Liek OMG, is U cool enuf 2 join teh Sk8 Klub?
Starting with a PlayStation demo disc for the first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater that featured the Chicago level, with no goals, and the world famous two-minute time limit, I was immediately hooked. It wasn't even MY demo disc, yet I kept it for months and must have played through it hundreds of times. By the time the game finally came out, I ended up buying the Dreamcast version and loved every minute of it. The same held true for THPS2 (which I would end up getting for the PlayStation) and eventually the third and fourth installments. Then came Tony Hawk's Underground, the first of which I really enjoyed and probably played more than any other in the series, aside from maybe THPS3. Another year passed and THUG2 rolled around, I hated it. While the original THUG had taken a slightly new direction, it still remained fun throughout, this was not true in its sequel. I quickly returned it (thankful that it had only been a rental) and until just a few weeks ago, never bothered to check out any of them, except for, again, THPS3. Well, I saw THAW in the bargain bin and decided to pick it up, figuring it couldn't be as bad as THUG2, lucky for me I was right.
Taking what would seem to be yet another leap forward by making the Story Mode's gameworld one large city, THAW looked to be exactly what I had been hoping for ever since the second game came out. This of course turned out to be simply a marketing ploy (something which I very very rarely fall for). Yes, you can skate around any of those levels from one to the other without running into a load screen, but in order to stream these areas in, Neversoft needed a buffer zone. So, when you decide to go from say, Hollywood to Downtown, you'll need to ride through a subway station. There's nothing in there but a couple of rails, and not only that, you move slower and don't jump nearly as high as you otherwise would. Granted, this is to slow your progress through these masked load times, but it still makes for a serious halt in the action. And it's the same between every area. You enter a long, boring corridor and slowly ride or grind your way to the next part of the game. There is a bus (and in one part of the game, a truck) that you can step into that will basically warp you to whichever of the areas you want, provided you've already unlocked them. This is basically how you'll want to make your way around after awhile, as steering your way down a hallway doesn't make for exciting gameplay.
The bulk of Story Mode is sort of like how it was in the two THUG games, a mixture of both really. It's still really over the top, but not quite to the I-want-to-harm-the-developers lengths that THUG2 was. You don't get to fully create a character for this mode, instead having to choose from a few pre-made models. At the outset, you'll be charged with doing such fun and important tasks as: Getting a haircut, buying new clothes, and acquiring a less-lame board to ride on. Oh joy! Who needs actual skating when I can sort through menus looking for fake clothes to buy with fake money? After all, I want to be hip, and rad, and all those other things you kiddies rap about today "in da streetz." Right? Um, right? I mean, that wasn't, like, uncool or something was it? Because, oh dear, how I long to fit in... *sigh*
Now, once you've gotten your skater looking however you decide to dress them (I managed to make the one I chose look pretty much like I do, down to the clothing and hair, only the character looks to weigh about 90 lbs. less than I do as you can't change that), you can finally start getting around to the skating! Or, can you? Well, yes you can do your grinds, grabs, and fliptricks, but that's about it at the begining.
Yes, that's right. Taking a page from the Metroid school of video game design, the boys at Neversoft decide to strip you of all the abilities that were slowly introduced game by game over the past years and basically give you the abilities of a character from the original THPS. You will, over time, gain these abilities back, but that's just lame (sort of like it is in Metroid, deal with it fanboys). Honestly, should I really need to go through the majority of the game before I can even pull off a special move? No wait, no wait, it gets better. You'll need to learn how to manual, revert, flatland, wall plant, sticker slap, enter focus mode (bullet-time, basically) and spine transfer among other things via story missions. Not only that, but in order to do things like climb, you'll need to learn them from a Parkour master. Wow. Actually, not wow, more like why? Then there are the needless (but I assume not entirely useless) additions like the Bert Slide. *yawn*
The story revolves around your character being a half-ass skater from out in the Midwest, fleeing his broken home and boring farmland life out to the reject-magnet called Hollywood to become a pro-skater. Once you touch down, you are beaten up and robbed for not being cool (no, really) and are tended to by a "Sk8er Chick" named Mindy, whose dream is to start her own skate-rag called, you guessed it, American Wasteland (!). For no particular reason at all (and after making you do the above-mentioned makeover), she begins introducing you to other skaters around the city and eventually helps you get into the Skate Ranch, basically an empty lot that appears to have been a garbage dump at some point. Once there, you are made fun of for not being cool enough (yeah, again) and after wowing the "Sk8er Punx" with your "Mad Skillz" they decide you're not so bad afterall and decide to let you stay there. This is where the bulk of the game begins. Most of the story (if you want to call it that) involves you going around various parts of Los Angeles and destroying property, in order to bring back the pieces to the Skate Ranch. There are other, less important tasks that you can take on for money but almost all of them involve pulling off some very unimpressive combos (you mean I only have one minute to grind three times?!), and at the skate shops, there is a list of things you must do within one game day, once you do them, your stats increase. Besides a really easy competition in an indoor skatepark (the park itself is pretty decent), you'll mainly be doing the Skate Ranch stuff.
The first problem with this, is that none of these are difficult, in the least. If you've ever played any of the Tony Hawk games before, you won't want to play on anything but the highest difficulty, and even then you'll fly through like it's nothing. Not only this, but these missions automatically line you up with whatever it is you need to grind on or sticker slap to destroy. You start the mission, let your dude (or dudette) skate forward for about one second, then do one of those two things, and that's that. As long as you land the trick, it's mission accomplished. Lame! The other major problem with this is that, once you begin looting the main areas for all of their parts, these levels become much emptier and boring to skate through. Yeah, the Skate Ranch ends up being filled to the brim with crap to combo off of, but everywhere else is left empty and boring (aside from the skatepark). What the Hell?! Yes, I understand that it's the point of the game to destroy the levels for the good of the Skate Ranch, but so what?! I want fun levels to play in, and the Skate Ranch, even when it's finished and you have all of the pieces in to play around with, really isn't all that fun or interesting.
Aside from the disappointing Story Mode, you've got the usual Create-A Modes to play around with. Again, you can't use your created skaters in the Story Mode, they'll be relegated to Classic and Free Skate. Speaking of Classic Mode, they're really starting to run out of good levels to add. It's cool that they don't just put in old-school goals into the story levels (as they just aren't that fun), but the ones that they're using now are mostly bottom-of-the-barrel. Well, okay, I still like the Chicago level, even after all these years, chalk it up to nostalgia I suppose, but other than that, these older levels just seem so tiny compared to the new ones.
In the end, what keeps this game from being pure crap, is that the Tony Hawk skating engine that Neversoft's been using all these years, is still fun in and of itself. Yeah, it hasn't changed much, aside from the small additions each year, but riding around areas and finding awesome lines, and pulling off sick combos is still a blast. So, while the biggest part of the game ends up being pretty lackluster, in the end it's all about the skating. And the skating ain't bad, it ain't bad at all. Now get out there, prove you aren't a noob (which you will be called a bunch of times in this game), and see if Ur KoOl EnUf 2 JoIn TeH sK8 kLuB!!!