Finally we’re able to get our skate on with the 8th installment of the Tony Hawk’s series. I wasn’t particularly excited to review this game as it seemed that a Tony Hawk’s game was being released every week, so it kind of lost its appeal around ‘Underground 2’ and ‘American Wasteland’ time. Although the Tony Hawks series has appeared on over a dozen platforms and sold millions since the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater in 1999, it has struggled to keep a wide fan base except for the skating faithful. However, with much hype about Neversoft’s complete redesign in game play and all on a shiny new console to boot, I was ready to hit the skate park one more time.
Before you even begin the game, I strongly recommend you do not skip the intro movie. It is definitely something to behold, showcasing some stunning tricks from in-game by Tony Hawks and others, made so slick its as good as going on YouTube and searching for ‘Sick Skateboard Tricks’. With the clip running to ‘Kasabian – Club Foot’ it’s merely a teaser of things to come.
The main feature that has kicked up a fuss is the ‘NAIL THE TRICK’ feature. Now if you have followed every Tony Hawk’s release religiously then this will be the feature to get your wallet out for. It offers a revolutionary system where players can take complete control of their skater by controlling both legs with the left and right analogue sticks. This opens up the door for all sorts of possibilities, including the ability to create your own tricks. All of this is performed in a crisp slow-motion experience, reminiscent of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time using that dreamy aura glow effect.
As I hardly played the last few releases I found it easy to pick up and manage the ‘NAIL THE TRICK’ feature, it is just a matter of timing to get it right. However, others who played previous Tony Hawk’s games to a hardcore extent, found it extremely difficult to grasp, as it was all a bit too new and confusing. Nonetheless, it was agreed that the look and feel of this feature was mind-blowing.
Another one of the main features is the amount of goals and missions there are to complete, spanning over 3 difficulty levels: AM, PRO and SICK. With over 200 in-built challenges, it keeps you coming back for more, making your cuts and bruises irrelevant. There are several game modes to choose from at the main menu including: ‘Career’, ‘2Player’, ‘Xbox Live’ ‘Free Skate’, ‘Create’ and ‘Pro Tricks’.
The career mode is extremely extensive and as soon as you begin it, you are given the option to select your ‘Skater Style’; from then on you can fully customise your skater, from an Etnies t-shirt to Element Caldera trainers. You’re then offered to take a tutorial or start the game. I recommend playing the tutorial no matter how good you think you already are, as you immediately get a feel for the game, and you get to play as the pro’s straight away. Using the open-world concept, the game consists of one large map in which you need to unlock each area as you progress by completing goals. Each goal is unique and there are countless hidden objectives to keep you distracted from the main task at hand.
The controls are pretty much as close to previous games as possible. So if you’re any good at other Tony Hawks titles, you’re sure to be able to pick this up and skate away without much trouble. Like I said earlier, the ‘NAIL THE TRICK’ feature has the steepest learning curve for control and playability. However, it really doesn’t take long to get the hang of; it’s merely a case of holding the sticks in one direction until the board is flat, before changing directions and holding them again. When done correctly, and you land your trick, you’ll get an immense feeling of satisfaction that can only be described when playing it. Other than that THP8 fairly simple to control even for newcomers to the series. The developers have clearly tried to stay as faithful as possible to its predecessors in terms of look and feel, in order to keep the learning curve to a minimum.
Now moving onto the fun part – the graphics. This is where Tony Hawk’s Project 8 shines, quite literally. The new lighting and animation system is pure eye candy. If you don’t have an HD display, get one. If you can’t afford one, go to your local game shop and check out Tony Hawk’s in HD because it is simply phenomenal. The game runs perfectly smooth as well, with a certain fluidity about it. During gameplay I have noticed a slight case of slowdown in places although this usually lasts for about a second. This becomes apparent when making fast turns, but it’s barely noticeable and won’t affect your enjoyment in the game. Bailing does not seem to be a problem anymore, with the aid of Ragdoll physics it’s a pleasure to see your skater hit the ground and bleed. You’ll wince when you do though as it’s that realistic. The environment uses the open-world concept as opposed to stages, giving you a full array of spectacular areas to skate in with unprecedented draw distance and incredible motion capture. One of the major selling points is that each skater has their own animations now; this can be seen particularly when performing special ‘Pro Tricks’. To put it in a nutsheell, the 360 version of THP8 is a massive improvement on any other Tony Hawk’s you’ve played, including the current gen of THP8 on the PS2/Xbox. The graphics are what tell you that this is clearly a next-gen title.
The soundtrack maintains its tradition of a collection of new and fitting tracks to score points to. With a blend of indie/punk rock and metal dominating the set, you’ll be skating to the likes of ‘The Ramones’, ‘Nine Inch Nails’, ‘Slayer’ and ‘Plus 44’ all making the cut on the soundtrack. Of course you have the alternative option of listening to your own personal music which, when coupling your favourite tune to the slow motion ‘NAIL THE TRICK’ sequence, will inspire nothing but goose bumps. The sound effects are as realistic as ever, sounding fantastic on a Dolby Digital surround sound system and for the first time, you as a gamer will feel it when your skater bails and racks up a hefty hospital bill. All the skaters’ voices are included when setting challenges for you, and when playing your own music, it is automatically muted during dialogue and then automatically resumed as soon as the cut scene ends, which is a nice touch that most developers are now starting to implement into their titles.
Tony Hawks is fully online compatible. The Xbox Live functionality has everything it had before and more. Competitive Tony Hawk’s players will revel in the high scoring online leader board, to pit your skills up against the best of the best. There is a large community for the game, with plenty of players online most of the time. When connecting online I did experience some freezing, which is always frustrating. It appears some bugs still need ironing out on the online front, but nothing that a quick patch wouldn’t fix. I wasn’t able to have multiple gamers on the same console when playing online which was disappointing but I was still pleased with the general experience. It caters for 2-8 players and the host has a choice of six different modes: ‘Trick Attack, Graffiti, Combo Mambo, Score Challenge, Combo Challenge’ and the new ‘Walls’. This is where skaters leave a Tron like trail behind them in an attempt to box each other in, which is pretty fun and a worthy addition to the other available modes. I wouldn’t say the multiplayer feature is the main attraction for Tony Hawks, it’s more about completing the single player tasks and maybe then when you’ve honed your skills to this point, you might have a chance against the world’s elite.
Overall, Tony Hawk’s Project 8 has to be the best Tony Hawk’s installment to date. It offers unparalleled graphics, and innovative new features that make previous versions look dated. Its longevity should keep even the pros stuck to the pad for a long time. Even with all objectives complete, you’ll find yourself simply creating new tricks that are entirely your own. Never before have you had this much control over your skater. Neversoft have accomplished a control system that all fans of Tony Hawk’s games will be delighted with. They have maintained their faithfulness to the original Tony Hawk’s engine, whilst tweaking and tinkering it to perfection, as well as completely overhauling the graphics to reach a peak that is without equal. If you’re a Tony Hawk’s fan, you should already have this game. If you’re not a big fan, test-skate it once and you’ll undoubtedly be hooked. This is a must in any Xbox 360 games collection.
Originally Written By: Arni Lochner