Back for the holidays, the old man of extreme sports will return for another installment of virtual skating in Tony Hawk Project 8. After an amazing run of seven games stretching from the four Pro Skater’ games, two Underground games, and one American Wasteland, the Tony Hawk series has maintained an incredible level of quality. It’s a tough act to follow. However, Activision and the developers at Neversoft look to add a bit more to next-gen skateboarding, and signs point to another solid addition to the franchise.
First off, Neversoft has decided to go with a brand new engine for Tony Hawk Project 8. Building the game from scratch should allow for the game to take advantage of the Xbox 360’s power, and judging by the available video and screenshots, things are looking a lot sharper than the somewhat graphically disappointing American Wasteland. Where Wasteland was a current-gen game spread thinly onto the Xbox 360, Project 8 is likely to take full advantage of the additional power of the system. Look for more trick animations and bone-crunching bails.
The setting is a fictional city with a Midwestern appeal filled with the ramps and rails that should delight any skater who dreams of empty swimming pools even while sitting in front of his game console and T.V. The city also added the bonus of being an entirely open sandbox with various districts that will have to be unlocked by completing challenges (removing those dividing tunnels that allowed different areas to load), and instead of being heavy on the story, the plot will feature the straightforward goal of becoming one of the eight best amateur skaters in the country, which allows you the honor of becoming part of Hawk’s crew. To fill this playground of thrash, expect a mix of old school objectives and new challenges to litter the landscape. Skaters who have apparently already set records at choice locations will have chalked their accomplishments into the curb, and it will be up to you to top their best jumps and grinds to move up the ranks. Though many of the other goals will be familiar to longtime fans, some other new elements like performing for cameras and crowds or being able to move, in a godlike way, various parts of the locales like walls, rails or vehicles to create highways of tricks and grinds to avoid touching mundane asphalt should spice things up nicely.
Oddly enough, Project 8 should share two unique mechanics with the upcoming PS3 game, Assassin’s Creed: realistic physics and reactive crowds. Sounds like boring stuff, but whether you are a skate punk or a medieval assassin thumbing your nose at things like safety and authority, it adds a good deal more immersion when you can see and practically feel the consequences of your actions. Bailing hard and breaking some bones in Project 8 will be detrimental to your gameplay, and getting back on your board will require some foot pumping to get back up to speed. The ‘Nail-The-Trick’ goal will feature physics in a way a high school class never could by allowing you to use both analog sticks to control each corresponding foot. The board becomes a free-moving object, and stringing together your own “footwork” allows you to put together your own highlight worthy trick in a slow-motion, Matrix-like fashion. This could be the most interesting innovation yet for the series since new ways of controlling the player and skateboard seemed like it would only be limited to the Wii and its fancy Wii-mote. As for crowds, barreling into those straight-laced, goody-goody pedestrians may cause an irate bystander to come after you with fists flailing, and as it was mentioned before, the various NPCs will actually observe your antics cheering you when you stick a landing or laughing at your painful bails. It gets the heart pumping.
Now, many critics over the years have felt that the Tony Hawk games have become ubiquitous in the way that the Madden series has with incremental changes. Some additions like new characters such as Bam Margera or Solid Snake and more story driven games like Tony Hawk’s Underground just highlighted how long in the tooth the series was getting. Tony Hawk Project 8, as a true next-generation continuation may breathe some much needed life into a franchise that, while it never became boring or awful, has become predictable. While gamers should not expect a spectacular shift in the gameplay (after all, why fix it if it ain’t broke), they should expect the solid quality mixed up with enough tweaks and new gimmicks to get the wannabe skaters of the gaming world excited about the return of the original superstar of extreme sports.