Full Review: ?Another Tony Hawk game, can you believe it? I never thought I'd see the day.?
You'd be hard pressed to find a more enduring series than Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. The original practically invented the extreme sports genre as we know it today, laying down a set format that still hasn't been matched despite the game's numerous imitators. With the release of the Xbox's Tony Hawk's 2X last fall, the series has now made way to its ninth platform, an unprecedented feat for any game, nonetheless one based on skateboarding. Even with Neversoft throwing us out a new Tony Hawk game every 9 months like clockwork, I still can't see the series going anywhere any time soon. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 hit the PS2 last fall, garnering a lot of attention and praise. Now Activision has brought their system-seller to the Xbox, only this time around with a few extra goodies exclusive to the system.
The bulk of the game is devoted to the Career mode, in which you progress from level to level completing numerous goals that test your skating skills. Many of the level goals from the first two Pro Skaters, like the high score and S-K-A-T-E challenges, are back in Tony Hawk 3. But there are now level-specific goals that encourage you to explore the levels and in some cases use a little thought to accomplish. For example, one goal in the Airport level requires you to pick up a pair of tickets near the starting point and deliver them to a group of passengers on the other side of the stage, without losing the tickets by going through the security checkpoint or getting tripped up by a security guard. In the same level, you must find and stop five pickpockets by running them over with your skateboard. Upon completion of certain goals you will be treated to a short cutscene, showcasing dramatic changes to the level or simply providing some comedic relief. For instance, in the Canada level you are given a challenge called ?Get Chuck Unstuck?. After a little snooping around you'll come across a group of people laughing at a guy that's got his tongue stuck to a pole, and all you have to do is run into him to help him out. Each level gives you 9 goals to complete, so there is absolutely no shortage of challenges in the game.
Competitions are still a mainstay in Tony Hawk's 3. Each event is made up of three one-minute heats in which you are judged on skill and the variety of your tricks. At the end of the competition, you're given a medal if you manage a top-three finish. During a heat, the crowd will react to how well you're skating, and you even get to watch the judges come to their decision at the end of the competition. If you manage a top-three finish, you'll even be treated to a little victory ceremony as the rest of the skaters gather around to applaud your performance.
The core gameplay established in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 is still in place, but the addition of the Revert has added an entirely new dimension to the game. The Revert is used to link vert tricks into your combos, and is performed by hitting the left or right trigger on your way down from a half-pipe or quarter-pipe trick, then immediately following that up with a manual. But for sake of gameplay balance, using the Revert will slow your skater down significantly, making it difficult to follow up with another vert trick. The new trick makes it possible to string together combos of more than 300,000 points with a moderate knowledge of the controls, although veteran players could conceivably accomplish combos of upwards to 1-2 million points. It's a very nice addition to the series, but those that have mastered the second Tony Hawk won't find themselves spending quite as much time adjusting to the changes, and may find themselves breezing through the levels.
There are a few other notable gameplay refinements to speak of with regards to the combo system. For one, the combo meter now fills up as you are performing the combo (as opposed to doing so after it is finished), making it easier to incorporate special tricks into the chain. Taking a hint from Tony Hawk 2X, you now have a balance meter above your skater for grinds and manuals. The meter does make it easier to control the skater's balance, but it's difficult to get used to looking at a gauge instead of the body of the skater.
The game's menu interface has been given a considerable facelift. The main menu is now a 3-D skateshop, where you're able to choose your character and customize your board and gear. Once you have your skater set up and you choose a level, you're given a fly-by that shows the areas of the level that pertain to certain goals. It's a lot more refined and gives the game a certain aesthetic edge that I always thought previous games in the series were lacking.
Those that got the chance to play Tony Hawk's 2X will feel right at home with the controls, while those that haven't will find that it can take a bit of practice with the Xbox controller before you can start racking up the higher scores. But after a little initiation, the controller is every bit as accurate and efficient as the Playstation 2's Dual Shock, although it is missing a couple of the shoulder buttons. It should be noted that most people will find the Controller S to be a bit easier to use in conjunction with the game, since the D-Pad is more clearly defined and the face buttons are straightened out as opposed to the diamond pattern of the official controller.
