Updated: Jul 1
If you followed the extreme sports craze in videogames of the early 2000s, you will undoubtedly be familiar with the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (THPS) franchise. With popularity comes imitators. Mostly these can be ignored but occasionally one will break out as an actually decent product. This was the case with Aggressive Inline, a more-than-competent in-line skating title and even after 15 years and two console generations it is still an enjoyable alternative to the classic Hawk’s entries.
Fifteen years is a long time. In some ways, the experience of replaying a game can be a time-capsule; the menu music usually being one of the first triggers of nostalgia. So, it was delightful to replay Aggressive Inline, Acclaim’s attempt to create a buzz within the in-line skating scene in the same way that Neversoft/Activision did for skateboarding with the Hawk’s series.
First released in 2002, it was developed by Z-Axis after the release of the amazing THPS3 and it was an era in which ‘Americanisation’ was really taking hold over British culture; US skater punk/ nu-metal music still topped the charts and WWF catchphrases would be hurled across most school playgrounds. It was the ‘Jackass era’ if you will, or to wrestling fans, the ‘Attitude era’ and 'Xtreme sports wall-grinded along with it.
The game featured professional skaters for the player to control - of course, unless you were familiar with the sport in 2002, chances are you won’t have heard of Taig Khris, Chris Edwards and Jaren Grob – and perform tricks and stunts around large open levels. This is where the game really stood out from its competition.
Replaying it now, I'm still impressed. The levels (for the time) are huge. They are mostly well designed and more interactive than any game that had come before. There are seven different areas but each has a unique style and even within each map there is massive variety. In the first level you will be grinding along the streets of a busy highway, then pulling off maneuvers inside a horror-movie studio set before smashing through the doors into a mad scientist’s secret laboratory. Sure, it makes no logical sense but it is fun! The majority of the levels work really well, although I found the two areas with water surrounding them (the Boardwalk and the Cannery) to be really frustrating as landing in water will destroy any trick flow and not much fun after repeated fails.
The systems all work together well and the actual feel of the skating is fantastic and fluid. The tempatation to keep a large combo going at the risk of 'bailing' and losing points is overwhelming, with likely many moments of cursing and clenched teeth when you over-commit and your skater crashes into the side of a bus or loses balance when grinding along a roller-coaster railing.
The main objectives within the levels range from the types familiar from previous Tony Hawks games such as score setting within a set time limit or performing a gap across two quarter pipes for a photographer. Some also involve more wacky tasks such as finding and carrying escaped monkeys inexplicably for a chef or grabbing the back of a low-flying plane on the airfield level. So, the gameplay essentially involves completing these goals set within each of the levels, collecting hidden items scattered throughout and upgrading your chosen skater as you progress (a neat system in that you only upgrade a specific area such as your speed, grinding ability, wall rides or spin skills by performing the skill more often).
Acclaim’s effort differs from Activision’s series further by ditching the traditional two minute time limit for each task to an unlimited free-roam style (incidentally, would be copied by the following Tony Hawk’s game). Additionally, Z-Axis introduced the seamless transition ability which allows you to more easily connect air-tricks to street-level grinds and manuals, effortlessly allowing you to link it all into one massive trick. Of course, that initially gave the impression that the game was easy however this function is necessary as the difficulty curve is incredible. Once all the levels are unlocked you will find yourself trying to work how to complete the initially inaccessible goals and, jeez, some are tough. It could be frustrating at points and then rewarding in equal measure for those that persevered with learning every inch of the dynamic levels.
Now any extreme sports title of that time wasn't worth its salt without a 'kick-ass' soundtrack and AI is no slouch with a mixture of rock and hip hop of that particular era with bands like Hoobastank and POD being a couple of the standouts. However, fifteen years later I honestly prefer to connect my phone to the speakers with a Spotify playlist on shuffle.
As far as extra modes (aside the main objective-focused career mode), there is a relatively pointless free mode which is simply a way to allow the player to roam the unaltered levels and perform tricks. On top of that, there is a level-creator option which I personally didn’t find much fun but could be entertaining for anyone who enjoys level creation. There is also a split-screen multiplayer mode however unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to give this a try again.
Overall, coming back to it was more engaging than I had envisioned and especially seeing how the recent Tony Hawks Pro Skater 5 bombed in critics’ reviews, my hankering for a classic early-2000s era skating game was stronger than ever. Of course, it doesn’t quite live up to the best of the Tony Hawks games and graphically hasn’t aged particularly well but in its own right it is still a fun game, innovative and slightly disappointing that it never got a sequel.