Activisionís long-running series is about to enter its fourth chapter with Tony Hawkís Pro Skater 4. While previous sequels introduced new tricks and features, THPS 4ís main change is its complete level revamping, making, seemingly, the best Hawk game to date.
The Tony Hawk series always had a slew of objectives to complete in the number of levels, and they were all to be completed within the two minute run time limit. In this installment, however, everything is different. Instead of starting each level with a two minute timer, there will actually be no timer at all. So players can now explore levels and just goof off. However, there will still be timer enforced goals, which are activated as you start the specified goal. By approaching a pedestrian (specified by an indicator above him or her) he or she will give you an assignment. This assignment will then start a timer, but whatís cool is that you can just ride around if you want -- busting tricks, getting the feel of each level -- without having to worry about that intrusive timer.
The levels are also massively constructed and will take quite a while to explore thoroughly, quite a while. And since the gameís filled with hidden chasms, rooms, and sections, players will find new things about the level even after delving into them for some time.
Another aspect Neversoft has been able to effectively recreate is the realistic aura thatís found in the game. The levels are filled with so much color and life, bolstered by tons of ramps, hills, and grinds to trick off of. Pedestrians are also heavily scattered throughout, going about their everyday lives, and even though the levels are unbelievably extensive, Neversoft hasnít forgotten to thoroughly fill them with all sorts of background objects and things to trick off of.
The career mode has been improved significantly, making easily the most deepest and user friendly one yet. As stated earlier, the timer wonít be activated until you accept an objective from one of the designated pedestrians. These goals span in a wide range of missions, having you collect letters to spell a (before you do) mysterious word. Other tasks have you racing an inline skater, completing a series of specified tricks, and even playing tennis with your board.
Completing a mission will then earn your skater a point thatíll go toward his attributes, so the more tasks you successfully finish, the better your skater will become, attribute-wise. In addition to making your skater better, accomplishing the numerous tasks will also unlock newer areas of the level, which in turn let you vie for new achievements. And lastly, accomplishing an objective with one skater will automatically give that completion to every skater on the roster, so that you wonít have to do the same thing over with the gaggle of skaters.
Neversoft also differentiates itself with competing skaters on the market, letting players do more than just skate around. Upon exploring the levels, youíll come across pedestrians competing in numerous sporting activities. Among these are a basketball court as well as a tennis court, both of which you can enter and play. Talk about crazy, but expect the boys at Neversoft to introduce even more innovative additions such as the aforementioned ones.
THPS 2 and 3 were more known for their gameplay innovations and additions to the series. Tony Hawk 4 doesnít improve upon the actual gameplay a whole lot, but Neversoft has still incorporated a few new additions. One is called skitching, which allows your skater to grab a hold of a moving automobile, as to gain momentum for a trick or whatnot. Another new feature to the series is the spine transfer, which lets you properly level your skater out after going off a jump or ramp at a wrong angle. This eliminates any unnecessary bails that youíve probably encountered in its predecessors.
Visually is where the series least improves upon itself. Holding only minor subtle augmentations, THPS 4 is simply just a sharper looking game overall. The textures as a whole are crisper, as are the skaters themselves. But easily the best improvement graphic-wise is the fact that the levels are so massive, and the framerate is seemingly unaffected from it, despite all the activity and mass each level sports.
Some may look at the Tony Hawk series and think that Activision and Neversoft are milking it for everything itís worth. Whether or not they actually are milking the series out, itís inevitable that theyíre very enthusiastic about THPS 4 and have made quite a few improvements: Bigger levels, more thought-provoking objectives, and improved visuals all add up to compile one really good looking game. Weíre not done, so stay tuned.
7/18/2002 Joseph Comunale