Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 Review
Who would've thought that four years later we'd still be playing Tony Hawk games? Born on the Playstation, then brought over to the Dreamcast and Nintendo 64, did anybody ever imagine that a little developer like Neversoft would quickly rise to become one of the best developers of the previous generation? Little did Activision know, their skateboarding franchise would help them propel into becoming one of the most recognizable publishers all over again. Selling millions with every rendition, the Hawk returns yet again and once again, with new improvements to boot. Having launched last year as the first online playable PS2 title, Tony Hawk 4 takes everything THPS3 did and multiplies it by two.
Visually, Tony Hawk 4 looks fantastic, and by now we all expect nothing less from the series. Tony Hawk 4 improves over Tony Hawk 3 in every way imaginable. For starters, the skaters have been modeled even more accurately this time around. By making a few slight adjustments, Neversoft has pretty much perfected the look of the skaters, as far as I'm concerned. The details are even more apparent than ever before. Each skater is easily distinguishable, and they are arguably some of the finest detailed extreme-sports athletes out there. The texture detail has been bumped up a notch, as well. Everything looks absolutely stunning and extremely sharp. It is easily the best looking extreme-sports title out there, and one of the better looking games on the market, as well. As far as the environments go, if you thought Tony Hawk 3's stages weren't large enough, then Tony Hawk 4 should really suit your needs. These courses are roughly twice as large as the previous ones. They are wonderfully modeled, and are actually based off of real locations, unlike the more fantasy like locations found in Tony Hawk 3. The frame rate is, like always, perfect. It never stutters, which of course means the action is never disturbed. As a whole, Tony Hawk 4 is an improvement over the already fantastic looking 3rd title, and there's absolutely no shimmering or jaggies to smear the overall look.
Tony Hawk 4 boasts a number of new improvements, and also keeps many of the same things we've now become accustomed to, intact. For one, the career mode has been completely revamped. Instead of being required to do a set number of objectives within a two-minute period, Tony Hawk 4 now gives the gamer total freedom in every stage by eliminating the timer. This time, you are required to interact with the public and have objectives presented to you, only then will the timer appear. Every objective has a different time meter, so you are not automatically given two-minutes to accomplish something. In some cases it can be anywhere between 30 seconds to three-minutes. Basically, if you've played it, the career mode is pretty much exactly like Acclaim's Aggressive Inline. Throughout the 9 huge areas, there will be over a dozen objectives to complete, so instantly the value of each career is pretty much doubled, in comparison to Tony Hawk 3's. Also, for many of the objectives you complete, you will be rewarded with a stat point. Some improvements to the actual experience of the game include the ability to tailgate or "skitch". You can pull off flat land tricks with ease now, as a simple tap of a direction and either Square, Circle or Triangle --while manualing-- will make your skater pull off a kick ass flat land trick...no wheels, all wood. Adjustments to the online mode have been made as well. You can now skate with up to 8 people, and you can even let people download your very own original custom skate park -- if you are hosting a game that is. Not only that, but you can publicly share your map by uploading it to Activision's online servers, which is a fantastic idea on Activision's part.
The roster has remained unchanged, in fact it has gone back to its traditional roots, as Bob 'The Burn' Burnquist has returned to the series, after being wrongfully used in Konami's not so hot ESPN licensed skateboarding title. There are also four secret character slots and of course a custom skater. While on the subject, THPS4's create-a-skater is insanely deep. You can edit pretty much everything; head size, body size, height, weight, arm size, leg size, hair style, hair color, clothing, sneakers, everything! Normally, it would take me no more than 2-3 minutes to create a skater or a custom character in some other game. In Tony Hawk 4 it took me a good ten minutes. The courses in THPS4 are tremendous; twice as large as the courses in the third. They are also more realistic, in the sense that they represent something you'd be more likely to see in a skate park. So instead of having a bunch of kickers, ramps, half-pipes on a course, you see something a bit more traditional and "realistic". You still have half-pipe areas, or walls that can be used as half/quarter-pipes, you just don't have them scattered everywhere you look, so that puts more emphasis into grinding, manualing and flat landing. The skate parks are all modeled after actual skateboarding spots throughout various cities in the United States, including the bay area of San Francisco, the outdoor areas of the University of California, in Berkeley, and even the prison island Alcatraz. So obviously, these three stages are all based out of California, but of course there are more as you progress in the career mode and unlock the stages. All of what has made Tony Hawk such a great playing series has returned. The reverts, the manuals, the grinds, the game modes, and with the addition of even cooler flat land tricks, a revamped online mode, and a larger more extensive career mode, Tony Hawk 4 is easily the best Tony Hawk game, and also the best extreme-sports title to date.
