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     " 'vandal points?' This is so stupid "

   Title: Grind Session

   Format: PlayStation

   Reviewing Monkey: The Goodyear Chimp

   The Hype: "Your ride is here!" As if this were a taxi-driving game... "It's a free world. Skate it." I'm sorry, I just couldn't include the entire "fresh" box commentary for fear of insulting readers. Anything that advertises "jammin' music," has more exclamation points than sentences, and offers you the opportunity to "see how sick you can get" is obviously written by someone dying to create street credibility. It's just so sad.

      What This Monkey Thought...

   Graphics: Okay, um-hmm, yeah, I see what you were going for. The major problem with the graphics is that they're not as real as the movements of the characters. Check the "wait animation" for the characters or watch how they move when they're skating and you'll swear Sony did motion capture of real skaters. So, whenever one of the characters turns around and shows off their nonexistent faces, it's a bit of a shock. The colors are bright, the textures are realistic but this is a game set in skate parks; it's not hard to make asphalt and plywood. The one concession I'll make is that the video (when inserted) is smooth and exciting. Too bad some "gnarly" director thought it would be "phat" to use a fisheye lens. 2 out of 5

   Sound: Welcome to the land of pleasant surprises. Though the game sounds are basic, the soundtrack is actually good. True, songs don't rotate during levels (the same one plays over and over until you switch) but they're appropriate. They ought to be for the billing the billing the bands get on the cover. Is it still sad that some copywriter calls it "jammin' music?" Yeah but NOFX and KRS-One never sounded so good in a game. Now if they could only do something about the grating menu music, we'd have magic. 3 out of 5

   Game Play: It's not fair to say but this game screams, "We want to kick Tony Hawk's ass!" What makes that unfair is how Hawk inescapably set the standard by which all other skating games for modern console systems will be judged. So the question to the game designers would have to have been, "How do we distinguish ourselves?" The sad reply is, "By making this game about street credibility." While the standard game element is there--you get points for tricks, harder tricks = more points--the game has this ridiculous fascination with "respect." In addition to pulling tricks in the Open Skate and Endurance modes, there are Tech Lines: skating paths that lead you from object to object in both simple and nearly impossible combinations. By skating these and by smashing bonus items (boom boxes, gas cans; "vandal points?" This is so stupid), you earn respect that buys your way into the next levels. You also snag bonuses like different boards, photo sessions, videos, and hidden characters. The moves are also earned and button combinations that did nothing before suddenly cause you to "bust a phat maneuver" once you've earned a new trick. While the idea of earning game secrets is a must to increase replayability, it's done in such a silly manner. As for the actual control, moves are easy to pull off and the characters behave appropriately. Response time is a little sluggish from the controller to the screen but you can land tricks easy enough. The game tries to be new but if this is the way they "challenge even the toughest skaters Fly-Q," you can count me embarrassed. 3 out of 5 (mostly for the Tech Lines)

   Level and Environment Designs: Neversoft should be paying attention for Tony Hawk 2. These levels are quite good. You know you're in for a treat when the training level is in an airplane hangar and there's a fat ass warplane hanging from the ceiling whispering "Grind me...." Environments are large, multilevel, and worth exploring every inch of (plus they're a little more detailed than those in you know what). Still, I never could rail slide on that subway train. 4 out of 5

   Multiplayer: I cannot believe what a mistake this is. There could have been some fair competition between this and other skate games on the market if some bonehead hadn't thought, "Split screen multiplayer isn't important enough to include. We'll just do some classic turn-based gameplay." Whoever made that decision should be the target of some hasty retroactive birth control because he cost Sony sports any vote of respect here. There MUST be a simultaneous multiplayer for sports games. "Up to 16 players" my ass. 0 out of 5

   Replayability: I could continue crapping on this for the lack of a true multiplayer (thereby reducing the replay value exponentially) but I will refrain. There are plenty of skaters, more than enough moves to keep you playing, and secrets peeking out of every corner of the package. You earn courses in one mode that you then use to earn bonuses in another. You'll be playing this one for awhile...ALONE. I can't take it. No multiplayer means I will never whip this out when friends are around. Five years from now I'm not going to get nostalgic and dust it off because it's not something that will be part of parties, late-night hangout sessions, or anything other than playing through it for the sake of beating it. Jesus people! 2 out of 5

   Story/Dramatics: Uh, you're a skater and you have to...skate to be a better skater, yeah...and go to a skate competition the world from being without skating. 1 out of 5

   Instructions and Learning Curve: The manual is well-produced trash written by the same people who do the box copy. When you get sick of reading jokey phrases like "throw down" and "stoked on glory," then you can "get dialed in" to gameplay by heading straight to the in-game training. This is the fastest way to learn the game. Along with the Endurance mode, which has you pulling off onscreen tricks under a time limit, training will equip you to handle later levels in no time. 4 out of 5

   Installation and Real System Requirements: The load times aren't severe, just aggravating. The game itself has no slowdown. I wonder if it's because there's not someone else to skate against.... (Vibration compatible, 1 Block on memory card) 3 out of 5

   The Verdict:

       Close your eyes; it's just disturbing.

   The Good: The soundtrack gets a gold star. Big levels with a variety of tech lines make for a nice place to play. Plus, Cara-Beth Burnside is hot.

   The Bad: Same old thing, stupid "respect" concept, and no freakin' multiplayer that matters: zilch, nada, nothing, zero...okay, you can play it alternating but that's no good: it sucks, hurts, kills, blows, bites the donkey's ass.

   The Overall Ugly: C'mon Tony Hawk 2.

   What it's Worth: $40 but only the very lonely will pay it.

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