Neversoft pulled a boneless on THP8; it seems ollies just don't cut it anymore. On the first announcement I had heard regarding the production of a new addition to the Tony Hawk series, I had my request papers in to our Editor-in-Chief. There was no debating in the matter, as I made it clear that on the event of GamingExcellence receiving a copy, I was to be notified without delay.
Since the 64 bit original release for the Playstation in '99, Neversoft has pumped out seven more sequels, and to the surprise of the majority of followers to the series, they would continue to add, modify, innovate, and enhance in many areas of the title with each consecutive release. Project 8 indeed has innovation, modifications, and enhancements, but in the end, there's still a little something missing.
The career mode is not where Project 8 is lacking, offering a decent story with less of the cheesy humor found in the past few installments. You begin as an up and coming skater looking to make it big, a plot not very new I understand, but that's the ultimate goal as a skater in the real world, is it not? In this venture, Tony is looking to create a new team, searching city wide for the best eight skaters he can find, and that's how it would happen in the real world, is it not? Thus, Project 8 is based on rank, starting at the bottom of the heap, that bottom rank being number two hundred. Every goal you complete will increase your rank in certain increments. When you come up to filmers, photographers, troubled people, or pros with challenges, the goal will be separated into three difficulty modes; Amateur for those just starting with the series, Pro for the average to decent players, and Sick for those who are indeed sick, or sick in the head, like myself. Players can surpass the lower ranking by doing the pro or sick requirements of the goal right off the bat, but remember, sick requirements, really are sick this time around. By the end of the plot, you'll be in the eighth position, welcomed in to the team by Tony. This does not necessarily mean the end of the game, as there is plenty more to offer. Once completed, you'll probably be done about 75% of the full game, but there are always gaps, secret spots, and challenges to go back to and attempt sick level at, only to become highly frustrated on some occasions. Increasing stats is simply done by skating around and doing what each entails, pulling off a lot of grind time to increase your grind skill, and so on. Neversoft has done a good job at attempting to keep levels increase in a similar pattern to the others, having to do a hefty amount of air time compared to stall time, and so on.
Chalk challenges are new too, having graffiti markers placed on ledges, walls, floors, and quarter pipes to indicate the starting point to a challenge, you must skate, grind, manual, or air to the second, third, or fourth markers to complete the amateur, pro, or sick requirements. Again, trust me, these will get very difficult, watch out for plywood high, and crab pool jump, both of them are doozies, but I hear that NTT (Nail the Trick) is the key to the solution. While it's in discussion, I'd like to go ahead and state that Nail the Trick will never get old, and it is definitely the best addition to the series since being able to manual in THPS 2. Pressing in both sticks while in the air will start Nail the Trick, and once commenced, the left stick controls your left foot, and your right stick controls your right foot. This is the only addition that will actually take some time to get used to, but it is definitely a combo booster. NTT slows down like Focus, which is also still in the game, which personally makes me a happy gamer as I enjoy watching up close and personal as I execute some moves. With the new graphics to the series, the two modes look better than ever, increasing exposure and zooming in on the feet, but not enough to really cut down on peripheral views. Be aware though that focus is not in online play, although NTT is, mainly because NTT is shorter and can only be executed in the air, focus can go on for as long as about half a minute.
Playing Project 8 online is fun, but there are dead beat rooms from time to time. The connection is quick as there are always plenty of players. To avoid the boring rooms, it seems to be easier to find a dozen or so people who like to actually compete while online and keep them in mind when wanting to play, inviting them to the session. Player skill levels vary, and gaming by rank really doesn't make a difference. There are some new games available and you also have options to restrict the level area and time. The newest game is called Walls. In this game a wall streams behind you as you skate, get all the other skaters to run into your wall (or someone else's), and you win. Of course, all the other classic modes are back too, like Trick Attack, Combo Mambo, Graffiti, and Horse. The Xbox 360 achievements have a wide range and overall really back up the want to come back to the title to achieve the number one spot in the ranks, or to find all the gaps in the game. Knowing that Tony Hawk 4 was indeed the pioneer in online console gaming, it seems crazy that the PS3 version does not have any online capabilities. As well, the PS3 version suffers from some framerate problems. While my experience on the 360 never slowed down, it did have a couple instances where it froze up while joining an online game.. As I have clocked over twenty-seven hours into the game thus far, I'd say my statement is justified, and having played about forty online games already, I'd say that the freezing is rare, and it's no problem to your progress as you have to save before entering Live.
Being built from the ground up has improved the title immensely, especially with mo-cap animation. Playing as Tony will really prove its worth, as he really has a sense of style to his vert tricks, especially on landings, keeping his arms to the sides and raised mid-torso level (you'll understand when you see it). A follower to the cKy movie trilogy, Element skateboards Elementality, and more importantly the Viva La Bam series formerly on MTV, I can see some of the mannerisms of Bam Margera in this game as well. Of course you can unlock all the Mo-Cap trick sets as featured in the Intro Video/Trailer, with the ability to control your camera angle and focus, et cetera. The game runs much more smoothly as transitions and landings always have player reactions. There is still that action addition, having a giant shockwave of dust shooting out when you land a high jump to flat ground, or special moves that have you strumming the skateboard like a guitar.
