Arguably the best skateboarding video game ever made, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 meets the expectations of its fans and takes the series to another level. Those who have never experienced the Tony Hawk series may be a bit overwhelmed to hear of the latest and greatest fourth rendition of Activision’s masterpiece. You must be warned from the outset that this game isn’t for the easily frustrated gamer. Not only has Activision increased the level of difficulty, they have put a greater emphasis on completing goals which in my opinion was a tribute to the fans. Not to deter from its greatness though, there are a slew of additional features that will keep the faithful fans of the series happy, as well as enough content to lure newcomers into the crazy combo, kickflipping chaos known as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4.
Assuming there are still people out there who haven’t played any previous rendition of the series, or possibly never heard of it, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 (THPS4) is an extreme sports title based in the realm of skateboarding. Your purpose is to become the greatest skater in the world by completing goals in each level, mastering your combos and tricks, winning competitions, and boosting your stats to the highest degree. There are tons of secrets and various cheats and items to unlock in the game. But the main area of focus is completing all the tasks in each level.
The various modes of THPS4 are Career Mode, Single Session, Free Skate, 2 Player, System Link Play, Create-A-Skater, and Build Park. The bulk of THPS4 is the Career Mode. This is the bread and butter of the game. In Career Mode you can either start off with your own created skater or one of the ready-made professional skaters such as Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist, Jeff Rowley, Chad Muska, and the numerous others included in the game. The purpose of Career Mode is to talk to various characters in each level and complete the goals that they give you. Each level comes with a standard 16 goals. By completing goals, you earn money which you can use to unlock levels, purchase new gear, unlock secret skaters, buy cheats, and unlock in-game movies. You also earn stats, pro points, special tricks, and special trick slots by completing goals. In addition to the regular goals, THPS4 features an additional set of Pro Goals which are increasingly difficult than your normal goals. In order to unlock the Pro Set, you must first complete a “Pro Challenge” which is a single goal assigned to your character after you have achieved a certain amount of “Pro Points.” Once the “Pro Challenge” is completed, you are given an extra 5 Professional goals per level which brings the total to 21 goals per level. There are also mini-games (such as a tennis competition) scattered throughout the levels that allow you to earn extra cash.
Single Session mode is somewhat like Free Skate mode except you are given two minutes in the level you choose to perform a high score. This mode resembles the previous Tony Hawk games because the emphasis is on getting the highest score possible per level. There are no goals or secrets to unlock in this mode, which I assume is used for those that just want to play the game casually with no other purpose than to score. Similarly, in Free Skate mode there is no time limit and your score is based on the last combo you performed. You’re free to explore the level without worrying about time, high scores, or goals. In essence, this is the perfect mode for getting your tricks down and finding secret areas within the level.
The multiplayer modes included in the game are 2 Player and System Link Play up to 8 Players. 2 Player mode is played split screen (horizontally or vertically) on one Xbox and consists of some new game types as well as traditional ones. The game types for multiplayer are: Trick Attack, Score Challenge, Combo Mambo, Slap!, King of the Hill, Graffiti, Horse, and Free Skate. Unfortunately, this game has no Xbox Live support but luckily it can still be played online via tunnel software such as Xbconnect or Gamespy Arcade.
The two customization modes are Create-A-Skater and Build Park. The Create-A-Skater mode allows you to customize the look of your own character with a variety of options such as tattoos, head gear, pads, boards, body size, and clothing. It is very similar to the old Tony Hawk games with the exception of the added ability to change the individual characteristics of your anatomy. You are now able to configure your character to resemble your own body type, or that of some made up fantasy. Created characters can be used throughout the various modes of the game such as Career and Multiplayer. Build Park mode is a park editing tool that allows you to build the skate park you’ve always dreamed about. You are provided with a set amount of objects such as ramps, rails, pools, and walls that you can place throughout a designated area. The parks you build can also be used in System Link and 2 Player mode. This mode is for the hardcore Tony Hawk gamer that can’t get enough from the standard set of levels.
