It seems like an eternity since I played the first Tony Hawks game on the Playstation many years ago, and with subsequent sequels across multiple platforms since then, it’s great to see a series have such longevity and still remain popular and more importantly entertaining. Well Xbox 360 is only one year old and yet like the Need For Speed series we are already being presented with our second game for the system. Unfortunately I didn’t play American Wasteland and by looking at review scores appeared to be an average game to say the least and not really a true next generation game for the Xbox 360. Well forget Wasteland and say hello to what feels like Tony Hawks 100th game to Tony Hawks Project 8. Now this is what I’m talking about, a slick looking iteration of the series that has the potential to woo the fans and garner much interest for those yet to sample a Tony Hawks game.
To begin, players are presented with several options which include the massive career mode, Live play, free skate and other niceties to mess around with. The career mode is the real meat and two veg of the game and it is here where most rewards lie. Starting the game, players are prompted to create a skater which can be male or female. Once the gender is determined, players can then tweak features such as face, hair and eye colour amongst things such as clothing. It’s not the most extensive character editor I’ve seen but does help make a character more unique.
Once a character has been created, players then have to go through the rigours of a tutorial although I must say that to start the game by offering help and assistance is commendable at the same time shoots itself in the foot because at times the tutorial is very vague and will no doubt have some gamers scratching their heads as to what to do next. It’s also a little unforgiving at times which is not really the best way to start a game considering you don’t want to alienate any new players to the series. Either way once tutorials have been beaten the game begins proper in a Suburbs level.
Again the suburbs level acts as a sort of tutorial and whilst there is no hand holding as such it does introduce you to some of the activities you will be doing throughout the game. Project 8 allows players to eventually freely roam the entire world map which consist of several smaller areas linked together in a seamless fashion. Littered in each area are a number of challenges indicated by icons, markers or people including other pro skaters that make appearances. These are usually highlighted in orange and are a visual cue designed to grab your attention. The main onus of the career mode is to move up the ranks of skaters and make it into Tony Hawks elite group of eight skaters known simply as Project 8. By completing challenges of which you are scored amateur, pro or sick levels up your character so to speak, which in turn moves you up the rankings. To put things in perspective you start out ranked around 200 and therefore have a lot of work to do to even think about getting into the top eight.
Included on the screen at all times is a compass which highlights points of interest. Which means that whilst there is some exploration, players can easily find the challenges; especially as a comprehensive checklist is available at all times and waypoint markers can be set for any challenge completed or not. Useful but I think the real fun lies in simply heading out into the world and finding these on the fly (especially to begin with).
The challenges themselves are obviously there to test your skating skills which to me come in four distinct forms. Navigation, players must be adept at getting to places using what ever means. Combos/scoring, players ability to perform large combos and high scores within time limits are tested. Specific moves, players are tested to see how good they are at using specific moves such as grinds, manuals and wall rides. Obviously there are variations such as head to head challenges and even some racing thrown in, but ultimately they all revolve around how good you are at performing moves.
Performing moves are fairly simple and require players to press A to jump and then enter a specific command such as Hold left and tap X (With the X button offering spin tricks, B button grabs, Y button grinds). It’s quite simple but the real key is performing moves linked together in a combo. This has been the mainstay for all of the Tony Hawks games and is something players need to learn early on if they are to be successful. An example of button presses for a simple combo in a half pipe would be as follows. Hold and release A to jump at the lip of the half pipe and then at the peak of the jump (Air) hold left and press X followed by holding B and then taping X once more before lining up the board for landing. Now upon landing if players press the right trigger this performs a switch move which continues the combo if this is followed immediately with a manual (press up and down quickly) then players can manual to other side of the pipe and perform more moves and so on and so on. Obviously as the combo increases players will find that controlling the manual in between gets more difficult and so players have to gauge whether to continue or bail and lose their score. This game play mechanic hasn’t changed since the early Tony Hawks games and works really well and is quite intuitive to use. What is more, with extensive learning of the maps finding routes which allow for huge combos is what really adds some depth and fun to the game. What is new in Project 8 is the inclusion of a focus mode which slows down time and offers players even more scope in performing longer drawn out combos. It’s also very cinematic and adds much tension to scoring highly.
