Itâ€™s been over seven years since Neversoft released the first Tony HawkÂ´s Pro Skater game. Itâ€™s been seven years ago that Neversoft managed to increase the popularity of sport by combining trick based challenge with a sandbox-style freedom and the help of a good cast of respectable skateboarding professionals. This month marks the release of the eighth game in the series but is it still worthwhile?
Contrary to last yearâ€™s effort, which had a tacked on story about a couple of punks in the 70s and 80s building a skate park, Project 8 has very little story. The game starts with Tony Hawk coming to town and calling out all of the 200 local amateur skaters to compete and making their way up the ladder to make it to his â€˜Project 8â€™ team. Practically this involves finishing over 200 goals, Spot Challenges and other objectives. The goals range from competing in skate competitions to breaking bones while the Spot Challenges require you to grind/manual/jump over a predefined distance. This time around Neversoft threw away the idea of choosing a difficulty level before you start the actual game. Most of the goals have certain requirements get an Amateur, Pro or Sick grade and the more goals you do on Sick, the faster youâ€™ll get on Project 8.
Neversoft used the power the next-gen consoles have to offer to their advantage and built a brand new engine from the ground up. Forget the crappy port-em-up that American Wasteland was on the 360, this is next-gen worthy. The graphics are crisp, the animation is smooth and detailed, and the city is really open and streaming this time. No more load screens, no more long corridors to cover up load times. If you want to you can skate from one end of town all the way to the other without having to break up your combo once if you want. The game is divided in ten main areas, taking your from the comfort of Suburbia all the way up to a Fun Park filled with attractions. And this is where the game gets its strength. Youâ€™ll have to unlock areas by doing a certain amount of goals but thatâ€™s about the only restriction youâ€™ll encounter in this game. Itâ€™s awesome to just skate around town, ranking points, only to stumble across a goal you havenâ€™t finished. The Spot Challenges even blend in seamlessly with your combos; you can start them without ever pressing a button.
Thereâ€™s a trade-off for having a huge open city with this much detail in lighting and geometry though. For some reason the game doesnâ€™t run as smooth as the demo indicated. The game comes off as being less smooth and it suffers from framedrops when thereâ€™s a lot of geometry in the screen. With games as graphically stunning as Gears of War running in a solid locked 30 frames per second thereâ€™s no excuse to have framedrops in a game where it can mess up your flow. Fortunately these issues arenâ€™t present in the multiplayer modes; those seem to be running much better if you choose to play them in a closed off area of town.
The framedrop isnâ€™t the only downside to this new engine unfortunately. The create-a-skater and create-a-park modes have been toned down a great deal. To create the looks for your avatar in the game youâ€™ll have to choose from one of five classes (chicks, surfers, kids, punks and urban), which you can then customize a bit. The customization options are very limited and youâ€™ll probably end up with a skater that looks alright but doesnâ€™t resemble what you wanted him to look. However, the motion captured animations look so good that you probably wonâ€™t mind. Neversoft built a brand new motion capture studio and it really pays off. Your skater will flail his arms as he tries to balance on a rail, heâ€™ll wrap his fingers around the deck as he pulls off grabs and heâ€™ll reposition his feet before he ollies. This really adds to the graphics and helps immersion.
Youâ€™ll probably notice the new animations best in the new Nail the Trick mechanic. During the Nail the Trick mode the camera zooms in on your feet and your board while the rest of the objects in the screen are blurred out. The high speed of the game drops to a special slow-mo effect, not unlike the bullet time effect in The Matrix, enabling you to control each foot with an analogue stick. By moving your left stick down youâ€™ll flick your board into a kickflip by kicking your left foot down. You can move your feet in any direction you want and thus flipping the board in any direction you want. You can even flick it a second or third time if you have enough time left and you can vary as much as you want as long as you land with your feet on the griptape. Nail the Trick can be induced at any given time during gameplay and itâ€™s a nice break from the fast paced combos youâ€™ll normally produce. Itâ€™s not the best way to rank points but itâ€™s definitely better than the create-a-trick mode the previous games had.
The aforementioned multiplayer is great too. Itâ€™s really easy to set up a game and have fun with the six different game types the game offers for multiplayer. You can seamlessly switch between free skate and the competitive game types and theyâ€™re all fun to play. You can participate in competitive game types based on the scores youâ€™ll get for pulling off tricks or you can do some Graffiti or Walls if you donâ€™t want to play the score-based modes. Graffiti is an old favourite which revolves around doing tricks on as many objects as possible, tagging them with your colours. Walls is new to THP8 and it mixes skating with a Tron-like mechanic where you get a wall behind you, which stretches as you do longer combos, requiring you to make your opponents run into your wall. It’s not the best game type ever but itâ€™s a nice break from the usual score attack and combo challenges.
Multiplayer isnâ€™t the only reason to plug in your Ethernet cable while playing THP8 though. There are leader boards for each goal in the Career mode that requires a specific score and those arenâ€™t the only leader boards. THP8 keeps track of a bunch of other stats too, such as highest combo, longest manual and longest grind. The implementation is done perfectly, most leader boards are accessible with only a single button press before starting a certain goal and itâ€™s awesome to see how you rank amongst your friends and the rest of the world. Unfortunately the â€˜rest of the worldâ€™ comes with a little problem. The leader boards are already filled with cheaters, ranking up unachievable scores. Itâ€™s sad to see such a good idea get ruined by a bunch of exploiters and we can only hope Neversoft/Microsoft can manage to address this problem.
The series have been known for their excellent and unique soundtrack and this instalment is no exception. Neversoft has embraced the underground music that goes along with the skate culture ever since the first THPS game. The soundtrack isnâ€™t as good as the THPS2 soundtrack, which featured awesome punkrock and mixed it up with some great hiphop, but it certainly has some neat tracks on it. It features artists such as Slayer, Wolfmother, The Ramones, Bad Religion, The Cure and even Gnarls Barkley and Kool and the Gang. The soundtrack isnâ€™t the most memorable one in the series but it gets the job done and itâ€™ll probably introduce some great artists to you.
And now for the 60 dollar question; is THP8 worth the purchase? In one word; yes. The Tony Hawk series have been going downhill for the past couple of years but this is right up there with the best games in the series. Getting rid of the Jackass cast and the forced punk image really did the series well and the new engine is just great. The game has an almost infinite replayability. Getting in Project 8 takes an experienced player about 14 hours and I canâ€™t even imagine how long it must take to complete every goal on the Sick difficulty level, which is allegedly the key to becoming the #1 on the Project. Fortunately the gameâ€™s goal isnâ€™t getting the #1 spot, getting on Project 8 is enough to get the credits to roll. If you havenâ€™t played any games in the series before then youâ€™ll take comfort in the solid tutorial and the perfectly doable Amateur difficulty as you get comfortable with the mechanics. With the solid on- and offline multiplayer, the leaderboards and the endless amount of lines to explore you wonâ€™t be bored by this game in the near future. So, lay down that chainsaw for a few hours and get on that skateboard, you wonâ€™t regret it.
Final Score: 9 out of 10 - Very Good (how do we rank games?)