Monday, December 04 2006 @ 12:13 AM CST
Odds are you have played a Tony Hawk title at some point along the franchise. The last generation primary focus of the series was to introduce Jackass style gameplay into the series and did not do a lot to advance the series. Project 8 has hit our Xbox 360 and we are mighty impressed. Gone are the pranks and welcome the new Nail the Trick mode that shows this franchise still has life left afterall.
The highlight of the entire game though is the lack of loading screens. Taking full advantage of the next generation hardware, Project 8 allows you to unlock new sections of town as you progress. As you unlock new areas a gate or wall will be demolished and open the whole town to one seamless combo. While there are some frame rate issues from time to time, overall the open architecture of the world makes this the best Hawk to date. Unlocking the full world takes a bit of work and you certainly won't uncover the full extent of it for quite a while.
The idea behind THP8 is that players will take on the role of a skater who needs to work their way up the top 200 ladder of skaters nationwide to join Tony Hawk's Project 8 group. Rising through the rankings, starting at 200, presents quite the challenge.
As expected, you have NPCs populating the entire game world eager to give you missions, which often boost your ranking. These range from basic tasks like grinding a rail with a special grind to performing a set number of tricks. The game also offers classic Tony Hawk challenges in each part of the game world. Collecting S-K-A-T-E, destroying various objects and finding the secret tape are all back, and offer a nice change of pace from the other missions.
As you progress through the game Project 8 tracks everything you have accomplished, or failed. Everything that you do is recorded, from the longest grind to the number of failed attempts at each individual goal. Instead of pulling off certain goals and getting an extra stat point for a created skater, players will get their boosts based on performance. You can check your progress in each skill and focus on each in an attempt to level a specific attribute.
The latest in the Hawk series is the new Nail the Trick mode that Neversoft has added. Using the left and right analog sticks you control your skaters feet to pull off your own custom flip tricks. It takes awhile to fully grasp this mode and yet still feels more like a gimmick than a realistic option on your big combos.
Focus mode is also back for this update, but in a much more spectacular fashion than has been seen before. Once activated, the camera zooms right in on the board itself and shows you all the tricks close up. It's here that you realise how successful the motion capture for this game has been as all the animations look extremely impressive, and shows just how tough a lot of these moves would be in real life.
The open-endedness of THP8 is both good and bad all at once. The maps are huge and once they are all unlocked it becomes difficult to find the next available mission. There are almost too many goals and options thrown at the player too early, since there are certain abilities that will require hours upon hours of leveling-up to attain.
Graphically speaking THP8 is yet again a mixed bag. The level design is very well done offering plenty of lines to link new combos together. Enviroments are well lit and textured with many feeling familier to gamers who have played previous games in the series. The skaters themselves though could have used a little extra loving. Whenever a pro comes along to assign you a task you canít help but think they look just a tad goofy. Skin tones seem off and the eyes on the player models could use some work. You canít help think they would look more lifelike in Dead Rising with their pale skin tones. Despite this being the first fully next-gen Tony Hawk title, it appears sacrifices had to be made to get a world of this size up and running. The frame rate can drop noticeably in certain areas, which is both frustrating and disappointing, especially when you are in the middle of a mission or a particularly big trick.
Multiplayer is another area that, although solid, seems lacking. Two players on one system are supported with the usual variety of game modes (Horse, Score Attack etc), but the game offers no system link. The Xbox Live gameplay, which supports up to eight players offers a very limited selection of game modes. It also appears to be a little buggy, and it isn't always easy to connect to a game. When players enter Nail the Trick mode, other gamers on the servers can watch them float around in slow-motion.
Project 8 is the Hawk gamers have been waiting for. Despite its flaws, Neversoft has taken the series back to its roots. Though with that said, Neversoft has implemented challenges for all sorts of skill types, it's an experience that might prove too tedious for some. Certainly, the multiplayer modes and frame rate need improvement, but I still cannot quit trying to bust my next great combo.