I've been making my way through some of the extreme sports games of the PlayStation 2, and I've been stopped dead in my tracks by a game that I don't hear many people mention: Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX 2. It absolutely nailed extreme sports in a video game back in 2002.
What makes Pro BMX 2 so special? Your bike feels heavy. Following in the wake of the success of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchise, one might think that the game centered on Mat Hoffman and his bike antics might be in this weird space of also-rans like Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer, but that just isn't true.
That heavy bike is so key. When you're doing bike tricks in real life, you are heaving this giant metal apparatus up into the air and manipulating it. In the real world, that weight matters. It's hard to get that thing moving around, and if something goes wrong, you probably have an entire bicycle falling on you. It takes a lot of bravery to dedicate yourself to a sport where you, on a bicycle, can fall out of the sky and hit the ground at high speeds.
And, you know, Mat Hoffman is tough. "Drill through your own leg while awake" tough, in fact.
Playing it today, Pro BMX 2 seems really ahead of the curve when it comes to controlling that heavy bike. Unlike the Tony Hawk skateboarding games, there's no forgiveness here. If you line up for a rail and miss, there's no subtle warp that gets you lined up. You just missed.The same goes for a bunny hop that doesn't quite get high enough or a spin that doesn't make it all the way around.
Contrasted with BMX, in real-life skateboarding you can generally finish a rotation when one set of wheels are on the ground; it'll look a little silly, but you won't fall down. The Tony Hawk games try to replicate the slight physical forgiveness, and some pretty extreme angles will still count as completed tricks, even if you have definitely eaten dirt in real life.
Compared to that, Pro BMX 2 is absolutely punishing. There's a very small window of forgiveness when it comes to landing tricks, and the animations for those tricks require a lot of airtime. While I actually enjoy the tenuous relationship that the Tony Hawk games have with real physics, there's something to the weight and discipline of Pro BMX 2 that is really valuable, especially back in 2002.
In a lot of ways, Pro BMX 2 in 2002seems to be setting the tone for the beloved Skate series that would debut in 2007. The former asks you to hold down the forward button to pedal, and one of the big innovations of the latter was asking the player to actually think about when they push the skateboard.
They have a similar focus on simulating deliberate actions, and they move away from the big combos of Pro Skater to the more true-to-life lines.
If you've got fond memories of any of these extreme sports games, I would encourage you to check out Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX 2. It was doing something special at the time, and it holds up as a game that has never quite been replicated.