Thursday, January 24, 2008

Amped 3

Crazy doesn't even begin to cover Amped 3. It covers, like, a small portion, possibly one of its feet, and then the rest is just left out there fully exposed to the burning light of what-the-fuck.

I mean that in the good way. This is the charmingly-random-tinfoil-hat kind of crazy, not the cooks-children-in-an-oven sort. Amped 3 meanders its way through its increasingly incomprehensisble brand of drug-fuelled narrative, and you just smile and nod in a way that says, "I have absolutely no idea what's going on, and I love it!"

Technically Amped 3 is a snowboarding game, which seems exactly the sort of thing the XBox 360 was made to host. It's got the usual array of snowy mountains and rail-grinding ramp-jumping reality-defying tricks, which just makes the hysterically bizarre trimmings all the more inexplicable.

And here I'm talking about the plot, because unlike most games of this genre it professes to tell a story. It's a story of you and your friends, who get together to ski at Northstar, when out of nowhere your money gets stolen, and then... some stuff happens. There's a yeti, and a snow god who likes scrapbooking, and a Canadian sock puppet, and some robots, and an evil game corporation, and the ski patrol (who are for some reason a set of talking bolshevik hands), and a boy band, and there's brainwashing and an evil dark lord and a disembodied pig's head who works in marketing. Also you're a ninja. Maybe. I think.

This stuff has to be seen to be believed. You get the feeling that it all has to be the work of one person, because there's no way that someone could explain this to a co-worker in a sufficiently lucid way as to get them on board to implement it. It ends, by the way, with a big musical finale, which seems to me something that should be made industry-standard.

All that wackiness is reason enough to play Amped 3 right there, but it turns out that the story is wrapped around what's actually a pretty awesome game. Now, I'm not someone who's played a lot of snowboarding games, but Amped 3 seems to me to be everything that I'd want from the genre. It's got a simple trick system, the highlight of which is probably skill tricks, which require you to use the "analog" part of your "analog stick" by not pushing the stick all the way to the rim. That's something that's very rarely used to good effect in games and it's absolutely perfect here.

There's some 250-ish different challenges to play, spread across maybe 10 different sorts of event, all of which more or less combine the concepts of passing through gates and/or doing high-scoring tricks. There's also a bobsled event where the idea is to achieve the most painful crash possible, which is a stack of fun.

Amped 3 doesn't short you on peripheral content, either. The events are spread over seven mountains, some of which have multiple regions to unlock. There's a ridiculously large pile of clothing and boards to unlock for your rider, along with some hilarious alternate costumes such as a yeti and an evil gnome, and of course there's alternate sleds (including a hang glider), some bling, and new music to be found.

Speaking of the music, Amped 3 has an absolutely first class soundtrack of around 100 licensed songs, and while I'd never heard of any of the bands involved prior to playing the game it never failed to get me stoked for snowboarding with each new song it fired up. This game is up there with the Grand Theft Auto and Wipeout franchises for some of the best licensed music in gaming.

As is normal for games off this sort, there's a huge amount of advertising and product placement, but it's all reasonably in context and more or less inoffensive. The game's difficulty falls mostly on the easy side of the spectrum, which is absolutely fine by me, and even relatively unskilled gamers should have little trouble in finishing the story mode. Game length clocks in at 13 to 25 hours, depending on your experience and your willingness to chase after gold medals in the various events.

Amped 3 is a sadly underappreciated work of mad genius, and even in the unlikely event that you're not won over by its insane charm it remains a deeply memorable excursion to the lunatic fringe of snowboarding.

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