The player creation is the only real create-a-whatever in this game, which is where some may think Project 8 is missing something. The players are divided into several default looks, in which you pick a base model and customize after. I found there weren't as many options to choose from, and sometimes you are left wondering why all the options for clothing aren't available to all the characters, or even to those who have a similar body shape. Although with the restrictions they did keep the quality to a key. There isn't much to unlock for clothing, you can't really modify your wheel color and you can't create a board or trick. Creating a park isn't happening in Project 8 either, but you can modify select areas in each 'level' you unlock. Giving you the simplest of options, you can add a kicker or a rail, a QP or a bank, and rotate it to your fancy. This isn't something you'll sit down with for any period of time, usually long enough to just complete the goal and move on. Ultimately, Tony Hawk has been robbed of its individuality, the one thing Neversoft seemed to be honing in on for almost four consecutive titles. There are plenty of unlockable playable skaters and other players, and you can put in cheats as well.
The main thing the PS3 does have going for it is its brand spankin' new Sixaxis controller, and being able to program it to control just about everything from flicking it up and down to go into manual to executing everything in the nail the trick mode, is pure awesome. I had a talk with Brinton Williams from the Santa Monica Activision office, who has a watchful eye over their game testing department, and he showed me the power behind it, having experimented for hours with it, he was able to do control a lot with it. I would have to say that it will never match the accuracy of the d-pad or sticks alike, and will never be used to play the game through; it's definitely fun to try out for awhile.
Project 8 also features many new skaters, finally taking Elissa Steamer out of the line-up, whom I thought was never a good representation of the female skating talent that's out there (maybe Vanessa Torres?). Most the pros are back, but your favorite may not be included as Thomas, Muska, Campbell, Saari, and others have been cut. The official lineup includes Hawk, Margera, Williams, Burnquist, Sheckler, Mullen, Lyn-Z Adams, Vallely, Rodriguez (good choice Activision... still wanting Rattray though), Dollin, and Houston who can skate like no other and I believe he just turned twelve. Of course you can unlock a bunch of videos from sponsors, and pro videos and bails. Not much you haven't seen before. The level design is indeed very large and truly seamless, never loading once, whereas in THAW you were forced down a tunnel to the next area as to provide buffer time. The only time you will ever load is when you do a long goal across the map, and then restart the goal, and even with that, it's only a couple seconds before you're up and running again.
The soundtrack is back with a vengeance, being headlined by a great track by Kasabian, named Club Foot. This soundtrack, like the last four or so installments, includes over seventy songs arranged in groups of rock, punk, and hip-hop. Included in the soundtrack are names like Bad Religion, Damian Marley, Gnarls Barkley, Kasabian, Kool and the Gang, Ministry, N.I.N., +44, Primus, The Ramones, Slayer, The Cure, The Klaxons, Transplants, and Wolfmother. You can always disable a certain genre or even just a certain track. The sounds in the game are well done themselves, as the effects in Nail the Trick mode are quite good. The pedestrians, filmers, and pros all have plenty to say as you pass by, intently watching and commenting as you pull a huge combo or dig a hole into your shin. They'll provide you with "stokens" as you pull off nice tricks or impress them, and some give you stokens for knocking other people down or bailing really hard. These stokens are used as credits to purchase Mo-Cap footage, boards, and special moves at the skate shop. Skaters are also scattered throughout the city, going around doing lines as they please, but watch yourself, if you knock them down they will chase you and try to tackle you to the floor, taking away stokens in the process. Of course when you do get taken out, or bail, your player is thrown into rag doll physics, all new in Project 8. All new doesn't necessarily mean all good though, as the bails are sometimes a little on the stiff side. THP8 also includes a mission in which you bail into bowling pins, or direct your limp body through a series of gates, maximizing hospital bills in the process, which reminded us how fortunate we are to be in Canada, as a fractured skull and a shattered femur would cost us nothing to fix.
Project 8's cut scenes are eye-catching, a major high point of the game. The dialogue is more mature, but still silly at times, and the detail is simply amazing. The pro challenges all start with a cut scene unique to their mo-cap footage, and they are all very well done. The Beaver is the school mascot, and in my opinion, is one of the best models included in the game. The amount of frizzy fur all over the suit makes for great visuals, and Neversoft did him up proper.
As a true follower to the series since day one, I'm proud to say that I've fully enjoyed this next installment to the series and only look forward to the ninth. Nail the Trick mode is a vastly enjoyed innovation and the Mo-Cap functionality added with the more mature story line and cut scenes are a great aspect to the title. The loss of creating things is a big hit, and the skater options aren't anything new, but the look of what you do get is kept to a maximum, and that's never a bad thing. In the Xbox 360 version, the online play is decent and there's a wide range of games out there. The soundtrack is always decent and the sounds haven't changed much but are all well done. Overall, if Tony Hawk wasn't a household name before, it certainly is now.