Gamers, particularly those who’ve owned a number of systems, have probably acquired a number of peripherals that promise to get players physically into the game more than ever before. Remember the Power Glove or the Power Pad? Samba De Amigo’s maracas? Even the DDR dance craze relies on a dance pad peripheral. Unfortunately, most of these were specifically used for one, perhaps two titles only, making them relatively gimmicky at best and a waste of space at worst.
Sony, by contrast, has refused to let their EyeToy fall into either one of these categories, integrating the picture capturing capabilities of their camera into other games for the console. (The Urbz and T.H.U.G. 2 being only two recent examples of titles that have taken advantage of what the EyeToy can do to further gameplay.) What’s more, they’ve also managed to attract a loyal following of gamers thanks to the EyeToy: Play and EyeToy: Groove titles, a suite of innovative mini-games that effectively put the player in the game, using their onscreen image to interact with game elements. Well, the latest addition to the EyeToy family completely reinvents the functionality of the peripheral yet again. Grab a hoverboard and get ready to take to the skies, because we’re going to enter the futuristic world of EyeToy: Antigrav.
Antigrav is different from the other EyeToy titles in two ways. First of all, the player isn’t actually the focus of the game. Apart from calibrating the EyeToy at the beginning of the game and before a race, your image never appears onscreen. Instead, your body movements will control the actions of an onscreen character, moving him or her through the racetrack and performing tricks along the way. Secondly, it’s not comprised of mini-games or other diversionary elements. Antigrav is a futuristic “extreme sports” title where clans of athletes take to the skies with their hoverboards to challenge each other along massive racetracks through sprawling environments.
Gameplay is relegated to one of two separate modes: style mode, which tasks players with pulling off the most tricks and acquiring the most points to beat a set score, and speed mode, which requires players to come in first in three heats to actively clear the stage. Fortunately, there’s plenty of secret areas, shortcuts, and pathways to provide replayability, along with unlockable characters, equipment and other secrets, which is a good thing considering there’s only five tracks. Granted, each track has its own quirks and pitfalls that extend play until you get the hang of them, but experienced snowboarders will be able to get used to these quickly.
Initially, players will be forced to take on a tutorial mode before entering the racing arenas of the future. Whereas tutorials in other games are relatively forgettable, the Antigrav tutorial is actually useful because it illustrates how players will use their entire body to play the game. See, the EyeToy camera focuses in on the face of the gamer, tracking head movements to determine which way you want to move. To avoid high or low placed obstacles in your way, you will actually have to physically jump to force your character to jump and duck to clear these barriers. You’ll also be able to trigger a turbo boost by bending your knees, engaging the jets on your board.
To build up this boost, you can pick up some of the numerous points and turbo powerups scattered along the course. You can also stretch your arms out and hit a number of ringed targets that are aligned along rails that you merely have to guide your boarder towards to grind on to acquire additional turbo and points, or perform a sequence of successful tricks to add to your meter. Tricks are usually available to you when you’ve caught a significant amount of air off a ramp or other jump. By combining actual leaps and ducks with arm movements, you’ll be able to string together combos and other move sets that result in massive amounts of points. Finally, there are a number of launch pads that propels your character into the sky. From there, you can glide your boarder through a series of rings, which accelerates them along the course and adds to your point total.
While the control scheme that tracks onscreen character movement via the camera is a creative way to manipulate the game, it can also result in some of the more infuriating moments of gameplay. For one thing, the game will often respond more to where it thinks your head and arms are rather than where they actually are. This is indicative by the onscreen meter that attempts to approximate where it believes you are. Granted, there are a number of factors that can contribute to this, from the lighting of the room and distance of the camera from the gamer to the focus on the camera itself or the movements you perform that the EyeToy just doesn’t pick up. The result is that it can sometimes be very difficult to maneuver your boarder exactly where you want them to go. This lack of control can sometimes extend to tricks when you catch air. You may find that you’re flailing your arms out into space without the game recognizing any movements, which can be particularly annoying. Considering that there are only so many actions a player can do with their arms and body, the trick set that you’ll have access to is rather limited, as is the unique “super move” available to each character. What’s more, since you’ll really have to nail each single move to trigger certain combos, you’ll have to hope that the camera is accurately tracking you when you catch air.
The influence of the SSX series is readily apparent if you look at the graphical style of Antigrav. The characters have the same visual flair as the EA Sports Big franchise, and while each one of the 8 playable boarders has their own futuristic style to match that of the game, you can tell the archetypes from EA’s game. We’re talking about the clean cut one, the fashionable rider, the cute athlete, etc. Similarly, the environments are expansive and nicely detailed, and you can tell the multiple pathways for each level were taken from SSX as well. However, the design is all its own, and everything from the rough edged environments of the Waterfront to the radically diverse environments of the Aerodome is great. This is backed up by the musical score, driven and remixed in the game by Apollo 440. Akin to Frequency or Amplitude, Harmonix’s other titles, the music is mixed and sequenced during play, but feels less than dynamic in comparison to those other titles. However, it holds its own, and manages to impart a good techno vibe to the game.
Overall, Antigrav is an ambitious, if somewhat flawed title that’s primarily shackled by the technical limitations posed by the camera recognition integral to the gameplay. Were the tracking of physical movement a bit sharper, the length of the game a bit longer or the number of tricks a bit deeper, this would be a phenomenal title. However, as EyeToy titles go, it’s a good indication of where the peripheral can go, and a solid first step for fully fledged EyeToy titles.