IGN Review of Tony Hawk's Project 8
Tony Hawk's Project 8 is the eighth release in Neversoft and Activision's venerable skating series. From the goal progression to the control scheme, the franchise has practically defined what gamers have come to expect from extreme sports games. With Project 8, Neversoft has started from scratch and built the game specifically for next-gen systems (Shaba Games has taken over the bulk of PS2 and Xbox duties). The result certainly looks like a next-gen title and does show a number of hints towards progressive design, but much of it feels like the same old Tony Hawk that we've been playing for years.
The Project 8 portion of the game's title directly refers to your main goal. Tony Hawk is looking for the eight best amateur skaters in the world, and through impressing pro skaters and winning competitions, your aim is to work your way up the ranks and crack the top eight. Most everything you do in the game will affect your rank, be it completing goals from random bystanders, finding hidden items or performing tasks for the pro skaters. It's a pretty cool setup that keeps you feeling like you're working towards an end goal while not being bogged down by an overly cheesy and rather unnecessary story, as has been the case since the first Tony Hawk's Underground.
One really cool element of the game's design is that the different difficulty levels are built directly into the single-player Career mode. Most every goal in the game has three separate accomplishment levels, Amateur, Pro and Sick, and you're awarded each level depending on how well you do at the goal. For example, if you're attempting one of the photographer missions where you perform a bunch of called out tricks while trailing a cameraman, you might get Amateur for finishing 10 tricks, Pro for 20 and Sick for 30 within the time limit. Even the competitions work in the same way - you first perform a seeding run which places you into one of three tournaments of varying skill levels, and then you need to win the tournament you were placed in to finish the goal.
While this system works really well for the most part, the new stat progression system means that you'll have to come back later to hit Sick on many goals simply because you'll be too underpowered for most of the game. In the past few Tony Hawk games, you've earned points by grinding a certain distance or performing enough rotations in a trick. This is still true in Tony Hawk's Project 8, except that the skill progression is now designed on a long-term level to prevent skilled veterans from overpowering their skaters at the start. So for example, you'll earn a rotation stat point for spinning 500 total times, then a second at 1,000 and so on and so forth. Obviously, it can take a while to max out your skater.
While this sounds good on paper, there are a few issues with it. One is the aforementioned goal difficulty system where you'll find that you need to backtrack a ton later in the game if you want to hit the Sick score for everything. You simply can't jump high enough or rotate fast enough to finish many of these goals when you first begin. The second issue is that you simply feel underpowered for the first half of the game, at least for Tony Hawk veterans. We're so used to the series' movement and skater abilities that having to play with a relatively slow and weak skater at the start makes everything feel somewhat limiting.
A very curious bit of this whole thing is that you don't have a speed skill anymore. You'll move at the same speed the entire game, and it's a much slower pace than what we've seen in the past. Your skater simply seems to crawl most of the time, almost as if he's not even bothering to kick the board and simply coasts around.
One area where the game brings in a next-gen feel is Spot Challenges. You'll find spray painted markers on ramps, curbs, walls and such that mark where skaters have set records. To attempt these challenges, you simply need to start your grind, manual or what have you prior to the first marker and then reach at least the Amateur mark. You never need to actually talk to anyone to start the goal or anything of that sort - they simply "work" when you attempt them, even if by accident.
The Spot Challenges are really cool in that they make the world feel more lively and populated as you'll get the feeling that someone has been there and hit your same spots before. They also provide plenty of small goals to tackle between bigger challenges to break up the pace a bit. The one issue that we have with the Spot Challenges is that it can sometimes be hard to read the challenge type if the marker is on top of a ledge or some such, requiring that you step off your board to take a quick glance at the text. Other than that, they're a really nice addition to the series and work very well.
The biggest new element of the franchise is Nail a Trick. When you press down both analog sticks to trigger this, the game will slow to a crawl and the camera will zoom in and shift to the side of your feet and board. You then use the two analog sticks to control your feet, moving them to flick the board this way and that. Nail a Trick is tied into the game's Havok physics system, so the board will go in whatever direction you tap it.
Nail a Trick takes a bit of getting used to, mostly for timing reasons, but once you do it's very addicting. You can pull off tricks that you couldn't do otherwise, and its flexibility means that you can invent complex combos that no one has ever done before. The downside to Nail a Trick is that the camera will oftentimes wind up in a far less than ideal spot, and while you can see what's happening with your board and feet, you won't be able to tell which way is up in the world or how close you are to landing, especially when you throw in some rotations. This may be semi-realistic as you're focusing solely on your board, but it can be very disorienting and it really doesn't seem like Neversoft intended it to be this bad.
