel from Northstar to Snowbird, and then to Valle Nevado, Avoriaz, Laax, and Zugspitze, among other hidden and back country locales. The international vibe of Amped 3 lends to a more dynamic story, and as with all of the previous installments of the series, each mountain is rendered with excellent detail and accuracy. If you\'re familiar with any of the hills in the game, you will recognize them when you play.

Filling out the roles in Amped 3 is a cast of characters drawn from a variety of snowboarding types. Each character represents a unique style of snowboarding and can teach you their own particular variety of \"awesomeness.\" As you get to know each character, their individual stories unfold in a startling array of graphic styles and approaches. Some characters\' stories are animated in stylized Japanese style graphics, while others are done in crude sketches reminiscent of Napoleon Dynamite (which can\'t be an accident knowing Indie Built).

Different challenges bring in all kinds of other graphic styles, ranging from all types of old-school arcade graphics to disturbingly well-done surreal CG sequences. Some elements are even crudely stop-motion animated, and others feature live-action video. The overall effect is as if you drank a whole bottle of Robitussin and watched Adult Swim all night long. In fact, the ubiquitous \"Adult Swim Theme\" peppers the soundtrack of Amped 3, lending to the late-night animation feel of the game.

All of these story-based changes and the wacky graphical style give Amped a much needed shot of personality. Previous games in the series have been more stoic than stoked. But Indie Built has found a few other ways to make this Amped different from its predecessors: Amped 3 features Xbox Live enabled leaderboards for every challenge on the mountain. In previous gaming generations, we shared our scores with those who came to challenge them on our own console, in our own house. But now, we can instantly see how we rank in the world of Xbox gamers, and that aspect of Amped is compelling. I found myself replaying challenges just so I wouldn\'t look like such a loser on the worldwide leaderboards. And it made me very happy when I managed to outscore the nearest competitor on the Fracture Follies challenge at Northstar by over 250K points (albeit five days before the Xbox 360 released to the public, but little victories are still victories when they\'re broadcast all over the world).

Of course, the old things we liked about Amped are still here: There are still dozens of tracks from a wide variety of independent musicians, which makes Amped one of the best places to discover new music. And the graphics are still very beautiful. In fact, moreso, but perhaps not as much as you would have hoped. While the character models are great and the clothing now blows in the wind appropriately, the snow has yet to really come to life. It\'s a complicated problem of subtlety to simulate snow, so we can forgive this small shortcoming. In general, the graphics are very sharp and technically flawless, but the mountains themselves have not changed terribly much. The graphic design overlays really steal the show, and somehow the graphics just don\'t capture the majesty of the mountain. Probably because there are no fireworks.

The control scheme has not been completely overhauled, but it has been refined and feels comfortable. In some respects, Amped 3 approaches the combo-zen of the Tony Hawk series, which is a very good thing in my book. The old method of \"cocking\" your spins has been ditched in favor of a more controlled spin in-air. Grabs are still performed by pressing he face buttons, but these now also handle a variety of other functions including flatland, or \"butter,\" tricks.

The notion of \"Style\" has been introduced in Amped 3. By resisting the urge to jam the analog joystick during a spin or flip, you can perform an extra slow rotation, and that will earn you bonus style modifiers. These dramatically increase the value of each trick combo, and they look really cool when you do it just right. The notion of \"style\" or \"flow\" is very important in snowboarding, and this addition provides incentive to perform visually appealing stunts.

In spite of all these additions, Amped 3 fails to really break out of its core snowboarder niche. It\'s odd that although the Xbox Live leaderboards are seamlessly integrated, there is no online multiplayer. Even if there were issues developing multiplayer challenges (although there shouldn\'t be-boardercross anyone?), just having a virtual mountain where you could go hang out with your buddies in the off-season would be welcome. It\'s not clear that more robust multiplayer would have put Amped 3 over-the-top for most gamers, but it couldn\'t have hurt.

Far too much emphasis is placed on developing your snowboarder avatar and gaining rewards in the game that don\'t translate into rewarding accomplishments. If online multiplayer were a possibility, then there might be a good reason to dress up your snowboarder in the cutest apparel. Likewise, if I got to rendezvous with my friends at my mountain condo, then there might be a reason to earn it. As is, I don\'t get much of a thrill by earning the \"bling\" rewards Amped 3 offers.

Overall, Amped 3 delivers a completely solid snowboarding experience, and I have no hesitation recommending a purchase, or at least a rental, to any snowboarder or snowboarding fan. But the general gaming audience is going to find it too slow and too realistic to fully enjoy it. If you\'re not sure where you fall, the old axiom rings true: Try before you buy.

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