You wouldn't think that the home console market would see two awful BMX games in the same year, but somehow the stars have aligned themselves to give us just that. Toxic Grind may put an interesting story-line spin on the basic alternative sports formula laid out by Tony Hawk, Mat Hoffman, and the rest of the gang, but the gameplay doesn't hold up its end of the bargain. The resulting game is a neat idea, but ultimately it's also a complete mess, ranking down there with the recently released Gravity Games: Street Vert Dirt.
Toxic Grind actually has an original premise.
According to Toxic Grind, in the future, skateboarding is a crime. So are BMX biking and inline skating--all that extreme sports stuff is strictly verboten. Violators are sentenced to appear on the world's number-one game show, Toxic Grind. And like on any good futuristic game show, failure on Toxic Grind results in death. Unfortunately, the game show is so unfair that all the contestants die almost immediately. Eventually, this lack of a struggle causes the show's ratings to tumble. In a stroke of genius, the show's host decides to reach into the past--or, from our perspective, the present--and steal one of the world's best freestyle BMX riders for his show. That rider is, of course, where you come in. As the show's latest contestant, you'll have to defeat its American Gladiators-like riders and race against the clock to complete objectives before the toxin in your bloodstream reaches a fatal level.
That's a pretty funny and inventive premise, but in general, Toxic Grind is a fairly conventional extreme sports game that theoretically plays much like the rest of its contemporaries. You'll be able to execute vert tricks, grinds, wallrides, and so on, and each trick will earn you points. If you string together a number of successful tricks, you'll be able to pull off special adrenaline tricks for even bigger points. Scoring points comes into play most heavily in the rider battles, which are decided purely on that basis, though you'll also see some score goals in the game's more conventional levels. The rest of the goals are pretty standard for the genre. You'll collect letters to spell words, perform specific tricks on specific level objects, and so on.
While the creative story is told pretty well using a series of static images and decent voice-over, the actual gameplay really breaks up the experience. The physics in Toxic Grind feel painfully unfinished. You'll often go racing up the side of a quarter-pipe, only to have all your momentum drained away before you even leave the ramp. There's a timing trick here, in that you have to release the jump button at the right spot on the ramp to catch any air, but even when you time it correctly, you never really feel like you're catching the right amount of air. The camera acts up from time to time, and it's really ill-equipped to handle nonstandard maneuvers like riding through full loops. Like in most second-tier action sports games, you can land vert tricks into stalls 99 percent of the time. So you're never challenged to actually finish your trick and line up your landing--you can simply hit the lip trick button on your way down and land in a stall without even having to think about it. Everything about the way the game moves has a very clunky look and feel to it, from the trick animations to the physics of your basic wallride.
Unfortunately, it also has some terrible gameplay.
Toxic Grind doesn't even look good. The environments are fairly large and some seem to be designed somewhat well. The textures look OK when the game isn't moving, and overall, the game looks promising at first. But the animation of the rider movement and the stunted physics make the game look more and more awful the more you play. The game's sound and soundtrack aren't particularly noteworthy, and the decent voice work doesn't save it.
While Toxic Grind has the standard complement of features you'd expect from an action sports game and mixes things up by including a clever back story, the actual gameplay ruins anything else the game has to offer. With better BMX or action sports games already available on the Xbox, Toxic Grind is left out in the cold, where it belongs. Stick with Dave Mirra or Mat Hoffman for your freestyle BMX needs.