Tony Hawk's Project 8 Review
Yes, folks. There have been eight (count 'em, 8!) Tony Hawk games since 1998. That's a Tony Hawk game every single year, and there isn't a console or handheld that Activision didn't port him to. Throughout the life of the series, Neversoft has continually added something new to the game's to maintain their appeal and keep them fresh. Though arguably after Tony Hawk 3, things began to dwindle a little bit. Tony Hawk 4, while still solid, suffered from some pretty boring stages. So Activision decided to give the series a face lift and drop the numerical denotation...and thus came the Underground series. We were given two Underground games, and the last would be American Wasteland. I, honestly didn't spend much time with them, as they all felt somewhat stale to me and just couldn't capture the magic of the first three -- their only appeal was to replay my favorite classic stages with enhanced graphics and mechanics. So here now we have the eighth and first true next-generation Tony Hawk game, Tony Hawk's Project 8. (Xbox 360 version of American Wasteland was a port, so it doesn't count).
To get things started, Project 8's namesake implies more than just this being the eight entry of the series. The story behind Project 8 is that Tony Hawk is assembling a group of 8 undiscovered skateboarders and heard that your neighborhood in particular had some amazing skaters in it. Thus the game begins and you're on your way to gaining the attention of professional skateboarders, and picking up sponsorships scattered all around your neighborhood. Gaining respect is the obvious key in the game, as you will have to climb the ranks and eventually gain the respect of Tony Hawk himself to be eligible to compete for a spot in the Project 8 crew. As you progress throughout your town, you will be faced with multiple challenges to complete -- and any seasoned Tony Hawk veteran shouldn't have much of a problem completing most of them. As always though, some challenges poise a lot of grief and can be frustrating to compete; but such is the way of this series.
Your stomping ground is one seamlessly transitioning level. With every certain criteria met, you'll be allowed to unlock more and more of your town's areas. You'll start off in the suburbs, and then head over to a nearby skate park. When you're done with that park, you'll be able to break through the gate of your town, and then head it into your town's city (which is massive!) and so on. The setting in Project 8 totally dwarves anything that's been done in the past, including American Wasteland. But the most important aspect of the game's settings is that they're actually really, really well designed. Having been under whelmed by the designs of the last three Tony Hawk games, I went into this one with low expectations, but I've come out pleasantly surprised. Each section is designed with tons of combos and linking in mind, it almost reminds me of Tony Hawk 1 and 2. Comboing feels effortless now, as almost anywhere you go in the game there are tons of opportunities to pull of a plethora of combos.
Now as you progress, you'll encounter various professional skateboarders and skateboarding celebrities (Jason Lee!) who will be willing to help you out, and even sponsor you -- provided that you complete their objectives. In addition to well known personalities, you'll also be able to interact with the civilians of your neighborhood in various ways. Firstly, during your career you'll have to help them by performing a challenge or two. Secondly, as you skate around them, you'll be able to impress them and be rewarded. And thirdly, you can also knock down fellow skateboarders, and gain some rewards in the process, but they can knock you back down if they chase after you. The more you skate, the more flip tricks, grab tricks, grinds, manuals (etc) you do the faster your skater will gain experience. So if you're not doing enough manualing in your trick sets, or when you're just riding around from point A to B, don't expect your manual performance to increase. It's imperative that when you're playing the game, to keep your tricks as diverse as possible and your skater will grow quick.
But as nice as Project 8 is, there's some serious problems which have upset many people. This problem is actually quite laughable, really. You see, Tony Hawk Project 8 for the PS3 doesn't have online gameplay. Nope. Neversoft nixed it, likely because they couldn't meet a deadline and Activision wanted the game out for launch. Regardless, that's not much of an excuse. A delay of a few weeks to get the online running would've been A-Ok with all of us, instead of getting an incomplete game. As a customer, I'd rather spend $60 on a complete product, and have it feature the very same things the other versions (Xbox 360) feature. Needless to say, I feel a little gypped here (even though I didn't buy the game, but I digress), because split-screen multiplayer just doesn't cut it in this day and age. Moreover, what happened to our classic stages, Neversoft? They've been featured in every single Tony Hawk game since THPS4, and now all of a sudden we don't get to see the original classics in high-definition goodness? I'm sorely disappointed that not only does the game not have online, but it doesn't even have the classic parks, which only the PSP version includes.