For the first time in the series, Neversoft has created a truly open-world environment for players to skate in. While Tony Hawk's American Wasteland utilized streaming technology to allow players to skate from one level to the next without loading, you had to travel through tunnels that connected each area. Tony Hawk's Project 8 is set in one giant world that is connected seamlessly. You'll open up the world section by section as you progress of course, but once everything is open there really aren't any boundaries.
While it's certainly very cool that the world is seamlessly connected, the actual design feels quite uninspired. In fact, some of the areas in the game are ripped directly from past games in the series, like the starting town, factory or sections of the school. While it's always been nice to find classic maps for use in multiplayer games, Neversoft has never dished up previously used maps before for the single-player portion, and Project 8 feels somewhat cheap because of this. Granted, these areas have been updated and tweaked a fair bit, but they don't feel new.
Even many of the new areas feel rather boring. There are some interesting skate park bits here and there, but by and large it seems as if Neversoft was simply going through the paces once again rather than trying to come up with something fresh and unique. The introductory movie for the game (the same thing you'll see in the original trailer) made it seem as if the developer was heading back to the purer and more realistic roots of skateboarding, where inventiveness ruled the day. That's certainly not the case here, what with lines basically handed to you with the Triangle button depressed, runway lights flashing away to draw your attention to another extremely obvious connector rail.
Tony Hawk's Project 8 does away with the Classic mode as a separate play option and instead implements it directly into the Career mode. A character in each area will trigger a Classic challenge, whereby a piece of the world is sectioned off and 10 goals are set forth, including the old standby S-K-A-T-E, C-O-M-B-O and high score goals. You have two minutes to finish as many of these as possible, with the number that you're able to finish dictating whether you receive an Amateur, Pro or Sick rating.
While this is an interesting way to put a twist on the setup, it doesn't work quite as well as the old standalone mode as it makes everything feel very rushed. You never feel like you have the time to just grab S-K-A-T-E this time out and then cruise around and see if you can find the hidden tape. You have to make every second count, and it feels a bit too hectic.
Since its inception, the Tony Hawk series has been one of the most customizable franchises in gaming, allowing you to create your skater from the ground up, build a custom park, design your own trick and much more. Almost all of this is gone in Project 8. You're still able to modify your skater, but you start by choosing one of five designs and then tweak them slightly. Indeed, you had five starting selections in American Wasteland, but you had a lot more aftermarket options there. Aside from a few small choices, the only things that distinguish your character from another in Project 8 are your choices of haircut, shirt and pants.
The Create-a-Park makes a very tiny cameo inside of the Career mode. At certain spots throughout the game, you'll be allowed to edit the surroundings around you and move or place ramps, rails and so forth. You have very few choices here and you have to work around the confines of the level itself. Some goals are built around this where you might need to move objects to reach a certain spot or get from one point to another without touching the ground. They're somewhat interesting on paper, maybe, but in practice they're not fun at all. It's always obvious what you need to do, so what's the point in being able to "customize" when things can really only go one way?
The PlayStation 3 version of Tony Hawk's Project 8 has a number of things that set it apart from the Xbox 360 version, two of which are very bad. One good thing is the ability to use the SIXAXIS to control your skater. You have the ability to turn, balance and perform tricks with the controller, and each of these three options is able to be set individually. If you only want to balance with the SIXAXIS but would prefer to still use the classic controls for tricks and steering, you can use that.
The SIXAXIS control basically mimics the left analog stick. If you want to turn, you tilt it left or right. Flicking it left or right horizontally will spin the board, and tilting it forward and then back will perform a manual. Tricks are performed by tilting the controller and then pressing the appropriate face button, and you can use the SIXAXIS to fully manipulate the board in Nail a Trick. This control method works reasonably well and is fairly fun to use, but it's a fair bit more difficult to use then the "old" way. You'll never be able to compete with the best out there, but it's good fun to mess around with.
The first major issue that the PlayStation 3 version has is that it doesn't include any online support. Considering that the Tony Hawk series was the first online game for the PlayStation 2, even before the Network Adapter was ever released, makes this seem curious. And the fact that this is the only major launch title that isn't online but should be is basically inexcusable. Tony Hawk's online play is good fun, and it's really disappointing that Neversoft included it with the Xbox 360 version but not this one.
The second problem with the PS3 variant of Project 8 is that it simply doesn't run all that well. The game chops up left and right, sometimes to the point where the controls don't feel responsive. It's bad enough that the camera isn't always perfect, but when it's staring at the bottom of your board and the game is running at 15fps, well, there's a major problem. That's not to say that it always runs poorly, as it can be reasonably quick most of the time, but Project 8 chops up way more often than is normally forgivable.
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