Warm summer days after school with nothing to do but hang out with your friends, those were good times. You remember them, the ones you spent on the playground chillin out, maxin, relaxing all cool, and all shooting some b-ball outside of school. Well JCE's "Freestyle" promises to bring back that street ball feeling from your youth while infusing it with some hip hop anime funk. Is it a backboard breaking dunk or a game losing turn over? Just to be clear, Freestyle is a free to play, anime based, MMORPG about basketball with Korean hip hop/funk for a soundtrack. You get all that? Let's start with the very beginning of my list of gripes with this game, the install process. To play Freestyle you need to do the following:
- - sign up for a Warp Portal account
- - download the Warp Portal Gateway .exe (30+mb)
- - install the Warp Portal Gateway.exe
- - login to the Gateway and download the Freestyle .exe (850+mb)
- - install Freestyle.exe
- - create ANOTHER account within Warp Portal specifically for Freestyle
- - login to Freestyle and begin creating a character
Seriously, it's completely unnecessary and quite aggravating. By the time I was done with all of that, I was starting to think that this had better be a good game. You also have to run the Gateway EVERY time you want to play Freestyle because that's where the actual launcher is located. It could be easily remedied by tossing the Gateway into the garbage. It's clumsily built and annoying to use.
There was a promotion that was supposed to net me 500 "GKash" which is the game's currency and the easier way to make your character look like the ones advertised. To get more "GKash" you have to buy "Warp Energy" and convert it. Thankfully this is a 1:1:1 conversion based on pennies. You can also use points to buy things. It's just like XP you earn in every other RPG, where playing games you earn xp, and winning games you earn a much greater amount of xp. Unfortunately, the selection of clothing and accessories that you can purchase is greatly reduced and cost much more in points. My account started with 0 GKash and 15000pts. That 15k was enough to buy ONE top and ONE set of shorts. That's one outfit for 13k that's not refundable or changeable after you buy and no preview available. Good thing my girlfriend is a stylist.
The character creation is pretty bland. You get your pick of male or female with about 6 options for facial expressions, skin tones and hair styles. That's it, because both genders wear the same oversized t-shirt and jean shorts with the same sneakers. This is probably the first MMO I've ever seen where playing as a female doesn't get you any eye candy. Kind of a surprise. The initial character seems overly safe in terms of design, especially compared to some of the NPCs, like my center who is a large black guy with no shirt on, but does have boxing gloves and helmet on. It's the kind of wacky that has to be seen to be believed. Granted, I think this guy is the exception. Most of the NPC's have a distinct hip hop feel to them, with lots of baggy jeans, sneakers, hoodies, and chains for everyone. I think it works and I definitely give that choice thumbs up.
The visuals are 3D, cel shaded characters on top of relatively bright backgrounds. They're not super beautiful, but at the same time, they're definitely not ugly. I'd put them on par with an Xbox in about the middle of its life span. Or, if you've ever seen what most 3D anime looks like, this is no exception.
The music is a surprisingly non aggravating mash up of Korean hip hop and funk. Those things usually go hand in hand anyway, at least the hip hop and funk part, and the Korean language doesn't get in the way of the listening experience. It's nothing super hardcore, so if you're a Korean rap/hip hop head you'll probably be disappointed. It's more like hip hop you'd find in the DJ Max franchise than say Tan Ming Doo circa 2001 (I know I butchered that group's name to the max. If anyone can correct me, then please do). There is also an announcer that talks so much trash; I felt I had no need to open my mouth. Granted, it's like the music- not very offensive, but he does talk a lot. I think he's related to the announcer from DDR, but not from the same immediate family. He's more like the cousin that thinks he's cool and hangs around like 3 black people who aren't that hood and live in suburbia. If you can't stand the announcer from DDR, then I suggest you hit the mute button when you play.
Speaking of play, the game play is something to note in Freestyle. And it's not a good note. Characters run around I guess something like a chicken without a head. I have never seen a freshly killed chicken so I'm not sure what it actually looks like. Thankfully, passing is pretty much automated, so unless you get knocked down, your pass will always connect with your teammate. Getting the timing right to block shots is pretty difficult due to the immense lag of the characters. Of course, the computer has no problem with that timing, so unless you break past them, expect to get a face full of leather and palm. Shooting is pretty straight forward with a semi long button press to take a jump shot. A quick press of the same button does a fake out which is a nice touch to see in a game like this. Stealing is handled very interestingly. There is a circle around the feet of the person you're supposed to guard with a line of arrows going from you to them. The arrows change color from red, to yellow, and finally green as you get closer to your opponent and in front of them. During the few moments that the arrows are green is when you could potentially make a steal. It sounds easy, but it's definitely not due to the controls.
And speaking of controls, during actual game play is where the controls get to my nerves and my biggest complaint. There is a very noticeable lag to the character you're controlling. Moving is either done with WASD, arrow keys, or the NUM pad, depending on your preference. While this might not sound bad, the keyboard is all you get. There is no support for gamepads (like the Logitech one I'm borrowing) and there is a program that starts up when you boot Freestyle called Hackshield that blocks 3rd party programs like X-padder and Joy to Key. There are only 4 commands s you really need and you can set up an extra 2 if you want to be fancy, easily enough commands that could be mapped to a controller. I understand the blocking of 3rd party apps that could be used to farm xp and like in the other MMO's such as Ragnarok Online, where you could systematically find enemy spawn points and pillage. But this is a game where nothing happens twice. Between every time the ball gets checked and someone scores, the events are always different. Matches are up to 3 on 3 in single player and 2 on 2 in online. Since the games are half-court only, I think the 3 on 3 get pretty chaotic really fast. 2 on 2 felt like the magic number for matches, where 1 on 1 felt like a race to just fast break past your opponent. All matches are 4 minutes long with overtime being an extra minute of play.
Overall, Freestyle isn't a bad game. It's a great idea that needs some work in the game play department to really shine. I like the hip hop/street feel to it and the fact that even though I'm not a high level at all, I can still just jump in and play a few games with people. If the controls and input issue I had ever gets resolved, then this would be an easy 3.5 or better. That being said, Freestyle gets 2.5 out of 5 TOV stars.