As always, Project 8 controls just as well as every other Tony Hawk game before it. What I also noticed was that the trick executions have been slightly remapped. Often times in the most recent couple of Tony Hawk games, the skater would accidentally perform a flip trick that he/she isn't able to land properly. This usually happened when you accidentally double tapped a direction, which makes the skater execute a much more complicated flip. Remapping was an option, but it was sort of annoying. So thankfully Project 8 gets rid of those issues. New for the series, Project 8 features a nail-a-trick feature that is detailed in the game's career mode. Basically, you slow down time by hitting the L3 & R3 buttons and use one or both of the analog sticks to control the spin and direction of your board as you're catching air. It's a really neat feature, I must admit; and when honed comes to be quite useful.
Project 8 is obviously the best looking game the series has to offer. Albeit both PS3 and X360 versions suffer from some noticeable framerate hiccups here and there, but nothing too revolting, thankfully. The texture work is pretty nice, but there are some areas that could use a little polish here and there. Additionally character detail is pretty nice, as skaters wear some pretty fine detailed clothing with noticeable perforations and material patterns; and that is the result of some terrific texture work. Though there are a few rough edges here and there around the characters themselves -- but you'll only notice that during a cut-scene. You'll notice some aliasing issues ("jaggies") if you're playing this on a standard TV via composite or S-Video cables, but the game's supported 720p clears that up if you have the proper setup at home. What everyone should love about the visuals is that all of the tricks have been completely motion captured specifically for Project 8. The animation is absolutely phenomenal, and the execution of the tricks looks far more accurate than it ever has. Lastly, even though this is an open-ended game with no levels, the environments feature absolutely no draw-in issues or pop-up, and show off some rather nice lighting. That much makes it fairly obvious that this engine is indeed built with the next-generation consoles in mind.
Audio is something we've all come to love from the series. The soundtracks are often filled with awesome rock, pop, and hip-hop tracks spanning each respective category's subgenres. Some tracks may not suit your tastes, so the game gives you the option of disabling whichever song you don't like. What I don't quite understand is the lack of a custom soundtrack option. It's missing in Ridge Racer 7, NFS: Carbon, and Project 8. Admittedly, this was one my favorite features on the Xbox and I'm a little upset that not one PS3 game has yet to have a custom soundtrack option. It couldn't possibly take much to implement, so there really is no excuse for its absence. Moving on, voice acting has now become a norm in the series, and Project 8 is no exception. All of the skater and celebrity personalities are completely authentic, and they all act out the dialogue fairly well -- though Jason Lee (woo!) obviously has the best delivery, being an actor and all.
Tony Hawk's Project 8 is a good game, but it's riddled with problems that should've never been there in the first place. The core -- the gameplay -- is solid. The level design is downright superb, and finding links and combos just feels effortless in this one. But there's just so many "wtf" issues in Project 8 that I can't even begin to wrap my head around them. Firstly, the lack of an online component really hurts. The Tony Hawk franchise is built for online competition, and to only feature split-screen just doesn't cut it. Then, the absence of a Classic Mode makes things feel sorer. There is no custom soundtrack, and I just don't see why not. The visuals are pretty decent, but spotty framerate issues may bother the framerate elitists. Project 8's good qualities do outweigh the bad, but not by much. Neversoft has a terrific formula on their hands, and if they fixed the plaguing issues of this game with the ninth iteration, then we'll have something very noteworthy to talk about. Until then, it pains me to say that Project 8 for the PS3 just isn't worth a $60 purchase -- rent it first or check out the X360 version if you have one.
12/4/2006 Arnold Katayev