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Tony Hawk’s Project 8 Review

Developer: Neversoft Publisher: Activision
Release Date: November 7, 2006 Also On: None

Like the skateboarding legend who created it, the Tony Hawk franchise started to show its age and mortality over the last few years. It hasn’t done anything particularly mind-blowing, but it’s always been there, keeping skateboarding games around and in the light. For a brief history update; eight years ago the series was born with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. A year later, Pro Skater 2 introduced the manual, which allowed combos to easily stretch into the hundred-thousand range. Pro Skater 3 came out and allowed players to Revert, bringing vert tricks into the combo mix even more. Pro Skater 4 expanded the levels. Underground came out and introduced a story and took some of the action off of the skateboard. Underground 2 and American Wasteland kept the flow of Underground while adding a few touches, but nothing particularly inventive or impressive. What does this newest title, Tony Hawk’s Project 8 do for the series? Does it “Nail The Trick?”

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In some ways, this is the best Tony Hawk game yet. In others, it really disappoints. In no way, though, does it show the mediocrity of Underground 2 and American Wasteland. It might be missing a few things, but it doesn’t keep the game from being fun and, surprisingly, very fresh. You’re an unknown nobody in the skateboarding world. Tony Hawk comes on TV, talking about “Project 8,” a group of eight elite skateboarders. Immediately, that’s your goal, to rise in the ranks and find a spot in the top eight. I was happy to see that that’s the most of the storyline–Project 8 takes the focus off of a hokey storyline and puts it on the skateboarding gameplay, where it should be. With the exception of Underground, which at least had an interesting storyline, the Pro Skaters were the best and that’s a direct result of the focus on gameplay.

Controlling your skater is as easy as it’s ever been. The controls remain largely unchanged, which is a good thing. If there’s anything in this series Neversoft doesn’t need to mess with, it’s the controls, which have proven to be the most intuitive and imitated in the genre. The new “Nail The Trick” mechanic works well. To initiate this mode, you click the right and left thumb sticks while in the air. The camera zooms into your skater’s lower half, and the analog sticks dynamically control your skater’s feet. Depending on your stance, you’ll push a stick a certain direction and the skater will flip the board with that foot. You can create some awesome free-form tricks, and the point total you earn makes this well worth the effort and risk that is taken by doing it.

The free-form style shows its side in the different goals and distractions found throughout the large skating world. You’ll encounter pedestrians and other skaters who have missions for you, but what’s more fun are the move-specific goals located all over the place. Painted on the ground are markers for you to manual, grind, or jump over–the farther your grind, the longer your manual, the higher your wallplant; the more you’re awarded for that spot. This system lets players explore the world in ways that they’d normally explore it, only they’re awarded for it, giving more initiative to play around. There is so much to do that this game could keep you entertained for dozens of hours and still leave you with challenges to play.

Unfortunately, playing around in Project 8’s world isn’t as fun as it’s been in the past because the level design isn’t the best. In fact, I’d say it’s in the middle of the eight Tony Hawk series in terms of level design, behind games like Underground and Pro Skater 3. Everything here’s been done before–a school, a skate park, suburbs, a downtown area. This wouldn’t be a problem if the levels didn’t feel so cramped and overloaded with skating objects. I felt like I could close my eyes, press the grind button, and get points.

Another disappointing aspect of Project 8 is how slow your skater moves. In the past games, there was a speed stat that could be increased, allowing you to zip around pretty quickly. Project 8 takes this away, forcing you to skate at the same slow speed for most of the game. I felt like if I wasn’t grinding, I was slugging around too slowly. Also, Neversoft took away almost all of the customizable modes, like Create-a-Park and Create-a-Graphic. It’s still possible to create a skater at the start of your Career, but the editor restricts you to a few stereotypical styles. For example, there’s a stickly punk skater, an urban thug skater, and a stoner skater. You can edit these guys a little bit, but for the most part, they still show off those stereotypes. The lack of these features is a sin, especially when you look around and see extensive creation modes in other next-gen games like Saints Row and Tiger Woods PGA Tour. These are features that have been around since Pro Skater 2–seven-year-old features should not be removed from a series, especially when they’re generally well-received and fun to use.

Visually, Project 8 struts its stuff in a new engine with highly detailed textures and character models. The animation is absolutely perfect; and the extensive motion capture that Neversoft performed really shows. The soundtrack isn’t all that great, so I stuck to my uploaded music on my Xbox 360’s hard drive. The sound effects go well with the visual splendor, so overall, Project 8 has some impressive production values.

Tony Hawk’s Project 8 is a good game. It may not be the best song in the series, but it’s got more fun stuff to play around with than the last few games have. Despite missing a few features and having a decent-at-best level design, it’s a lot of fun to play and that’s what counts. Tony Hawk fans shouldn’t miss it.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 8
Replay Value/Game Length: 9.5
Final: 8.8
Written by Cliff Review Guide