"Itís definitely nice to see the franchise returning somewhat to its roots. The humor is more reminiscent of Ollie the Magic Bum than it is the days when Bam Magera terrorized the gameplay (though his fans will be happy to know that he is here again). Another change I loved is the lack of an enforced tutorial mode."
Think back with a nostalgic smile to a time when Tony Hawkís Pro Skater 3 was the third straight game in a young franchise to get everything right. Look back on the perfect lines, the sight gags that were funny and gone before you could tire of them, the killer air, the astonishing combos. Now, try to keep the smile on your face as you recall Bam Magera, pushing people in wheelchairs, driving lawnmowers, hopping off your board to climb ladders and skating through a bland city where everything bleeds into a pile of dull mush.
Whether you kept the smile on your face or not, I couldnít. Tony Hawkís American Wasteland was merely the latest in a string of games that raided the treasure trove that was Tony Hawkís franchise and left an empty and meaningless product where there should have been pure gold. It was enough that, as far as I concerned, the series had one chance left. That chance was Tony Hawkís Project 8.
Letís get the bad news out of the way first: Tony Hawkís Project 8 isnít the return of the near-perfection youíve known from the series in times past. It has its flaws and itís clearly built on the shaky foundation begun by Tony Hawkís American Wasteland. All of that is balanced out by one simple fact: this is the game its four immediate predecessors were meant to be. Itís not enough to make this game a must-purchase, but it was enough to make it worth a second look.
Like Tony Hawkís American Wasteland before it, Project 8 takes place in one complete city. As you skate your way through the latest environment, though, youíll notice something encouraging: thereís variety. Each location within the city is distinct, whether that be the picket fences and backyard pools in the suburbs, or the park benches and canals along the park, or even the corrugated metal roofs that crumble apart when you skate along them in the dreary slums.
Though there are varied textures and plenty of architecture within each region, you wonít have to endure load times when you pass from, sayÖ the skate park to the capital buildings. Youíll hear the drive accessing the disc, but nothing on-screen prevents the experience from being every bit the seamless one Neversoft promised. Somehow, the developer provided several cool environments that are linked together in a perfectly suitable fashion. This is easily the largest world Tony Hawk has ever had to explore, though itís not the best and itís not augmented by a selection of classic environments like the past games were.
Say what you will, but I still prefer individual environments on occasion. Though I like skating out from the street and through the halls in the school, thereís something to be said for more limited environments and the way they feel almost like arenas for you to show off your elite skating skills. Itís also nice to be able to select your favorite zone of the city from a menu, rather than having to skate across a bunch of places youíre not in the mood to visit. Sure, that mimics real life, but real life got thrown out the window the minute my skater bailed, fell three stories from a telephone wire, landed on his neck and got up just fine.
Youíre not free to explore each area right from the start, either. As always, youíll have to accomplish certain feats of skateboarding greatness before gates are opened and your environment expands. A lot of these are scattered throughout the streets in the form of graffiti along sidewalks and such. When you skate up to one, you can partake in a little healthy competition. One might ask you to manual for a certain distance (through a crowd of skaters who will knock you down), while another might require you to grind around an expansive pool. As you complete these various objectives, your reputation rises and you come closer to both new territories and the respect of Tony Hawk.
Earning Tony Hawkís respect is of course what the game is really about. Youíll start out ranked at 200, but each time you manage to do something worthwhile, that number drops ever closer to number one. There are tiny story segments that reveal this as you progress, but you arenít force fed stupid humor on the scale of Tony Hawkís Underground 2. Instead, youíre doing credible things like joining new skate clubs or skating through security systems to steal city planning documents. Okay, so itís credible for the franchiseÖ
Itís definitely nice to see the franchise returning somewhat to its roots. The humor is more reminiscent of Ollie the Magic Bum than it is the days when Bam Magera terrorized the gameplay (though his fans will be happy to know that he is here again). Another change I loved is the lack of an enforced tutorial mode. Though newcomers will definitely want to go through the sessions to learn how the series works, someone like me appreciates the opportunity to skip the chatter and get down with the skating. And when the game introduces its new skate mechanic, it works it right into the game so that you donít feel compelled to learn something new you donít care about.
Thatís right: thereís a new skate mechanic. You knew there had to be one. Ever since early games added the invert and the manual, it seems like each new Tony Hawk game has to try and outdo its predecessors. In this case, the new ability is cooler than normal; you get to slow down time after launching into the air, then direct your skaterís feet as he flips the board this way and that in an effort to increase his score. Beginning players will probably ignore the new capability, since timing things poorly can ruin a high score, while those who want the best combo possible will trick off statues and fountains, wires and fences. Itís surprising that fiddling around with two analogue sticks can feel so fresh, but it truly does.
So does the game as a whole, actually, despite its shortcomings. Sure, Tony Hawkís Project 8 is the eighth game in a franchise that has begun to show its age, but it holds the promise that the series has passed through its mid-life crisis and is on the road to recovery. Iím smiling again.
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 27, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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