The Xbox version of the game comes with 10 levels (including the Xbox-exclusive Oil Rig, although it isn't available in Career Mode), all of which are designed to take full advantage of your skater's abilities. In so meaning, you won't be finding any rails that are out of your reach or pools that actually contain water. Many environments are based on real locations, while others will take an area like an airport and heavily modify it to make it a bit more ?skater-friendly?. There's the foundry, which serves as somewhat of a training level before you're let loose on the more open-ended outside stages. Then there's Los Angeles, a street level packed with bustling traffic and endless grinds, and even an as-of-yet inaccessible freeway ramp way up at the top. But by grinding a certain set of rails, you can set off an earthquake that will crumble much of the city and open up access to the freeway. The levels are huge, well laid-out, and highly interactive.
The same cast of skaters is back from THPS2, only they've dropped Bob Burnquist in exchange for Bam Margera (yep, the Jackass guy). There are 24 skaters in all, including hidden characters like Darth Maul and Wolverine. Every pro skater can be accessorized to your liking, allowing you to change around their clothes, shoes, jewelry, and tattoos. The Create-a-Skater mode takes the customization options a step further, allowing you to change your created skater's skin tone, face, hair, and now even gender.
All of the multiplayer games from Tony Hawk's 1 and 2 have returned for the third Pro Skater, along with a couple new ones. Trick attack, Graffiti, and Horse are back, along with two new games called Slap! and King of the Hill. Slap! is basically a game of tag, only to tag someone you must knock them over (when two opposing skaters collide, the one with less speed gets slapped down). In King of the Hill, the skaters fight for control of a gold crown, and the skater that holds onto it for the longest wins. To even things out a bit, the longer you hold it the slower you will move, making it essential to do tricks to maintain speed. The Xbox version doesn't feature a built-in online mode to jump into like the PS2 version, but it does allow for system link play. That means that Tony Hawk 3 is compatible with Gamespy Tunnel and XBConnect, so if you have a broadband connection and a little patience you'll be online with the game in no time.
With the latest edition in the Pro Skater series now available on every system outside of the Colecovision, it can arguably be said that the Xbox version is the best of the bunch. It's got slightly-improved graphics, a custom soundtrack feature, and even an extra level exclusive to the system. But then there's the issue of control, since many people will undoubtedly prefer to play Tony Hawk on the Dual Shock 2 rather than the bulky Xbox controller. But as I said, after logging in some time with the game you'll most likely find the controller to be well-suited for the style of play. But then again, others might prefer to use the Gamecube controller for the game. For those few that will actually have to be making this decision, it all comes down to a matter of personal taste.
The Xbox version of the game looks marginally better than the PS2 and Gamecube versions. The textures are a bit less blurry and the aliasing problems have been cleared up as well. Plus, the framerate is a lot steadier than in other versions. While there are no drastic improvements to speak of, the few minor visual faults that did exist in the PS2 version have been addressed here, and the game still looks pretty sharp.
While the soundtrack for the latest Tony Hawk has drifted somewhat away from the game's punk rock roots, it's still a nice, diverse collection that most people will be more than happy to listen to. There are some more traditional rock tracks from Motorhead and Red Hot Chili Peppers and even some rap from Xzibit and Redman. But the songs included in the game won't really matter to many people, since the Xbox version supports the system's custom soundtrack feature. Other than the music, there are a few extra in-game voiceovers that weren't present in the PS2 version. The overall sound quality seems to have improved rationally as well, thanks to the Xbox's Dolby 5.1 capabilities.
If there's one complaint I have with this game, it's that just about everyone with a video game console has already played and mastered Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, and after mastering the new tricks Tony Hawk 3 will simply begin to feel like more of the same thing. It's no longer necessary to explore the level and find high-scoring gaps or rails, since a high score can more easily be attained by simply stringing together a long combo in a half-pipe or grind-heavy area. I've no longer found myself playing the game just for the joy of skating the levels and playing around. Now (at least in my case), the only reason I'd consider starting the game over with a new skater would be to unlock all of the hidden goodies, something I never seemed to care quite as much about in the first two Tony Hawks. Still, someone new to the series (if such a person still exists) will find themselves logging in a lot of time with the game, and wouldn't regret getting the game one bit.
I am utterly amazed at how well this game has held up against the time, considering it was released nearly a year back on the PS2. Although I played the Playstation 2 version to death last year, I'm still able to pick up the game and have just as much fun with it as I ever have before. If you still haven't gotten a chance to play Tony Hawk 3, this is the best version of the game that you're going to find.