The Amped series has always managed to differentiate itself from the rest of the snowboarding games out there by simply being very difficult. For instance, Amped 2 was a hard game, but with good reason. It forced players to be patient and learn precisely how to perform jumps, tricks, and grinds in order to be successful. As a result, Amped earned the reputation as a series that took snowboarding in an extremely realistic direction, which is something that absolutely cannot be said about the arcade-like SSX games. In Amped 2, a system was in place that worked very well, giving players a challenging yet satisfying experience. With Amped 3 for the Xbox 360, all of that has changed, and not entirely for the better.
Amped 3 puts you in the boots of your own created character. The character creation feature is actually impressive, giving you a wide range of ways to make crazy looking boarders. In addition, you'll be able to cover them in all sorts of brand name gloves, shirts, coats, and shoes, among many other costumes and silly gadgets. Basically, you're able to look like whatever kind of snowboarder you want, though none of the girth or skinniness adjustments affect your boarding skills.
The way you learn acquire new skills in Amped 3 is a gradual process, and not one you're necessarily going to notice as you improve. Completing the various challenges littered around each of the game's seven mountains will earn you new tricks and improve your abilities a piece at a time. For instance, if you just busted out a gold medal on a challenge where you had to follow a certain path while picking up special icons, you might earn better balance during your butter moves.
All of this aside, the big issue with Amped 3 as we've seen it come along in the development process has been just how different it is from previous games in the series. After spending a good deal of time with it, we can definitely say it doesn't really feel like any previous Amped games. As soon as you start up the game you'll be able to pull off reverse corkscrews, indy grabs, and double front flips no problem. Also, since there's no need to press a button to attach to a rail anymore, you can chain together huge strings of moves while intermixing butter tricks to amass huge point totals.
Sounds a lot like SSX, right? Well, it's not really, but it's definitely a step away from Amped's roots and towards the arcade style of the uber-tricking, multiplier-snagging SSX. However, just saying it's different isn't necessarily a criticism, since it could still be different and fun to play. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Though Amped 3 has a ridiculous amount of frills and extras, its core gamplay suffers from awkward controls and grows tiresome. It's almost like Amped 3's gameplay was changed to try and make it more accesscible, but along the way it settled into a weird zone of limbo between engaging and mediocre.
In Amped 3 you'll still be able to get style bonuses for slowly rotating your character around, but it's way easier than in previous titles. This really drains a lot from the gameplay since part of the fun of previous titles was the challenge. In terms of controls, Amped doesn't let you go exactly where you want. It's not just in the sense that you're on a snowboard and have an awkward mobility, but there are strange issues with turning. For instance, if you're trying to make a wide turn to the right or left, you'll find it to be difficult to turn back down the hill. You'll get turned around more often than you'd expect, and you're somehow able to snowboard up a mountain if you're moving with some speed.
The same awkward controls apply to the rails as well. Though you'll be able to use your controller's face buttons to perform rail combos, you don't get a very good sense of actually grinding the rail. Getting on and off feels unnecessarily floaty, as does most of the game's jumping. Every rail in the game seems to pull you towards it with an invisible magnetic force. This effect is so great that you'll have difficulty actually getting to where you want to go if you're around a mass of rails since you'll be accidentally hitting a lot of them. Like boarding uphill, your character will also possess the uncanny ability to zip straight to the top of steep rails after hopping on at seemingly low approach speeds.
Aside from the imprecise controls, there's a lot to like about Amped 3. There's a good variety of challenges including following a pro through a series of jumps, matching a high score through a certain section, or jumping through a succession of hoops. There are even non-snowboarding related challenges, such as riding a snowmobile under a certain time limit, weaving a course through hoops in a sled, or causing high amounts of physical harm to yourself by plummeting off of cliffs. The problem is, though these modes are initially entertaining, you don't get any lasting enjoyment out of them. Sure, it's funny to play a game mode where you try and hurt yourself, but after a while it begins to seem more like luck as to what kind of medical bill you can rack up. You're able to manipulate your cartwheeling boarder after he's crashed to try and guide him into rocks, but it's a mode that quickly becomes tiresome.
If there's one thing that Amped 3 does really well, it's give you an excellent overview of whichever resort you're playing at. The game features a trail map for each hill that shows exactly where the challenges are, what medals you've received so far, and what you'll need to do to advance to the next story mode. It also lets you drop in at any of the lift stops. With the added addition of a snowmobile you can call anytime to get you to your destination, Amped 3 really makes it easy for you to get to where you need to be.
Regardless of where you go, unfortunately, you won't be impressed by the game's graphics. Sure, there is a large draw distance, but there's a significant amount of pop-up going on as you fly down the hill. Also, the game uses a very strange color palette, mostly muted greens, bright reds, and tons of white. While the menus and story sequences are very colorful, the actual gameplay graphics seem almost bleached, giving the game a sterile look. You also won't be impressed by the animations of your boarder, who moves stiffly unlike someone who's flying downhill and making high-impact landings after huge jumps. The crash animations in particular, such as when your character after ejecting from a sled or hang glider, look pretty silly. Even though there's a solid physics engine in place that has been mixed with the development team's own animation frames, the tumbling rag-doll that is your character fails to capture the sense of impact and pain that it should.
Through the challenges that you complete you'll earn new tricks, more money, more respect, and a whole bunch of other goodies. Anywhere on any of the game's maps you're able to plop down a wide range of obstacle that can be used as jumps or rails. These can even be used right in the middle of challenge courses. This is a great mode and really lets you toy around with the game's environment to a satisfying degree. Actually controlling your character so they're able to take advantage of your new obstacles is, however, another issue.
You may have seen one or two story sequences in our video section, but for those of you who don't know, Amped 3's story sequences are totally unique. Each one of your friends in the game talks with a distinct style. What this translates to is that you'll often get story mission assignments though scrapbooking, a Russian game show format, anime, flip books, pigs with springs for heads, and many more. Some of these sequences are hilarious, though at other times they are so outlandish you won't know what you're supposed to do until you're prompted with your objective. At that point, you begin to wonder what the point of the cinematic was in the first place.
The mountains that you'll be flying down in Amped 3 are huge, so you'll never really feel like there isn't enough space to move around. As you fly down the mountain completing challenges and using the trigger buttons to shred snow, you'll build up an awesomeness meter which when maxed will allow you to stoke people out. This is probably one of the coolest graphical effects in the game. Getting awesomeness causes you to be surrounded with bursts of two dimensional graphics which can be customized later on. Unfortunately the effect is more aesthetic than gameplay related.
Also worth mentioning is the soundtrack. This was the best part of the game, for me. There's a wide variety of excellent songs to listen to, and they can be cycled through while boarding. The voice acting can be funny at times, especially during some of the more insane story sequences, but the actual sound effects of your boarder flying down the mountain are unimpressive.
Amped 3 could have benefited from some online play, but instead you get leaderboards that are updated through Xbox Live as soon as you complete challenges. This is cool, and using the park editor to buff up scores is also entertaining, but it ultimately falls flat.
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