The ever popular Tony Hawk series seems to have taken on a life of its own. A new game has been released here and there, now and then, and quite suddenly with the release of the latest title, there are eight games to test out your skating skills on.
Having played Tony Hawk 3, 4, Underground and Underground 2, I was doubtful as to how much I could possibly enjoy this new game. After all, there are only so many grinds and inverts you can do before they start to blend into one big mess of skating antics, right? What sets Project 8 apart is that the developers have managed to successfully take the most enjoyable parts of each previous game, and put it together to form an entertaining and rather n00b friendly game.
As any series progresses, gamers come to expect new and exciting features with each release, and Project 8 well and truly delivers the goods. The main new feature included is the “Nail the Trick” ability. A tap of the analog sticks will send your skater into slow motion and give you total control over your skater's feet (and therefore, hopefully, the board too). The result is an astonishingly real-feeling trick, giving even the most basic of moves a new challenging edge.
Alarmingly, the training level is likely to scare off all but the most dedicated and experienced Tony Hawk gamers. You move from doing a simple ollie to a triple heelflip-spine transfer-revert-grind combo in what feels like one step. This is all very well for those who know what they’re doing to merely refresh their skills, but for newcomers it can be a frustrating and daunting first 15 minutes. In my opinion there’s no better way to learn than to jump headfirst into the career mode, and master the tricks as you go.
Thankfully, the career mode goals start off at a pretty basic level and are usually accompanied by clear instructions and helpful cut scenes. In some of the previous Tony Hawk games, the transition from beginner to advanced level goals was fairly abrupt; in Project 8 the difficulty of goals escalates in an almost unnoticeable fashion, so that you’re getting slightly better as the goals get slightly harder. Main goals aside, you’ll also stumble upon countless chalk challenges. Tricks including grinds, manuals, wall plants and wallrides are measured with coloured chalk marks indicating amateur, pro and sick difficulty levels. The replay ability factor here is huge, giving you both the ability and desire to go back and improve upon almost everything you do, three times over.
Never mind all the learning and skills, though (which tends to happen without even realising it). The biggest selling point of Tony Hawk’s Project 8 is that the game is fun. The focus isn’t solely on becoming a serious and professional skater in Tony Hawk’s select team of eight, but rather messing around, having a crazy time and becoming a professional skater while you’re at it. The goals reflect the idea that the game is almost mocking itself with a wide variety of challenges really not related to skating at all. There are goals where you have to aim to break as many bones in your body as you can, and rack up a $90000 hospital bill; or where you skate down a hill, bail off your board and try to knock over 10 giant bowling pins by flying headfirst into them. Even the Xbox 360 achievements take part, rewarding you if you can break 15 bones in one bail. For the more conservative and old school Tony Hawk fans a number of the goals fall into the ‘Classic’ category, meaning you’ll instantly recognise the floating SKATE or COMBO letters to collect.
Even the stats have had an overhaul, with a new stats menu allowing you to track your progress in each skill area as you go. As your guide your skater through the career mode, you’ll be interrupted every now and then by the world’s most annoying video clips showing you newly unlocked goals and then real footage of pro skaters skating around doing fancy stuff. Unfortunately, I don’t know who most of the skaters are or what tricks they’re doing, making the clips horrifically boring.
The graphics shine, especially in the cut scenes, as you’d expect from a next generation game. The settings are pleasingly interactive, filled with skaters, pedestrians, hidden areas and moveable objects so the overall effect is busy but visually satisfying. The sound still has major room for improvement unless you’re into tinny-sounding emo punk tracks. The sound effects are mostly passable and even pleasant at times but on the whole, nondescript. I advise turning the music off, and putting on your favourite CD while playing.
Even with the many improvements making this the best in the series, Tony Hawk remains a game a lucky few will have an instinctive knack for, and the rest of us will have to work hard to get better at. As smooth, enjoyable and user-friendly as Project 8 is, understand what you’re getting when you pick this game up, and be prepared to put some time and effort in.