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Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 Review

Ben_Silverman By:
GENRE Sports 
PUBLISHER Activision 
DEVELOPER Neversoft 
T Contains Blood, Comic Mischief, Mild Lyrics, Suggestive Themes

What do these ratings mean?

Fourth time's a charm?

When a sports team wins a championship, it's considered a monumental achievement. When they win it again the next year, it's validation. When they pull off the rare three-peat, it secures the team's spot in the history books. And if they manage to nail four in a row, they're officially an elite dynasty.

By those standards, the Tony Hawk series is a shoo-in as the greatest action sports trio of all time. They not only birthed a genre, but they also managed to get better and better with each iteration. That's not an easy task. Just ask the Lakers.

So after scores of accolades and millions of games sold, the folks at Neversoft and Activision attempt the supremely difficult by trying to improve upon their past. And while the excellent Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 easily does justice to its storied history, this veteran is also getting a little... old. But give credit to Neversoft for always looking at ways to improve their products, because THPS 4 is full of nice new touches that will make fans of the series kickflip with joy.

The game follows the mold of its forbears pretty directly. Pick one of 14 pro skaters and get to work. But this time around, the Career mode has been altered in an attempt to solve some of the redundancy issues.

It's now sort of a hybrid between the standard Free Skate (which is still here as an option) and the classic Career. You pick a level and start skating, but unlike all the earlier versions, there is no initial time restraint. Instead, you're free to explore the level to your heart's content until you decide to start a goal, which is done by skating up to one of the various people hanging out with arrows flashing over their head. At that point, a goal will begin, usually starting a timer and requiring you to complete the objective before time runs out.

With about 16 initial goals per level, this new formula gives you much more freedom in your quest to unlock further levels. Accomplishing goals gets you points, which in turn are used to open levels. It's a much quicker process all around and will allow even novice THPS gamers to start making headway into the game fairly quickly.

Once again, the levels themselves uphold the fantastic design Neversoft has become famous for. They're enormous, for one thing, featuring tons of cool lines and gaps aplenty. It also takes much longer to grow tired of each level, thanks to the wealth of things to do and interesting goal types. New to this version are mini-games, which can be found scattered around a few of the levels. You can play a game of tennis or whack some baseballs, though they're all pretty lame and don't work very well.

As if there weren't enough to do, you'll also gain cash by beating goals or finding it lying around the levels, which is then used to buy new boards and gear. Cash can also be used to unlock 'cheats', including 2 extra levels, 4 extra skaters and a ton of weird modes and clothing.

But despite the new twists to Career mode, the same problems that affected Career mode in the past arise again. Sure, you can skate around and explore the level to get a better lay of the land, but you'll still need to collect the 'S-K-A-T-E' letters in 2 minutes, beat the level score in under 2 minutes, string together a 200,000 point run in under 2 minutes, etc. It just makes it a little less frustrating initially.

Gone are the days when you have to play through the whole thing a dozen times - instead, your skater points are carried through all the skaters in Career mode, so if you beat the game with one guy, you've essentially opened up all the levels and the new 'pro challenges' for every guy. The pro challenges are specific to each skater and are unlocked once you reach a set number of pro points. They're quite creative, but also quite tough.

For that matter, THPS 4 is a hard game overall. The controls and gameplay are pretty much identical to THPS 3, so if you've mastered that, you'll jump into this like a duck to water. The moves list is truly sick - flatland tricks in particular have been expanded greatly. And as always, perfecting the manual-grind-manual-vert-revert-manual combos will net the monster scores, which is cool...

...but also a little too familiar. The guts of the game have not changed much since the original THPS, though each version has added an important new twist. THPS 2 gave us the manual. THPS 3 gave us the revert. THPS 4 gives us two new abilities: the ability to skitch (holding on to the back of moving vehicles, Back to the Future style) and the ability to 'spine transfer'. The former is self-explanatory and marginally useful, though the latter can be implemented into combos for yet greater linking by allowing you to safely transfer from ramp to ramp. It's a nice addition, but not nearly as important as the manual or the revert, and frankly I rarely use it for comboing.

Plus, THPS 4 gives us excruciatingly difficult requirements to meet. Honestly, some of the score requirements and goal requirements will have even a solid THPS player breaking his thumbs. I've played every THPS game for just about every system and I still had a hard time with some of the advanced challenges, and flat out cannot pass some of the challenges at all. A 500,000 point combo? Who am I, Luke Skywalker? With enough methamphetamines I'm sure I can handle this, but I cannot imagine what a newbie to the series would do, aside from a ripping out a string of expletives and a handful of hair.

But blame that on outrageous difficulty rather than poor control or graphics. THPS 4 looks pretty good, with a blazing framerate and very little pop-up. That's a nice feat considering the size of the levels. The skaters are a little stiff in their modeling, but they look comfy on the boards, and their animations are accurate. It won't win any awards for it, but the game looks good where it's supposed to.

And it sounds good too, with another eclectic soundtrack filled with old school hip hop, punk and rock. Of course, replaying the same goal for 20 minutes will likely lead you to shut off the music out of irritation, but it still rocks.

THPS 3 was a multiplayer masterpiece because Neversoft figured out a way to get it online despite the fact that Sony's network was still 8 months off. However, the game options were somewhat sparse. THPS 4 takes advantage of the PS2 online feature in force this time out with a nice assortment of online multiplayer game types. I've had very little lag and a lot of fun with it, though the veterans of the series seriously dominate the online servers. There's also the ubiquitous offline multiplayer modes like HORSE and Graffiti for those without a PS2 modem.

Need more gameplay? Then check out the expanded Park Creator, which loads faster than before and is even more intuitive. In a very nice move, Neversoft allows you to edit pre-made parks to your liking, as well as building some from scratch. It's a very handy designer for those with the time and the interest.

But like the rest of THPS 4, this seems to be pointed directly at the veterans of the series rather than new gamers, and I have serious doubts that anyone who hasn't played the earlier versions will stand much of a chance at making it through this one. One thing to help would have been a 'difficulty' slider, perhaps lowering the score requirements or extending the time limits for novices. As it stands, only those who are already good at the Tony Hawk games will find this version to be as fun as it actually is.

Lucky for me, I'm one of those people, and this game is as addictive and fun as ever. It offers a nice assortment of new stuff for the fans and will definitely test your skills. There's a good reason why this is the end-all-be-all of skating games. Highly recommended, but also highly difficult.

A- Revolution report card
  • It's more Tony Hawk
  • Fun online play
  • Great levels
  • Nice new Career mode
  • Too hard for newbies
  • Gameplay getting a little stale

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