It looks like Tony Hawk is finally back on his game. There are many who agree that [i]Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2[/i] and [i]3[/i] were the highlights of the Tony Hawk franchise, while the Jackass-inspired [i]Tony Hawk’s Underground 2[/i] was probably the lowest point. Now that Tony Hawk has made the jump to the next-generation with [i]Tony Hawk’s Project 8[/i], the franchise has not only seen a much needed graphics overhaul, but is also a return to the great game play of the original [i]Pro Skater[/i] era. There are still some traces of staleness here and there, and some issues damper its comeback, but [i]Tony Hawk’s Project 8[/i] manages to finally bring the series back to life, at least to some degree.
Here’s the story: Tony Hawk has come to your town in search of the top amateur skating talent in what he calls “Project 8.” The deal is that there are hundreds of skaters vying for the top eight positions on the team, including yourself, who begins the whole thing at the bleak ranking of number 200. Completing skating challenges, tricking it out with other pro skaters and unlocking the entire city will eventually lead you into the top eight. Is this a deep and involving storyline? Not particularly, but honestly, it is a bit refreshing to see the series return to simple skating as opposed to focusing on the ridiculous and sophomoric storylines brought on by the Underground series.
Last year’s [i]American Wasteland[/i] introduced the load screen-free seamless world to the franchise, and [i]Project 8[/i] takes the concept further. Here, everything seems to be directly connected to each other, where the capitol will lead directly into the city park which then leads into both the factory, main street, and the slums, as opposed to American Wasteland where each area was connected by empty corridors disguised as brief load screens. It’s a good thing, too, because all the loading is done before the game begins and helps to create a persistent world where goals and tricks stretch almost around every game area. It is very possible, considering your balancing skills, to make a combo stretch through every area of the game. Connecting the city into one big open area also leads to some new challenges, and with over 200 different challenges, [i]Project 8[/i] can take awhile to play through.
[i]Project 8[/i] is also, quite possibly, the most difficult Tony Hawk game in quite some time, if not the hardest in the series. The game is full of different challenges, with the majority of them having three different difficulty criteria; Am, Pro, and Sick. The Am challenges are fairly simplistic, and Pro challenges are somewhat more difficult, although not by much. The Sick challenges are where players will probably trip up, as most of them have some pretty, well, sick requirements. On top of that, there are a lot of new challenges types to wade through, such as spot challenges that require you to perform combos to different chalk lines throughout the city, and turf wars, which require you to combo some insane lines and get to the target area. On top of all this, the trick multiplier has been hampered pretty significantly, so it is much more difficult to make millions, or even a million period, points.
Then, of course, there’s Nail the Trick, the new gimmick that’s supposed to breathe some new life into the series. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Nail the Trick is great enough to redefine the franchise, as some have put it, but it is a fun new addition. It works by clicking down on both analog sticks to begin focus mode, during which you use each analog stick to manipulate the board and concentrate which directions your board goes in. There’s an art to getting things right at first, but once you play around with things, Nail the Trick is certainly a welcome addition to what is otherwise the same trick set as seen in previous games. Although I should mention that this time around, every trick in the game has been motion-captured from the pros that perform them, so the same old tricks do look a lot better because of it.
[i]Project 8[/i] does contain the standard online multiplayer, although strangely enough, only on the Xbox 360. It’s basically similar to the online modes of all the previous Tony Hawk titles, right down to the interface. Up to eight players can join into an interactive lobby where you can free skate until the host begins a game, after which players will return to free skate until the next game. Graffiti, Combo Mambo, and other standard game types return from the older titles. The only new addition is Walls, which is almost like a tribute to Tron where players skate around with colored walls trailing them, trying to entrap other players in their wall. Unfortunately, there seems to be no spectator mode, so when you’re eliminated from a game, you’re treated to the [i]Project 8[/i] logo screen and skating sounds until the game ends. It also seems somewhat hard to actually get into a game at times, either because you lose the connection, the host boots you, or the host is away from his console.
One major thing to mention are the graphics. For years, the Tony Hawk franchise has worked under what look to be first generation Playstation 2 graphics, and even American Wasteland for the Xbox 360 saw little improvement. Being the first Tony Hawk game developed for the next generation of consoles, there has finally been an update, and it is certainly welcome. At the same time, while things look marginally better, the development team really seemed to screw up when crafting the faces of individual characters, particularly Tony Hawk and the pro skaters, almost looking cartoonish to an extent. It doesn’t help that Tony Hawk himself is on the box art, because comparing it to his in-game self only supports the goofy look of the character models. Still, it’s hard to complain with the fact that Neversoft finally decided to put some effort into the graphics after years of lazily rehashing them.
An especially strange change resides with the character creation system. The create-a-skater mode has been widely praised over the series, but for some reason in [i]Project 8[/i], they have divided the different clothing, faces, and other options into different skater styles. This means you only have access to a very small set of features, and if you go online, there’s a good chance you’ll find someone who looks just like you. I honestly can’t understand this decision, as the create-a-skater has been a time-tested staple of the series for years now. Create-a-park has also been removed, although there are traces of it in the single-player. This isn’t as big an issue for me, but many Tony Hawk fans have decried this move, so it’s worth mentioning.
Other minor issues mar [i]Project 8[/i]’s overall presentation. For instance, there is a nagging frame rate lag that appears when the nearby environment gets too populated. It doesn’t hurt things too much, although the slow down is very noticeable, and if you happen to be in the middle of a combo, a button press may get ignored during the slowdown. I also have to take issue with the ridiculous ragdoll physics engine they introduced. It’s not so much that I hate the rag doll effect (in fact, I love rag doll physics usually), but here, they just seem so exaggerated. I have never seen a system like this where your character launches twenty stories into the air upon hitting something, say, a fence, although admittedly, it is fun to watch them come crashing down to earth (in all the bone-shattering glory) afterwards.
I can really appreciate [i]Tony Hawk’s Project 8[/i], because it brings back the memories of the Hawk games of the early years of the series. I personally hated [i]THUG 2[/i], and [i]American Wasteland[/i] didn’t grab me a whole lot either. Playing [i]Project 8[/i] feels like going back to my teen years when my friends and I couldn’t get enough of the series, and that feeling is a good one. It could have been a little better had they cleaned up the frame rate issues and hadn’t gone and screwed up the create-a-skater, but for the dedicated Hawk fan, [i]Tony Hawk’s Project 8[/i] won’t disappoint.