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Tony Hawk’s Project 8 Review

Developer: Neversoft Publisher: Activision
Release Date: November 7, 2006 Also On: PS2, PS3, Xbox and Xbox 360

Like Electronic Arts’ game studios, Neversoft could easily be the biggest blame for yearly rehashes. However, unlike some development teams, Neversoft rarely settles for anything that doesn’t improve on a pre-existing product. Their Tony Hawk franchise, their bread and butter, is running seven games strong and has appeared on more than a dozen platforms. This year’s game, the eighth and appropriately-titled Tony Hawk’s Project 8, has once again been labeled by the developer as a huge improvement that will re-define the skateboarding game experience. Activision is putting their…er…money where their mouth is by releasing a 20-minute demo of Tony Hawk’s Project 8 on Xbox 360’s Xbox Live Marketplace. Xbox Live owners and Tony Hawk fans can and should check out the demo.

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Tony Hawk’s Project 8, as I said the evening of the demo’s release announcement, could be the bane of the series’ existence or the savior. It has to be one or the other, really–Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland was a disappointment in many ways, earning a 7.4 in my review, featured here on GameFreaks365.com. One thing’s for sure: last fall, when I said “it seems Neversoft has run out of fresh, meaningful ideas and needs to go back to the drawing board,” I had no idea that they could or would really do that. With Project 8, they’ve done it, and done well.

The 20-minute demo yields a rather small skating space, only matching the size and scope of Pro Skater 2’s Hangar level or Pro Skater’s Chicago Warehouse level. It feels a lot like a mixture of my small, local skate park and Pro Skater 2’s Marsielles, France skate park. In completion of the 20 minutes of skating, however, the camera flies high above to show just how large Tony Hawk’s Project 8 actually is–there are square miles upon square miles of skating areas, it seems.

Once I got rolling, I quickly noticed how different the controls felt. While my first combo was one that went for several thousand points, the controls felt and acted more realistic. This is something I’ve asked for since Pro Skater 4 and finally I can stop yapping about it; this game feels fantastic. While skating up the skate park’s hills, demo star Bob Burnquist would kick and push his way rather than escalate like he would in Pro Skater 3 (oh, wait, he wasn’t in that one). Pulling off tricks also felt and looked especially realistic. In my short amount of time skateboarding, it was a sign of mastery if a skater would “catch” a kickflip in the air, land, and skate away. I noticed that the all-new animation captures looked better than ever but this trick “catching” makes everything look that much better, and skater rats of the non-virtual kind will really appreciate this touch. Grinds and manuals also felt more realistic with feedback from the Xbox 360’s rumble feature (shame shame, PS3) and the on-screen animation; Bob would shake and try to balance with all of his might when falling out of a manual. And finally, where previous virtual skaters would contort to whatever half or quarter pipe they were skating towards, Project 8’s Bob will simply shift his feet and ride realistically around in a bowl. Like the “catching” of tricks, it’s a small animation change that real-life skaters will like.

The new “Nail The Trick” mechanic felt sketchy at first, but once I had the feel of it, I feel great to claim that it’s the best new addition to the series since the Revert in Pro Skater 3. By clicking both analog sticks, you initiate a slow-down mode that focuses on your skater’s feet. The left stick acts as the left foot, and in Bob’s Normal Stance, that’s his dominant front foot. The right stick acts as the right foot. By pressing and holding a direction with the stick with Nail The Trick initiated, Bob kicks the board a certain way. For example, holding up on the left analog stick will send the board flipping in a kickflip. By pressing and holding down on the right analog stick, Bob will then seamlessly kick the board into a hardflip. The combinations you can come up with are limited only to your imagination and how much time you’re given before landing. Putting together different tricks and forming some crazy moves have always been staples of Tony Hawk’s gameplay, and Nail The Trick emphasizes this in a fun new way. Great work, Neversoft.

Visually, in regards to things not pertaining to animation, Tony Hawk’s Project 8 is a middle-tier Xbox 360 game that was clearly made for next-gen consoles. It looks a little better than games like Just Cause, Amped 3, and much bottom-tier games like The Outfit and Final Fantasy XI but just a little less impressive than Dead Rising, NBA 2K7, and Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter. The textures look great, and you’ll spot details like cracks in the ground, scuffs on walls, and wax on the edges of any grindable surface. There are posters and ads and graffiti tags everywhere. The limited soundtrack in the demo featured a few of the game’s hip-hop, rock, and punk-infused list, including “Getting Smaller” by Nine Inch Nails and “Gone Daddy Gone” by Gnarls Barkley. Though it’s better than American Wasteland’s awful cover-filled list, I really feel like Underground is the only Tony Hawk game since the original Pro Skater and Pro Skater 2 that captured a range of quality tracks from each genre. At least the sound effects are a lot better; and the different effects for the terrain you’re skating/running over are nice as well. And bails, well, they sound as painful as you’d ever want them to.

Though Xbox 360’s Leaderboards prove to me that I’m not the best Tony Hawk’s Project 8 skater (as of writing this, “|| Body Bag ||” is, with a high combo of 146,981,312 points), they’re a great feature for those with a competitive vein. Project 8 also keeps track of a load of stats, like how many tricks were landed, bailed, clean landing percentage, bail points (how many points you’ve given up to pain), and of course, highest combo. My high combo of 476,859 doesn’t do justice to my 24,000,000 in Pro Skater 3…but I’ll catch you, || Body Bag ||. I’ll catch you.

Question marks that have always popped up still apply to Project 8–skating through bushes and grass, for example, is something that still irks me. With the off-the-board mechanics that were introduced with Underground, it still boggles my mind that your skaters will effortlessly travel through shrubs and dirt. Skateboard wheels just don’t work well in the grass, and I don’t care how worn in they are or what bearings are found inside! Utilizing a restrictive mechanic where certain areas forced you to use the parkour skills introduced in American Wasteland would have been interesting, in my book, but seeing as how it would be a gamble, I’m not surprised that Neversoft continued to allow players to unrealistically shred through grass and the like.

Project 8’s demo shows that the addictive Tony Hawk gameplay and intuitive control system haven’t been sacrificed for pretty visuals or expanded environments. It’s one of my favorite demos released on the Xbox Live Marketplace so far, alongside Capcom’s excellent (and early) Lost Planet and Dead Rising demos. Fans of the series will notice every single change just like I did, but they’re welcome changes, and I’m even more excited for the final product that ships November 7th for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Xbox 360 and November 17th for the PlayStation 3.

Written by Cliff