For a time, it seemed like the old glory days of the Tony Hawk series were long gone. Tony Hawk's American Wasteland and Tony Hawk's Underground 1 and 2 were more focused on Jackass-style pranks, pushing morons like Bam Margera to the front, letting the skateboarding fall by the wayside. They got the fundamentals right, but they didn't give us the improvements we wanted to see in the series. This time we were promised a real change: the next step for the Tony Hawk series and possibly the first true sequel the game has seen in years. But we've all heard that before too. Thankfully, they've hit the nail (the Trick mode) on the head.
Maybe it's the jump to the next-gen platforms, but Project 8 is immediately impressive. Both the design and the look of the starting location display all the attributes we love to see in Tony Hawk games; within minutes you'll have your own favourite runs and other choice tricking locations. But it's only when you start completing challenges and realise just how big this game world is that the first major difference in this update becomes clear. It's huge, much bigger and much more accomplished than any of the previous games. It's the expansive grind fest we've all been waiting for, with nary a load screen in site.
Unlocking the full world takes a bit of work, mind, and you certainly won't uncover the full extent of it for quite a while. It's tied in with the game's loose story mode, about Tony Hawk putting together a skate team (the titular Project 8) which you are obviously aiming to become a member of. Rising through the rankings, starting at 200, presents quite the challenge. As expected, you have various NPCs populating the entire game world only too eager to give you missions, which often boost your ranking. These range from basic tasks like grinding a rail with a special grind to performing a set number of tricks to wallplanting posters onto walls for giant furry sports mascots. It still has a sense of humour then, but one more fitting with the earlier games and not as overbearing as other titles in the series. For the nostalgic amongst you, the game also offers classic Tony Hawk challenges in each part of the game world. That's right, collecting S-K-A-T-E, breaking pumpkins with grinds and finding the secret tape are all back, and offer a nice change of pace from the other missions.
The game also provides spot challenges that take full advantage of this new sandbox world. Represented by marks on the ground or the wall, these challenges can be started at any time. For example, perform a manual over the starting line of a 'manual spot challenge' and it will start automatically. You then have to successfully manual over several other lines in order to gain the AM, Pro or Sick scores. Getting Sick scores is as tricky as you'd imagine, and often requires you to level up you skills before you even stand a slight chance. Levelling is another area that works considerably better here too, following a more logical path than the usual 'gain some points and upgrade stats at the end of the level' system. Instead, you are rewarded with improvements in each category by simply using them. It makes a lot more sense and allows you to tailor your character by playing, rather than using some awkward stats menu. Which, I think you'll agree, is a lot more fun and, well, sensible.
'The Nail the Trick mode is the revelation we've been looking for. It fits so well with the rest of the game that it'll be next to impossible to go back to the previous games.'
Wow. Nothing but glowing praise already, and I've yet to mention the game's best new feature, the reason why this is the most important Tony Hawk game since... Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 maybe? It's very important, let's put it that way. The Nail the Trick mode is the revelation we've been looking for. It fits so well with the rest of the game that it'll be next to impossible to go back to the previous games. Once activated it allows you to link as many crazy flips and spins into a trick as you're brave enough to go for, all in lovely soft focus slow motion. It's a breath of fresh air, and allows those of us who are appalling at grinding to finally get some big points in the air. Not me, of course; my grinds are peerless...
Focus mode is also back for this update, but in a much more spectacular fashion than has been seen before. Once activated, the camera zooms right in on the board itself and shows you all the tricks close up. It's here that you realise how successful the motion capture for this game has been as all the animations look extremely impressive, and shows just how tough a lot of these moves would be in real life. Thank goodness this isn't real life, eh?
The game isn't perfect though - despite this being the first proper next-gen Tony Hawk title, it appears sacrifices had to be made to get a world of this size up and running. The frame rate can drop noticeably in certain areas, which is both frustrating and disappointing, especially when you are in the middle of a mission or a particularly big trick. In fact, it's more jarring here than in most other games, as Tony Hawk has always been a game were timing is of the utmost importance. A real shame.
Multiplayer is another area that, although solid, seems lacking for a game that has improved so much in other areas. Two players on one system are supported with the usual variety of game modes (Horse, Score Attack etc), but sadly the game offers no system link. The Xbox Live aspect, which supports up to eight players, seems tacked on too, offering a very limited selection of game modes. It also appears to be a little buggy, and it isn't always easy to connect to a game. Online leaderboards are available for an awful lot of the goals in the game, which add an extra degree of competition to things, and there are some neat achievement points to earn that cover the single and multiplayer game.
Regardless of these flaws, Tony Hawk's Project 8 is a fantastic game. It has progressed the series in the most natural and fluid way possible, and shows that the Tony Hawk series is still as vital and important as ever. The Nail the Trick mode is the evolution the game has been waiting for, and it alone is enough to recommend the game. Certainly, the multiplayer modes and frame rate need improvement, but the single-player game is still one of the best sports simulations available. For those of you who have strayed from the Tony Hawk series, this is the return to form you've been waiting for. So what are you waiting for? Go buy it already!
VideoGamer.com Score8 Score out of 10
- Great skater animations
- Nail the Trick is awesome
- Multiplayer isn't great
- Frame rate isn't smooth