Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Shox | PlayStation 2 Tuesdays #6

We're at the halfway point of this season of PS2 Tuesdays, and this time I'm looking at another rather by the name of Shox.

The EA Sports BIG range started with SSX right back when the PS2 launched, and since then there have been many other games in the series which all share a similar style. Each game in the series is high on action and thrills, and usually adds some twists to an established sport. We've had motocross action in Freekstyle, Sled racing in Sled Storm, a mean game of basketball in NBA Street 1 & 2, a gangsta rap flavoured fighting game in Def Jam Vendetta and most recently NFL Street. Amongst all these games Shox was released, and it gained very little fanfare and press compared to it's series siblings. Is that because it's a bad game? No way, Shox is one of the best arcade racers I have played in recent times, and now I will attempt to explain why.

Imagine an arcade racer in the tradition of Ridge Racer or Sega Rally. Colourful well designed tracks and cars you can slam round corners with the greatest of ease. Shox has both of these things and much more. The vital sensation of speed that so many racing games crucially lack is present and correct, and even more importantly the game is great fun to play. It basically takes the idea of rallying, with the off road courses and real cars that have taken part in the WRC over the years, and then throws the point to point time trial nature of the real thing out of the window. Races take place over 3 laps against a field of five other cars. There are 6 races in a particular class, and four classes to work your way through. Each progressive class has a more powerful selection of cars.

The gimmick to this is the Shox zone. There are three of these zones in each track, and when you enter one a timer starts to tick down. This time is divided into gold, silver and bronze sections, and the faster you are the better the medal earned in that section. Get a gold in all three Shox zones during one race and you activate the Shoxwave - a bubble of air that travels around the track in front of you. If you manage to catch up to it and drive in it you get a huge increase in the amount of cash you earn.

This cash can be used to either buy new cars outright or gamble to try and win them. Gambling starts off being very expensive and risky, but every time you lose a gamble the cost is halved, and the challenge is made slightly easier. So if you keep at it eventually you will win because the CPU driver will be driving so badly you could get out and walk and still beat him. This kind of removes the challenge of the game and makes buying the cars a pointless exercise when you can just keep gambling until you win.

Adding to the replay value of the game are the platinum cars, which are basically the same as the normal cars but with improved handling, speed and a nice shiny metallic paint job. Before you start a race you can see what car you have to use on that particular track to get a platinum, and earning it involves getting 3 gold Shox zones with that car on that track. As well as the extra cars, there's another reason to earn platinums on the tracks - you have to earn at least 8 in order to open up the last four races in the Shox category and complete the game.

Graphics are very good - fast, smooth, colourful and vibrant. Considering there are only 3 different environments spread over 28 tracks there's a surprising amount of variety in the design of the tracks. You will pass golf courses, drive along a tropical beach and even down a toboggan run! The cars are solid and there are even damage and dirt effects that gradually build up over the course of a race, although this doesn't effect your handling or performance in any way. The cars all look like their real life counterparts too, and they range from Lancia Deltas through Mitsubisha Lancers, Subaru Imprezas to the powerful B class cars that have been banned.

Shox manages to catpure the feeling of classic arcade racers such as Sega Rally Championship and Ridge Racer.
The music is excellent too, and really adds to the excitement during a race. The style is dance music which is very heavy on bass, and it dynamically changes when you enter or leave a Shox zone, kind of like the music in the SSX games which changes depending on whether you are doing well or badly. The sound effects are nothing offensive or amazing - the usual range of engine noises and crunches when you inevitably hit something.

The overall difficulty level is fairly low as you can just keep trying a race until you manage to win. Some of the races took me a fair few tries though, mainly because the pack is always quite close behind you at all times. One mistimed corner or collision on the last lap is enough to lose you the race, but you can restart at any point from the pause menu. The platinum challenges do add an extra degree of difficulty if you feel like beating them all, but at the end of the day the game wont take you that long to beat. You will be having fun all the way though at that's what counts. You can find Shox very cheaply (for around £3) so it is extremely good value for money.

The only other thing to mention is the multiplayer mode, which is competently done but cant compete with the likes of Burnout 3's Crash mode. The graphics are noticeably less detailed, the Shox zones are absent and there's no music, but at least it maintains the 60 frames per second speed of the main game.

Overall I can really recommend Shox. It's the sort of game I would have happilly put £1 coins in a few years ago when the arcades were still popular, and this sort of game is quite rare nowadays. It's not in the same league as something like Burnout 3, but if you've already finished that this is the next best thing. Go and track down a copy, I'm really glad that I did.

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