IGN Review of Tony Hawk's Project 8
Any series that lasts through eight iterations is certain to have creative peaks and valleys. For Neversoft's Tony Hawk series, the best of times were represented in THPS 2 & 3 with its roughest patch coming during the THUG years. With Undergound a thing of the past and with the promise shown in last year's American Wasteland, it appeared the Tony Hawk series was back on the upswing. While that may hold true for the next-gen versions of Tony Hawk, it's clear that the current-gen versions, developed by Shaba Games, were nothing more than an afterthought.
Join Project 8
Using last year's engine, Project 8 features 10 different areas, none of which are directly connected. Like old-school Tony Hawk games, you'll clear one area to open another and then be able to select specific levels. It's not one big city as in the next-gen versions.
Your goal is to rise from your sad #200 ranking among amateur skaters and crack the top eight. Every secret token found, gap crossed, and challenge beaten propels your created skater up the rankings. Complete enough challenges and you'll enter the Birdman's elite Project 8.
The moderately-sized levels have a healthy number of challenges. Skate up to any highlighted character to engage in specific challenges, including the re-modeled Classic Mode, which now works within the structure of the Career Mode. That's right, instead of having to play classic two-minute Tony Hawk challenges in a separate mode, you can now do so in the middle of the city. In fact, completing the ten challenges in each Classic zone can go a long way to boosting your rankings.
New this year are Spot Challenges. These test your specific skating skills, whether it's grinding a certain distance or trying to gain air. Likely for technical reasons, the Spot Challenges must be activated by talking to a character. This effectively negates the purpose of the challenges, which, in the next-gen versions, is to allow you to complete tasks while free skating about the levels. As a segregated event, it seems a bit pointless.
The majority of skill contests have three possible rankings: Amateur, Pro and Sick. You can get to Project 8 by mastering the Amateur level of difficulty on challenges. This is a cake walk and even the Pro difficulty is pretty easy. The only real test of your skating prowess is nabbing Sick ratings. Some of these are difficult, but shouldn't be too great a test for veteran Hawk fans.
The only time a ranking is not involved is when you face one of the Pro Challenges. Some of the best vert and street skaters have specific skill tests. While a few of the old guard come into play, including fan-fave Bob Burnquist, the majority of the pros are newer stars. The young (and ridiculously talented) Ryan Sheckler heads up a list that includes Paul Rodriguez, Jr., Nyjah Huston and Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins. Bam Margera shows up in the Slums. Fitting.
Shaba, who was primary developer for the current-gen versions, chose to return Hawk to its more traditional roots for stat progression. Completing goals earn stat points, which can then be spent as you please. The one area where the current-gen versions trump next-gen is that you can increase your skater's speed. In fact, the speed of Project 8 on Xbox and PS2 is enjoyably faster than what is seen on 360 and PS3.
Design on a Dime
All of this is fine and dandy and, with the right level design, could make for a decent entry in Activision's long-running series. But, the level design in Project 8 is lacking. Suburbia, The Factory, The School -- we've seen these same areas before, but done much, much better in other versions of Tony Hawk. None of the areas pop with energy or vitality. The lines in Project 8 are so obvious they might as well come with a neon sign. You can, quite literally, take air and hit the grind button and be almost certain to grind something by the time you reach the ground. As long as you can maintain your balance, you can easily pull off long lines.
One of the keys to Tony Hawk's longevity has been Neversoft's ingenuity in level design. Project 8 feels like an exhalation, as if Neversoft and Shaba are both saying, "Well, we're tapped out." This isn't to say that the game world has nothing to offer, just that it just feels uninspired. To its credit, the current-gen versions have slightly stronger design.
Nail the Trick, Save the World
The big new shiny addition this year is the highly addictive Nail the Trick. Anytime you have air, click down on both thumbsticks. Time slows and the camera zooms in, focusing on your feet and the board. With time nearly frozen and your skater hanging in the air for what seems like an eternity, your task is to flip your board as often and quickly as possible to jack up your score.
The left and right thumbsticks represent your left and right foot respectively and pushing in any direction gives a nudge to your board. It often also leads to a harsh bail. Nail the Trick is the first addition to Tony Hawk in several years that forces players to learn from the ground up. Unfortunately, Nail the Trick is far too easy on PS2 and Xbox. For whatever reason, Shaba decided to make a "For Dummies" version of Tony Hawk, as the board flashes when you are supposed to kick it. This removes most of the challenge. And, surprisingly, without the difficulty, Nail the Trick is kind of lame.
How to Ruin Tony Hawk
Some absolutely terrible decisions were made for the current-gen Tony Hawk. Inexplicably, Shaba decided to alter one of the most basic control functions. Ever since Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, gamers have pushed up-down (or down-up) to manual. This is how tricks were first linked and became the basis for the series' insanely long trick lines. In Project 8, you can still use the old way to manual, or you can press a face button to instantly manual. And, you don't have to revert anymore out of a quarterpipe. The new manual button covers the revert and continues the line. What. The. F@$&.
This ruins Tony Hawk. Ruins it. As I said before, this is Tony Hawk for dummies. Manual balance is also far too easy and coupled with the simplicity of the new trick system, pulling off huge combos can be done without any effort. I don't know who thought this is necessary for what is likely the final current-gen Tony Hawk, but they should be forced to sit in the corner for the next year.
To make matters worse, Project 8 strips both PS2 and Xbox of online functionality. Why? Who knows, but you can't play online anymore without an Xbox 360. That leaves just two-player split-screen as the only multiplayer option.
Also gone are Create-A-Park, Create-A-Trick and Create-A-Design. And character creation is limited to just three character types. Project 8 should come with a sharp stick so gamers can jab it in their eye. No fans should be forced to see this beloved series stripped bare.
Sights and Sounds
To its credit, the current-gen versions of Project 8 run far better than its next-gen counterparts. Working off the old engine, Project 8 runs smoothly and has some decent animations and textures. The Xbox version has vibrant color, almost too vibrant. Both look good, but the series is certainly showing its age.
The only glitch in graphics comes from the bloated rendering of former skate pro Jason Lee's face. He must have eaten a Hot Pocket that didn't agree with him before having his face scanned, because he doesn't look so good.
Once you've managed to calm your screaming (it's okay, mutant Jason Lee isn't real), you can enjoy more than 50 licensed tracks. Once again, it's a killer set of songs, which include the classic Dead Milkmen ditty "Punk Rock Girl," Joy Division's "Interzone" and Kool and the Gang's brilliant instrumental, "Summer Madness." The sound effects are up to par, but get used to the sound of your wheels on pavement, because there's almost no ambient noise.
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