Some noticeable differences in THPS4 as opposed to the previous renditions are that there is no longer a time limit in career mode. You choose what goals you want, when you want without worrying about running out of time, although certain goals still consist of a time limit. The levels have dramatically increased in size. This is due to the fact that you are free to explore without worrying about time. There are also more special trick slots and ways to perform tricks. A “Game Progress” option in the menu is now used to keep track of all your goals, money, and everything else you’ve completed in the game.
Gameplay is where the Tony Hawk series has always shined. Each button is designated for certain actions and tricks in the game. For the Xbox version, (X) is used to do flip tricks, (B) is used for grab tricks, (A) is used to ollie, (Y) is designated for lip tricks and grinds, while the triggers are used for rotating, reverts, and spine transfers. Tricks are performed in conjunction with either the left thumbstick or d-pad. All tricks are customizable for each character in the options menu. The name of the game is combos. The combo system for THPS4 is very intricate and allows for an endless amount of creative control. In order to link your tricks, you must be able to manual, revert, and spine transfer with precision. THPS4 has taken the combo system to the next level by adding “spine transfer” and “double tap” to the already vast arsenal of tricks. Spine transfers are done by pressing both the Left and Right Triggers (or Black button) when you reach the lip of a ramp or platform. Instead of flying off the ramp, your character will instead land onto the ramp in front of it, allowing you to progress further throughout the level. In addition to spine transfers, you can use the Black button to correct your character from falling off ramps and platforms. “Double Taps” are tricks that are activated by pressing a button twice. These tricks are mappable in the options menu. Double taps can be used in manuals, grinds, grabs, and flip tricks, increasing the amount of button combinations used throughout the game. If you can master the different ways to perform tricks, scoring in the millions is child’s play. It may sound excessive, especially to those who are new to the Tony Hawk series, but don’t be discouraged. The controls are easy enough to learn, even for a casual gamer. It just depends on the amount of time you’re willing to spend learning them. This game is all about timing and execution. Once you get a good idea how the game is played, you’ll be busting Pro scores in no time.
Graphics and Sound
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 is a beautiful game. Activision took it upon themselves to take advantage of the Xbox hardware by utilizing hi-res textures on surfaces and upping the polygon count on character models and objects throughout the game. If you are a proud owner of an HDTV you have the option of playing the game at a higher 720p resolution if you have the advanced HD pack. The character animations are fluid and lifelike. It’s as close as one can get to controlling a professional skater. There is a great attention to detail and the physics are as good as it gets in a skateboarding game. My only gripe was that the characters you interact with throughout each level aren’t as aesthetically pleasing as the main character you control. The game runs at a solid 60 frames per second with RARE slowdown and screen tearing. Excellent use of anti-aliasing is seen throughout the game as well. This game is solid and doesn’t feel rushed at all. With the Xbox hardware, and the skilled team at Neversoft, this is the best looking version across all platforms.
Sound is utilized well throughout the game. The soundtrack consists of musical talent from various genres such as hiphop, rock, and punk. The Xbox version exclusively has the option of allowing you to listen to your own ripped soundtracks. The actual voices of the professional skaters were used and each character you interact with has their own designated voice. Sound effects are highly effective, and if you have a Dolby Digital audio system you can clearly tell the sound designers incorporated positional audio.
This is one game that you can keep going back to even months after you have beaten it. There are so many things to unlock and discover in each level. If that isn’t enough, you can build your own parks, create new skaters, or attempt to beat your previous high scores and combos. All that plus the added dimension of system link multiplayer (playable on the internet) make this game worth every penny. You can spend hours alone just trying to master combos and tricks. THPS4 is highly addictive and enjoyable, especially when you feel like passing some time.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 does not disappoint. I personally have been playing this game since its initial release on the Playstation and have loved each rendition of the series. Although this game isn’t dramatically different from THPS3, Neversoft has added enough new gameplay elements to further the series even more. No longer can you just breeze through the game in less than 10 hours. The added challenge and dynamic qualities of the combo system have taken this game to another level. As complex as this game may seem, the fun factor remains the true element that keeps gamers wanting more. I highly recommend this game to the casual gamer as well as the hardcore fan. As long as Neversoft continues to innovate the juggernaut that is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, this series is here to stay.