Review: It's another year, and another Tony Hawk game is out. What else is new? My shoes, I guess. Just kidding... I don't own any shoes.
Tony Hawk's back. Back on the pavement; back to grinding across your picket fence and busting through it; back on all major platforms! Giving the franchise the next-gen coat of paint, Tony Hawk returns for the eighth run in his long line of game titles. But you want to know what? He's still got it! Tony Hawk's Project 8 is fresh as a clean diaper. It's original as a never-before-seen film starring an unknown actor. It's a game that's going to please everyone thoroughly to the point that they won't ever need another skating game again -- unless it's a new Tony Hawk title. There is nothing more that needs to be said. Not now, not ever.
Psst! Hey kid...don't listen to that bull crap. Eight iterations of the Tony Hawk label (not counting the Wii spin-off)? Are you kidding? Tony Hawk has without question stagnated. Running out of untapped ideas to reinvigorate the ailing bone that six years ago hit its peak, Activision has been criticized all over the map for years that the fledgling Tony Hawk series started rolling down hill right around the time they decided to add a lame plot into the mix with Tony Hawk's Underground. It was different, but more so it was a sign that Tony Hawk's star power had faded. Since then, it seems like Activision, along with the series' longtime developer Neversoft aren't trying too hard anymore. Every year they're pumping out a new Tony Hawk, and every year the minor improvements don't really help to add too much new to the formula.
Despite its drying well of ideas, Tony Hawk's Project 8 does manage to implement a few new surprises that Tony Hawk players up to this point haven't seen. One of these features being stokens: in other words tokens that comes to players as they pound out impressive tricks around levels. These can then be used to purchase tricks and decks inside the skater's shop. The game's conceptual focus this time is on a tournament that Mr. Hawk is putting together. Out of the top 200 skaters in the world (mostly fictional), he's looking for the eight that are great. Amongst a ranking system, your job in all of this ultimately is to prove yourself over time with skating, skating, and more skating. The better you are at racking up points and completing missions handed out by NPCs across each territory, the faster you'll fly through the charts and eventually be able to find your way amongst the world's elite rollers. Are you game enough?
You've got a lot of work cut out for you, and a lot of people need your help in the array of gameplay missions ahead. One such neighborly fellow wants you to shag his balls. As dirty as that sounds, it's the truth (you'll have to catch his golf balls by spine transferring over time-lapsed ramps). In another part of the world, a fuzzy mascot is low on cash and needs for you to wall ride over a competitor's flyers to hang up posters of his own. Putting money in his matted pocket means you'll also be required to impress a crowd with further manual labor (breaking out combos while in manual). From purposely bailing to shatter your bone record, to hitting the links in a skate competition, the list of gameplay variants is long but not so much different than has been done in previous Tony Hawk titles. Hawk fans that have played the last offering, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, should recognize a similar interface in Project 8. Pedestrians with something on their mind are highlighted in orange. From the outset, the environmental world as you know it is locked off until speaking with enough tasking persons. Once you've risen in rank enough, then you'll be able to open up additional portions of the open-ended city that once loaded never needs to boot up again (unless the system is turned off, of course).
This is a great way to process the game, in that each errand (or most) abides by a time limit. Some go by the two minute rule, others more and others even less. It's nice to be able to quit a single exercise and follow suit to another one whenever you want, as well as having the option to repeat progress if success is not met the first time or so. Speaking of which, it's less amazing and more exhausting when the course of action for skating through a given set of tasks becomes confusing and irritating. The onscreen controls are not generally clear, or for that matter prominently visible to the naked eye. The onscreen instructions, while helpful, are a bit vague at times. If a photographer wants to take a snapshot of your skater tricking out a grind in combination, completing the trick isn't enough in this instance. At least you may think you're done when the photographer takes the picture. But then, a screen awarding your points doesn't appear? Do you have to grind a certain length to win? Was the trick done incorrectly? At times there's simply little insight into how the game's mind thinks. It's a pain you really shouldn't have to deal with.
