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. Tony Hawk's Project 8 features a brand new engine, built from the ground up specifically for next-gen consoles, and, unfortunately, proves that while the series has plenty of potential, Neversoft may have run out of gas.
Join Project 8
Set in an expansive city that features no in-game load times and the ability to trick a line through all ten zones (should you have the skill), this is the first truly open skating city. Once each area is unlocked, you can go anywhere, anytime and pick any objective your heart desires.
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 large cityscape is seamless in its construction and every goal is well-integrated into the level design. 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.
You'll also come across plenty of graffiti in the streets. This isn't just worthless scrawl. There are "Owned" graffiti tags from rival skaters which, when touched, initiate an instant challenge. Follow the illuminated trick line as long as possible to take back ownership of the area. More interesting are the numerous spot challenges. You can't skate more than a few yards without seeing a spot challenge spray-painted on the ground or on a wall. Some require a grind to see how far you can make it without bailing. Others test your manual skills and, more importantly, your (wo)manhood. Finding and mastering these challenges is almost as intense as hunting down gaps.
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 incredibly difficult and may even push true T-Hawk vets to the limit.
The only time a ranking is not involved is when you face one of the ten 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.
Not only are there challenges all around, but every grind, manual and big air matters. Instead of spending stat points, this year all stats are improved based on your gameplay. The more feet you grind, the faster your stat improves. This provides added encouragement to trick while heading towards the next challenge marker.
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, despite being populated with random skaters and pedestrians. 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 Y 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 is saying, "Well, we're tapped out." Even the fun park isn't much fun. The pirate ship is bland, the roller coaster only decent. The Slums are truly the pits, with little flair and a reliance on some cheap airs boosts to make things more thrilling. This isn't to say that the game world has nothing to offer, just that it just feels uninspired.
Tony Hawk lives and dies by its design and this is one of Neversoft's weakest. It's possible that creating one large cohesive world has too greatly limited the developer's creativity. The integration of the goals into the levels is top-notch, but the levels themselves are fairly average.
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. It's a painful (but enjoyable) discovery. Nail the Trick requires both expert timing to kick the board at the right moment and the understanding (again, learned through failure) of which way to kick. An unsure tap can lead to an instant crash or cause the board to spin in a way that makes it more difficult to correct in time for a proper landing. At its finest, Nail the Trick is like an air ballet, a carefully choreographed dance between skater and board.
Nail the Trick doesn't just depend on your actions in the air, but is also affected (both positively and negatively) in the moments before you launch. Come off a lip crooked and you could meet an unkind angle making timing judgments all the more difficult. Or you could find yourself victim to an unpredictable camera. Where the camera is fixated can make a huge difference in how well you can Nail the Trick. At times, the camera can miss the board completely and focus on your sweet, sweet ass. Other times it is too far to one side, skewing the line of sight to one of your feet.
Though this is the first true next-gen Tony Hawk title, there are still collision detection issues with Nail the Trick. Often you won't see your foot actually touch the board on a kick. And in slow motion in a tight shot, it's quite noticeable. Ideally, it would be nice to see your skater's foot truly interacting with the board. Especially since some of the registered kicks lead to bails and without properly seeing foot hit board it can make some crashes seem cheap.
Despite its problems, there is no denying Nail the Trick is the best addition to the series since the manual. The physics are either insanely brilliant or completely screwed, it's hard to tell. Either way, it's damn good fun.
Remember All This From the Last Five Years?
The rest of the Project 8 is in stark contrast to the innovative Nail the Trick. Once again gamers will be pulling off ridiculous lines that can be extended nearly indefinitely thanks to the far too forgiving grind and manual meters. If things weren't easy enough, your Special meter can be filled in a matter of seconds allowing you to click the left thumbstick and enter Focus Mode.
Focus Mode slows time and zooms in like Nail-the-Trick, but instead of creating a delicate balancing act, the standard controls remain. It becomes almost impossible to bail on a grind and with the slowed time (which lasts for too long) you can pull off some intricate tricks to score massive combos and beat what would otherwise be difficult challenges. The Focus Mode does, however, afford the chance to admire Tony Hawk's new engine. You can see the wobbling of the board on its trucks and the interplay between weight distribution and balance.
Inexplicably, Project 8 has been stripped of its various creation functionalities. The Create-A-Skater is extremely limited, so much so that you are destined to play online matches with your twin (or triplet) more often than not. And that's the only creation mode left in the game. That's right, Create-A-Park is gone. Admittedly, it does show up in a limited capacity in the Career Mode, but it's just not the same.
Also gone are Create-A-Trick and Create-A-Graphic. The biggest trend in next-gen will be customization so it makes no sense for Neversoft to eliminate what was already in place.
Play with Friends, If You Have 'Em
Tony Hawk's Project 8 supports two-player offline multiplayer and up to eight players on Xbox Live. The two-player split-screen offline mode offers your basic Tony Hawk games, including Trick Graffiti and Horse. Nothing new or exciting has been added to offline play. You can't even perform Nail the Trick in split-screen. If you absolutely have to play with the jackass sitting next to you, split-screen will suffice, but it's as barebones as it gets.
The multiplayer, which does not allow multiple gamers on the same 360, does some things very well. The location you choose to skate becomes the virtual lobby. You can free skate all you like, talking to others in your game and showing them up with high-flying tricks. The host can select from six different game modes at any time: Trick Attack, Graffiti, Combo Mambo, Score Challenge, Combo Challenge and Walls. As games finish, players re-enter free skate, creating a very fluid online experience.
Walls is the only significant new game type and it's likely to become a hit. Think of it as Tron, with each skater leaving a six-foot high wall in his or her wake. The goal is to trap other skaters and force them to crash into your wall and die. The walls are really ugly as they spew out the back of your board and look as is someone were using MS Paint for the first time. Despite the amateurish look of the walls (and the lack of a spectator mode once you crash), this is still a great new addition.
Online there is no Focus Mode, but you can perform Nail the Trick. This is the only opportunity you have to see Nail the Trick from a distance, so be certain to take the time in free skate to admire others as they kick about their boards in slow motion.
One welcome addition is some detailed online rankings. There are leaderboards for just about every category from career and multiplayer modes, even keeping tabs on your heartiest bails. Now you can find out how well you match up to the rest of the Tony Hawk skating world in every facet of the game.
The online portion of Project 8 is almost completely lag free, with only the occasional hiccup with eight players. It's a shame to see many of American Wasteland's modes disappear. Bye bye Capture the Flag, King of the Hill and Pot O' Gold! There's nothing particularly revolutionary about what Project 8 does online, but it's a solid offering.
Sights and Sounds
The new Tony Hawk engine is a keeper. The motion-captured tricks and the more realistic physics are a visual treat. Somehow Neversoft managed to create a fully opened city with almost no pop-in. In general, if you can see it, you can reach it. And if you can reach it, you can usually see it from any high point in the city. The only thing Neversoft couldn't shake is some nagging framerate issues, which plague the game consistently and can ruin some tricks. The game may be stuttering from having seen 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. Sure, you'll hear pedestrians make comments, but if you close your eyes, you can't tell if you're at the Capitol Building, in Suburbia or at the Fun Park. Tony Hawk needs to make full use of the 5.1 and bring the entire city to life.
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