My only real experience with the Tony Hawk series has been with this game. I know many people that have long since been burned out on the repetitive nature of this game, which is actually why I dislike the Grand Theft Auto series so much. I have seen my brother play Tony Hawk 2 on PS2 and briefly played Tony Hawk 3 on Pickle’s Cube when he still had the game, but that was the extent of my experience with this series of games. I simply bought this game for Christmas without even playing it, which is not a practice that I generally engage in. It’s generally wise to rent games that may get old or boring after extended amounts of playing, but I felt confident that I would enjoy it.
It would be difficult to compare this game to the last Xbox release of Tony Hawk, which was THPS 2x. There have been a significant amount of graphical updates not to mention being able to harness more of the available graphics power on the Xbox as Activision had more time to develop this game. From a fresh viewpoint, I was impressed with the overall look of the game. The character likeness of Tony Hawk and the other skaters was dead on. They also did a superb job in capturing the personalities of the featured skaters. I felt that they did a great job of creating realistic (for the most part) levels and maps that were very accurate graphically. Having been to the Fishermans Wharf area in San Fran and seeing pictures of the Kona Skatepark (here or here) that was featured, I can attest that they did a superb job accurately recreating these hot skating spots. None of the moves, aside from the nasty spills and falls, looked unnatural or choppy. Overall, I give the guys at Activision 02 two thumbs up for the graphics on the game.
I absolutely loved the soundtrack from this game. To me, it was a nice mixture of rap, hip hop, new and old rock. The list can be found here. Another plus for the realism in this game is the character voices, which are money, and the sound effects sound real as opposed to some digitized wanna-be effect. With the proliferation of home theatres and great sound systems being standard in many of today’s homes, it makes a lot of sense for game developers to really put a lot of thought and effort into having a great sounding game. There is nothing better than having a great looking game that is a whole lot of fun and then powering up your high end sound system and seeing that the game developer went the extra mile and put something in to utilize your sound system. Its apparent to me that Activision went the extra mile in regards to realism in their sound.
You may ask yourself at this point of the review if I actually have any negative thoughts on the game. I do and I am about to get to them. Up until this point, the only sports games I deemed worthy of purchasing was SSX and SSX Tricky for the PS2. Now, I hate the PS2 controller with a passion, but the L and R buttons made playing SSX very easy. It made it simple to not get confused about what buttons did what since you knew all the L and R buttons performed grabs. I was eager to see how a game of similar nature would be laid out on the Xbox controller. Most of my friends know that I prefer the layout of the original large Xbox controller over anything I have used to date, but in Tony Hawk I continually hit the wrong buttons for whatever reason. I can’t seen to remember which one is X and which one is B. I find myself peeking at the controller during challenges when I have to hit the tricks as they are called out. That is the one thing that frustrates me in this game. I will be doing great in a challenge and I will hit down and B instead of X to perform a certain trick… I have pretty much gotten used to it, but it still annoys me at times. I guess when a few of your flagship games are shooters then your control tends to be geared more towards that type of game. Since I am not a big sports game player, control layouts are seldom a negative point for me, this being the exception.
Let us now move on to game challenge. One of the features that they added in this game was the ability to free skate the levels and just mess around. This is not really what the game is all about, the game is about the goals or challenges, but it’s a welcome addition. You start out with a single level (The College) and 8 or so goals that you can do. Initially, you don’t know what the goals are. You must skate around and talk to various characters, denoted with a large blue arrow above their heads, and they will give you a challenge. After you talk to them the first time you can simply select the goal from the list in the start menu instead of finding that person and talking to them again. This is a great thing since sometimes the characters are in very hard to reach places and you don’t always complete a goal the first time you try it. These goals get harder and harder as the game progresses. The completion of a goal will give you money and possibly a stat point, which you use to improve the abilities of your skater, custom or standard. I currently have 80 of the 190 Pro Points (1 Pro Point per completed goal) and its almost to the point where I have given up. Some of these goals are so hard and frustrating that the thought of your precious console meeting its end out a window actually cross your mind. I think they did a great job of not making this game too easy, but I am not so sure that its easy enough for even the avid gamer to complete while maintaining sanity. I WILL finish this game if it is the last sports related game I ever play.
While I mentioned how frustrating and insane you will feel at times in Tony Hawk 4, its only fair to mention that I wouldn’t have made it 80 points into the game had it not been very entertaining and fun. Let me say that of the games I got around Christmas (Nightfire, Splinter Cell, Mech Assault, and Bloodrayne) I have played Tony Hawk the most. I had heard nothing but negativity in general about the Tony Hawk series due to patience restraints I am guessing, so I went into this with a negative thought already on my mind. It wasn’t long before that was all changed. It took me a little while before I could fluidly perform tricks and I still wonder how I have completed half of the goals that I have because I still don’t consider myself to be great at this game by any stretch of the imagination. The point is that I really truly enjoy this game. Having been a skater in the past (inline), I have always wanted a cool skating game that was realistic. Somehow Street Sk8er for PS didn’t cut it.
All in all Tony Hawk 4 is a great game. I am not sure that I would agree with some other gaming sites and be so quick to give it Game of The Year recognition, but it is in fact worth playing. If you have played Tony Hawk in the past and you are burned out on the concept, then at least give this game a try and rent it for the weekend. I don’t regret the purchase of this game and I don’t think you will either. I may not be into many sports games, but aggressive sports like skating and snowboarding are definitely games I get hyped up to play.