Long time fans of the Tony Hawk series are no doubt aware that series has become stagnate over the past few iterations. With goofy storylines and incremental graphical upgrades the series was dangerously close to getting EA Sports’ syndrome. Thankfully the chaps at Neversoft have heard your cries and created a game truly worthy of the Tony Hawk name with their latest creation Project 8.
The first thing you will notice about Project 8 is the entire overhaul in the visuals department. Neversoft has constructed a brand new engine that takes full effect of the next generation of hardware. The Xbox 360 version sports some amazing animations and gorgeous textures that make it truly worthy of next-gen status. This new engine also sports some excellent motion-captured tricks as well as the much needed addition of ragdoll physics. Causing your skater to bail at the top of a huge hill is just as much fun as riding the trick down.
The world you will skate in is also massive in scope, literally if you can see it, you can skate to it and there are no signs of draw-in to be found. The locales will be familiar to most Tony Hawk vets such as the Skate Park and no iteration would be complete without the Suburbia level, but in its defense the world is one giant arena for you to explore and it certainly looks great in HD. The one main gripe is that the frame rate can be inconsistent at times causing you to bail tricks that would typically be easy to land. That complaint aside this is by far the best looking Tony Hawk game to date.
The core game focuses around moving up the ranks from the bottom 200 spot into the Birdman’s elite Project 8, hence the title. To do this you will have to complete challenges scattered across the massive world. The best part about P8 is that at any given time you can compete in any event you desire as long as you have that part of the map open, so if you find yourself frustrated with one goal in particular simply skate a couple feet and find another one. This keeps the game fresh and interesting not to mention it kills the traditional rinse and repeat method of most other games in the genre.
The goals littered throughout the game are very reminiscent to classic Hawk games, there are even Classic challenges located in each area that will once again having you collect S-K-A-T-E and of course obtaining sick scores. These are usually designated in sections of the city and just like in the past you get two minutes to obtain as many goals as possible, and if that isn’t challenging enough go for the sick goal of completing them all in the two minute limit.
Also scattered throughout the map are graffiti tags that are “owned” by other skaters. Basically when you engage in these you have to grind longer or manual further than the previous record to own the tag. Each of these has three levels and increase in difficulty as you progress further into the game. You can obtain the rank of Project 8 by simply completing the Amateur difficulty, but you can move along much faster by going for the Pro or especially the sick goals early on.
This leads into my favorite addition to the franchise; stat upgrades. No longer are you adding points that you earn along the way to specific areas, instead this time the game keeps track of your skills and upgrades them accordingly. For instance the more you grind, the faster you skill increases. These are all based on distance and time and you can track your progress at any time by simply accessing the stats menu from the pause screen. This is a highly overlooked feature in games that use upgrading; I really feel that most games could highly benefit from awarding players for the way they play.
As with any new Tony Hawk game the developers have added one new way to trick to enhance the gameplay. This year the focus is on a mode called Nail The Trick. This is probably one of the most innovative functions added to the game since the manual and it really can be combined with all the other tricks for massive combos. The premise is simple, simply click in on both analog sticks at the same time and then use each one independently to flip the board.
This new addition is one of the first to force players to learn it from the ground up in a long time. At first you are likely to hate this new feature because of bad timing, or not being able to judge your landings properly, but once you master it, this becomes one of the best new features the series has seen in a long time.
The rest of the game should be pretty familiar to anyone who has played one of the previous seven titles. The biggest difference I have noticed is that the analog stick now seems much more responsive when nailing specific tricks. In the past I would scoff at the idea of playing this game with strictly an analog, but this iteration has seemed to have honed it to perfection. Another disappointing aspect though is the lack of most of the create-a-features from past games. While the create-a-skater is in-tact, it does leave something to be desired with its lack of options. The rest of the modes are pretty much non existent; both the create-a-park and create-a-graphic are nowhere to be found unless you count the small stint of park creation later in the game, but it just isn’t the same.
For the first time since the game went online Microsoft has the sole version that supports this mode of play. All versions contain a split-screen offline mode that consists of the bare essentials such as Trick Attack and Horse, but without Nail The Trick and support for only two skaters this mode is pretty much useless. The 360 version however supports up to eight players online and presents one of the most streamlined experiences I have had on the service to date.
You can start a match in any of the various locales and this essentially becomes your lobby. Here you can invite up to seven other participants and simply free skate around and share tips by chatting with other players. Once you are set you can setup a game mode from a wide selection of options including Trick Attack, Graffiti, Combo Mambo, Combo Challenge, Score Challenge and the newest game mode Walls. Once the match ends all the players are dumped back into free skate and you are able to continue playing or simply choose another mode which makes for a very seamless experience.
The only real new mode is the aforementioned Walls and you can really think of this as skateboard Tron. Basically you skate around with a pre-determined length of wall behind you and the objective is to trap other players in it and cause them to crash. This mode can become highly addictive and is sure to be a fan favorite on Xbox Live. Project 8 also keeps track of every single stat you perform in the game from your highest combo to your biggest bail and uploads them to a leaderboard to compare against the rest of the world. This type of integration is very welcome and one of the main reasons online is instrumental to a game of this type.
Being such a long time fan of the series I can honestly say this is the most fun I have had with a Tony Hawk game since the release of THPS4. Neversoft certainly has the pieces in place to make this franchise as great as it has ever been and with this new engine the prettiest skating game in town. If they can work out the minor kinks and bring back some of the create-a-features it could easily reach game of the year status. Definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of the series or even if you have ever wanted to know what all the fuss was about. It’s good to have the Birdman back in top form.