Another feature which is rather interesting is the nail the trick which is accessed at any time by pressing in both thumb sticks at the same time. The nail the trick feature also enters a focus mode in which time slows down but this time the view switches to your skater’s legs and board. Here player must perform kick rotations and spins of the board before landing smoothly (by moving the left and right thumb sticks which correspond to the left and right legs). Its rather cool and once mastered means that players can add more multipliers and points to their combos and scores.
The graphics in Project 8 are very crisp indeed as everything looks nicely detailed and suitably shiny, at times. It’s certainly a big improvement over the Playstation original and a nice step up from THUG2 on Xbox. There are other skaters doing tricks as well as regular pedestrians and such like that litter the levels when free-roaming and its great to see the renditions of the pro skaters who feature throughout your quest. The likenesses are of a very high standard and of course the actual skating moves have been motion captured which is more apparent when you enter the focus mode or nail the trick. Animation is fluid as a result and of course one can’t complain at the overall look of the weird, diverse and wonderful levels. However I have to make a small complaint about some obvious problems with the frame rate at times which made for small moments of the game skipping. It’s not a major problem as it didn’t happen all the time but when it did it was noticeable and perhaps a little distracting.
The sound is pretty good as well and features a lot of voice overs for the game’s characters who come across as wild loons to more laid back skater dudes. I assume the voices for the actual Pro Skaters were voiced by their real life counterparts and its safe to say there are some funny moments. What is good is being able to see clips of the real skaters in action which you unlock by rising up the ranks. The music is a mixed bag and features indie rock, punk, hip hop and perhaps will not cater for everyone’s tastes. As always players can use their own custom play list and with the in game one can also pick and choose favourite tracks to play looped or randomly. Personally I would have liked to see some drum and bass tunes included with the games own soundtrack as I feel that the urban style gels well with the whole skateboarding scene. Other sound effects are as you would expect and so be prepared for a lot of grating sounds, yes lots!
Project 8 is a long game and took me around 30 hours to make it into Project 8. I think one of the main reasons for the length is mainly due to the fact that it’s so tempting to just explore and digress from the missions. There are also some rather fiendish challenges which can take several attempts especially if you are going for Pro and Sick score markers. Once players have entered Project 8 the end credits roll but by all means the game isn’t over as it’s simply the beginning of being the number one skater which will take players a lot of time and patience to reach. The number one slot I assume is reserved for players who can obtain sick scores on most if not all of the game’s challenges – not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.
There is also an online component and the aforementioned free skate mode where players can simply skate until they drop. The online component seems like an extension of the single player where its pretty much the same challenges but versus humans. This is really a test of nerve and skill as players go head to head in real time to obtain the highest score or combo depending on the game type selected. One of the more unusual online modes is a versus match in the vein of the old arcade classic Tron (you know the motorbikes section and the trails) but in 3D.
Tony Hawks Project 8 is wacky, fun, engaging and full of beans and perhaps not too dissimilar to Amped 3 in design. As far as the series goes it doesn’t offer much differences in the game play but I guess why should it considering the game play works just fine. The free-roaming aspect is great and with the ability to just explore and try out new tricks is very much welcome and certainly impresses. For Tony Hawks fans this is a must have title although some might feel short changed as many of the levels are the same as in previous games such as School and Factory (not to confuse but, same locale rather than same design). I have enjoyed playing and when I have more time will definitely go back and try and rise further in the elite Project 8 group (I’m currently ranked number 7). For non fans and newcomers I’m not convinced that it will win them over as previously mentioned the tips for success are rather vague and of course the training is highly damaging in the sense that it potentially could run the risk of turning off gamers. Luckily there have been demo’s available and so people with access to those can get some practice and try before they buy. Project 8 is certainly a keeper and not something that can be beaten in a rental. Good solid skateboarding fun without the grazed knees, nosebleeds and bruises.