For the first time in 4 years, I am quite disappointed with the soundtrack. Personally, Tony Hawk 4's soundtrack just does not excite me the least bit, like the first three did (especially the 1st). The tracks are flat, boring, and missing any energy. They're far too mellow in some cases, and the ol' school hip-hop has to go...then again, I'm a rock infested metal/nu-metal/alternative freak who listens to Nirvana, Metallica, Deftones, Incubus, Feeder, Professional Murder Music, System of a Down, Tool, A Perfect Circle, Finch, Sevendust, and the like. By now you can see my musical tastes are pretty one-sided, and even though the soundtrack has rock tracks, I'm barely enjoying them. The only notable songs I can mention are those done by AC/DC, The Offspring, The Distillers, Iron Maiden, System of a Down and the Sex Pistols; everything else I just don't seem to care too much about. In comparison to THPS3's soundtrack, which featured Alien Ant Farm, Zeebrahead, RHCP, and Motorhead, Tony Hawk 4's soundtrack is just overflowing with too many unnecessary hip-hop tracks, that spark no energy, and create nothing but a mellow mood -- something that an "extreme" sports game should not have. Tony Hawk 3 also had a better list of hip-hop tracks, in contrast to Tony Hawk 4's hip-hop list. It's times like this, that I wish the PS2 had a custom soundtrack feature, like the Xbox. Aside from the soundtrack issues, the game sounds great. There are skaters that interact with you vocally, which is a really cool addition. The ambience effects and the sound effects altogether sound great. The following is the full soundtrack to Tony Hawk 4:
- Agent Orange, "Bloodstains"
- Aesop Rock, "Labor"
- AC/DC, "TNT"
- Avail, "Simple Song"
- Biz Markie, "Body Rock"
- Bouncing Souls, "Manthem"
- City Stars, "Bad Dream"
- The Cult, "Bad Fun"
- De La Soul, "Oodles of O's"
- Delinquent Habit, "House of the Rising Drum"
- Distillers, "Seneca Falls"
- Eyedea & Abilities, "Big Shots"
- The Faction, "Skate and Destroy"
- Flogging Molly, "Drunken Lullabies"
- Gang Starr, "Mass Appeal"
- Goldfinger, "Spokesman"
- Haiku De'Etat, "Non Compros Mentis"
- Hot Water Music, "Freightliner"
- Iron Maiden, "Number of the Beast"
- Jeru the Damaja, "Verses of Doom"
- JFA, "Beach Blanket Bong Out"
- Less Than Jake, "All My Friends are Metalheads"
- Melle Mel, "I'm a Star"
- Nebula, "Giant"
- N.W.A., "Express Yourself"
- The Offspring, "Blackball"
- Public Enemy, "By the Time I Get to Arizona"
- Rocket From the Crypt, "Savoir Faire"
- Run DMC, "My Adidas"
- Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
- System of a Down, "Shimmy"
- Lootpack, "Whenimondamic"
- Toy Dolls, "Dig That Groove Baby"
- US Bombs, "Yer Country"
- Zeke, "Death Alley"
I don't really even think I should spend much time on the controls. With the exception of the spine transfers (R2), which can also be doubled as a bail save, and the new all new flatland tricks, the controls have remained virtually unchanged. The spine transfers can also be referred to as half-pipe spine transfers. So if you're jumping off of one half-pipe, and there is another link to it back-to-back, you can land onto the other half-pipe by tapping R2. To save my save the hassle of sounding like a broken record, I'll just recycle/re-write what I said for the controls in my Tony Hawk 3 review. 'The face buttons still function as they did in the past, but I'm sure you already knew that. The revert feature returns in Tony Hawk 4. For those who haven't checked out Tony Hawk 4, how this works is very simple and requires very little practice: as you are coming down to surface, after performing tricks and picking up multipliers, right when you land hit the L2 or R2 button and the skater will quickly perform a switch. As soon as you hit one of the buttons, quickly perform a manual and continue your string of stunts by grinding or doing flip tricks. In some cases, when on a half-pipe and a revert is performed, with enough speed you can soar back into the air using the half-pipe, land and pull off another revert. The possibilities with this new feature are almost endless. There are a lot of imaginative things that can be done through the use of the revert. It's pretty evident that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the controls!'
In the end, if you expected anything lower than a mid-9 for Tony Hawk 4, you're underestimating Neversoft's dedication to constantly improving the series with every new iteration. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 sports everything Tony Hawk 3 sported, but takes it all to the next level. With larger landscapes, broader move set, flashy as hell flat land tricks, a much more immersive career mode, revamped online mode, great roster, even cleaner visuals, and more improvements, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 is a must buy PS2 title for the upcoming holiday season. It's got everything you want, and nothing you don't. And while the soundtrack is under whelming to someone like myself, I'm sure there are countless who'll eat it up. Regardless, Tony Hawk is back once again, and still retains every bit of its addictive nature as the past three have. This one's a keeper, no doubt about it.
10/25/2002 Arnold Katayev