Don't be too bummed out, dude and/or dudette. Returning to the skating fray is character customization. This option, for some reason, is less comprehensive this round. You can't even morph a female skater's breast size any longer. Besides the career mode it's a given that players are able to venture into about three other exciting gameplay venues. Level of excitement varying upon whether you think free skate (practice) or two-player skate battles are still fun anymore. There's not even a frickin' online mode for multiplay. What gives? Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 had it as the first PlayStation 2 game to pioneer such an ambitious step ahead. Why can't the first Tony Hawk on the PlayStation 3 have that too? Oh, and look: the control scheme you know and love is still the same as ever. Triangle is to grind; X is to hop; square spins and circle grabs. What's the change of pace? This time Tony Hawk goes slower than ever! Into slow-motion combo territory, that is. The latest nuance of the Tony Hawk brand is called ?Nail a Trick.? Fitted with a special meter, the game's accomplished tricks build up as you work your way around the level without hitting the dirt. Once the meter is ready to go, pressing down on L3 concentrates all camera attention onto the skater's feet. Here, switching your hands to the analog sticks and/or face buttons will manually guide the skater's feet into your control. One way to explain the process is by holding down the left analog in one direction and tilting the right analog another way as to rotate the board. Finding a victory in all this can be a little hard and digressing, as it takes some getting used to. Once you do however, it can be a pretty neat feature to play around with.
Tony Hawk games on the PlayStation were small by comparison in a visual sense when measured up to their PlayStation 2 successors. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 was much larger, much more refined. In the same way, Tony Hawk's Project 8 slaps on a new coat of paint for PlayStation 3 owners. If in need of an example of how next-gen technology should look, Tony Hawk's Project 8 does the job quite well. This is Tony Hawk on another level, with highlights such as striking texture along the asphalt and water that richly swivels and swooshes as it's rolled through in the body of an outdoor pool. The districts of Tony Hawk's Project 8 are many, from the suburbs, to locations under construction, to an enormous park area made up of persons, benches, trees, rail to grind and slopes to alley your oop. While the game may be astonishing, we're not talking about Metal Gear Solid 4 here. Tony Hawk's Project 8 is a mix between realism and the usual cartoon essence it's known for. People around every corner aren't high in number, but rather a handful that look and act like humans should. Apart from some skaters performing tricks of their own, regular folk pacing to and fro, a security guard in different places and your special people who dish out the dirt on you with an orange energy field surrounding them, the variety isn't extremely large. Unfortunate as that may be, there are some recognizable faces in general ones that animate superbly while in cut scene views. From a female heffer dressed in purple that hands assignments in an "extreme" cut, to celebrities like Tony Hawk himself and the always loveable mallrat, Jason Lee. The only aspect that truly suffers sometimes is the unrealistic bail physics. A skater who's knocked off their board at times gets flung around through the air doing cartwheels, only to land ten feet away from their original drop point. It sure is fun to laugh at, but this mishap also hurts the gameplay when you've got to head all the way back over on a time limit that waits for no one.
More and more, Tony Hawk games have proven that they're no slouch at stocking their racks full of music. Of rock, punk, alternative, and rhythm and blues selections, dozens of tracks compile a manageable list that gives you control over the songs you want to hear or don't. There's a little something for everyone here if loud and groove stylings are your thang. From the Ramones and Ministry, to Kool and the Gang to the game's most enjoyable and featured recording of "Club Foot" from Kasabian, there are at least a few choice songs here. Depending on your tastes in music, however, most artists in the game you may have never heard of or will end up wanting to. Much of the soundtrack doesn't consist of many songs that have been popularized. As for other areas in sound, the audio does a decent job like it's been known to do. If riding over a paved street, your board's wheels give off a common rolling effect. If switching the board's path along a wall, a quick gnashing over a distinctively different surface kicks in. Where the audio is effective, but not enough brand-new to give fans reason enough to be ecstatic, the vocals are the same way. Tony Hawk and other such pro skaters do themselves (in character dubbing) to bring to life their likenesses. Of course, there are also the original caricatures voiced by unknowns. They too handle well in attempting to create believable personas, but not in the sense that the voice acting will have gamers comparing these characters to that of higher profile games.