Skateboarding is not a crime.
When American Wasteland hit the shelves last year, I wondered if Activision and Neversoft would still be able to wow us after six nearly identical games, but they did pretty okay by us here at GR. This year’s Tony Hawk's Project 8 soars even higher in some areas, but bites the curb in others.
American Wasteland for the 360 was every bit a direct port from the older, weaker console versions. Because of that it ran like greased bearings, smooth and lightning fast, easily the best version of the game to be had. Conversely, Project 8 was built from the ground up for the next-gen, yet runs worse, to the point where the framerate lag can hamper the gameplay. This goes for the PS3 version as well. Neither version is dominant graphically, but there are small variations in texture and effects. It’s like two flavors of hot sauce.
The only real difference in the PS3 version is the ability to use the sixaxis controller to turn, balance, and rotate, or any combination therein. The motion sensitivity feels fine, although it takes a minute to wrap your head (and hands) around.
I understand and appreciate the push for better graphics; it’s very cool to see folds in fabric and fuzzyness around hair where all was once colored blocks. But it’s far more important that the game plays solid and smooth. It’s incredibly disappointing to see these expensive new consoles crunch up like old PCs. Granted, that statement is aimed at the ‘next-gen’ at large, but Project 8
serves as a nice example of fancy graphics and average execution.
Anyway, the idea here is that Grandpa Hawk is looking for the best eight skaters in town, and you’ve got to crawl up in there from your lowly 200th rank. It’s a nice departure from the ‘plots’ of the last three games, which swerved between pointless and painful. Since everything you do will improve your rank and stats, you always feel like you’re getting something done. A few new missions are thrown in the mix, like keeping skate demo crowds entertained by busting tricks for them, but for the most part, if you’ve played any game in the series, you’ve seen it all before.
But what would a new Tony Hawk game be without a new gimmick? As if wallplants, reverts, manuals, backflips, flatland, focus, bert slides, parkour, and caveman weren’t enough, now you can make up your own combos with Nail the Trick. Anytime you’re in the air, you can enter a zoomed-in, slow-motion shot of your feet and your board. Each analog stick moves one of your feet, spinning the board to your liking, and if you release at the right time, you’ll land it and get a nice point bonus. It’s kind of fun, and kind of silly, since you’re better off with normal trickery most of the time. Maybe they needed some way to show off all those cross-marketed shoe deals.
As you progress, you’ll get calls on your brand-named cell phone letting you know about tasks you’ve unlocked and sponsorships you’ve magically gained. You wind up with a lot of shoes to choose from, but the actual create-a-skater options are pretty slim. Compared to the various companies your skater can advertise at any one time, your selection of hairstyles is slim. Guess Supercuts wouldn’t play ball.
Like American Wasteland, the different areas of the town stream together, but this time it’s not just a hallway between zones, it’s actually integrated. The levels are fairly small though, and feel disjointed compared to some of the series’ classic environments. It’s hard to say exactly where it’s lacking, the level design just doesn’t flow as it has in the past. Part of that confusion is the lack of a map, as navigation between dozens of mission triangles on a compass is your only guide.
But they got some of it right as well, as the integration of the classic two-minute runs for each zone finally take place within career mode like any other task. There are also a slew of grinding, manual, and air challenges marked by spraypaint all over town, so wherever you are, there’s something to hit up.
On the other hand, the new ‘bail’ mechanic is a major pain. When you fall, things slow down a bit and your little skater goes all rag doll. You can direct and bounce him around to prolong the pain and rack up a higher ‘hospital bill’, but you’ll never stand up as fast as previous games, which can screw you when going for those last-second wins. On top of that, the system sometimes bugs out, launching you five hundred feet straight up in the air when you banana peel a simple grind. In one of Bam Margera
’s missions (he’s found in the slums, it fits), I had to bail out of the sky into a dumpster, but the controls were so painfully broken it made me wish I could just throw him in and be done with it.
All challenges are broken up into amateur, pro and ‘sick’ difficulties, with the amateur requirements being ridiculously easy, and the ‘sick’ challenges, for once, being crazy hard, even for Tony Hawk vets. On top of that, there’re a bunch of interesting Pro Challenges, like dropping from a plane and pulling tricks for Bob Burnquist
to moving objects around for a huge Daewon Song
grind combo. These unlock motion-captured tricks used in the game for your viewing pleasure. You can also collect ‘Stokens’ - a term I’ve been yelling through the office for a week (“Gnarly, brah! Whoa!”) – by landing tricks in front of pedestrians. You can turn around and spend them unlock decks and special tricks.
There is a lot to do in career mode, and many ways to make it into Project 8
. On your way to the top, though, you can use the numerous leaderboards to see how you stack up against other shredders in single player mode, a la Amped 3
. All the old multiplayer modes return, supporting up to eight players, plus one new mode called ‘walls’, where everyone leaves trails behind them, and you’re not allowed to cross another skater’s path. Think Tron
, with skateboards instead of light cycles.
As said, the game looks good. The motion-captured tricks, especially. As a former skate rat myself, it’s really cool to see how hard this stuff really is to pull off. Most of the models are very detailed, but creepy, like animatronic body-snatchers versions of the people they’re trying to represent. It’s too bad the framerate is so of-this-world.
The soundtrack is composed of pretty good licensed stuff, much better than last year’s ample helping of covers. The sound has been tweaked as well, like hearing your wheels roll over different surfaces, which is neat. There’s not a whole lot of voice work, which isn’t a bad thing, since most of the pros’ lines mimic their freakishly wooden appearances.
Overall, Tony Hawk's Project 8 is a fairly well realized evolution of the Tony Hawk series. The streaming content is impressive, but no matter where you go, the rickety framerate comes with you. Still, this is a great big game that lands more tricks than it misses, and is worth a spin on your Xbox 360.