Tony Hawk’s Project 8 (Xbox 360)
…Welcome to Project 8
Admittedly, this was a surprise. I came into this game thinking that it was just going to be another skateboarding game, marketed with Tony Hawk’s name on the front cover. I was right in one sense yes but entirely wrong in another. I remember way back when the very first game of the series was released for the Playstation and I remember playing it for hours on end, even after completing everything, just because the gameplay was so fun to play around with and because the design of the entire game was perfect for its time. From then on I played every sequel and began to lose my interest after the third game or so, eventually resulting in me only giving American Wasteland 5 minutes at a Xbox 360 sneak-peak convention thing back in October 2005. It was safe to say I was falling out of love with the title and there was little hope of getting it back. That is until I decided to give the demo for Project 8 a try and from there played through the full game. Not only did 8 give me back what I loved about the series, but it added so much more and then some.
… Ollie from the dirt
I doubt I have to explain the game’s storyline to you but it’s essentially what the more recent games have been going with; you play your own created skater who has to beat all the pro skaters and eventually rise to the top of the skateboarding ranks. So yes, unoriginality in all its beauty, but there’s more to it than this. You see, each task –or at least, the majority of the tasks- you carry out has its own small storyline which at times can be all the motivation you need to jump over that ledge one more time or do another 180 degree kickflip. In all honesty though, nothing much happens in terms of characters, plots or anything like that but that’s not why we’re here right? Of course not, we’re here to skate, and thankfully that’s a little better done.
First of all, let me go over the game modes on offer here because only one of them features the above storyline. First of all you have the story mode; I’ll leave that to you to figure out. Next we have multiplayer which it boasts quite a few gameplay modes in itself, a lot of which I haven’t had the chance to test out because of some internet problems but when I did I had a whole lot of fun. Along with this you can choose to skate freely around the town either as your created hero or any of the pro skaters featured in the game. Sadly, there is no create-a-park mode much to my dismay. This was one of the best new features added to the series way back from THPS2 and to be honest I can’t see why it’s not included here, disappointing to say the least. However, the story mode is probably where you’ll spend most of your time unless you’re seeking real competition from Xbox live. So the game does lack a little in options for you play around with but what I can say for what is there, is that it does the job more times than not.
… Slow down a minute
With every new Tony Hawk game, the series begins to feel more and more complete with each one usually adding at least one new important gameplay feature. While project 8 doesn’t offer much important features, it does offer the player new ways to pull of tricks and as a result creates a rich original feel to a game that’s based on 7 before it. What has become one of my favorite things about 8 is the new ‘Nail the Trick’ mechanic which essentially slows down time, turns the camera around to center on your skater’s feet and board and gives you control over each foot/leg through the analogue sticks. Not only does it allow a fuller interactive way to engage with the flip tricks in the game but it creates a whole new level of creativity to be explored by the player. At first sight, it does seem like a rather ill-conceived gimmick to sell another game but in reality it’s much like EA’s recent innovative use of the analogue sticks in its hockey and sports titles.
In addition to this you can do what you would expect from the established game series such as wall planting, flatland tricks, crazy combos, running around on foot, all sorts of tricks from a wide variety of orientation possibilities, manual flips and turns, and everything else that has been added over the years to make this new game even more engrossing and fluid than ever before. This is also something I’d like to talk about; I recently went back and played the first 3 games of the series which are to this day my favorites and found that although basic gameplay elements were the same, a lot of key features were missing. Now of course this is expected as sequels do need mechanics to keep the audience interested but what isn’t so much implied with the additions is how much it affects the game’s fluidity. Playing through Project 8 is made a joy through the ability to do something, anywhere. Even if you’re facing a wall, you can make the activity of turning away from it interesting without just turning around. It’s through his fluidity that Project 8 evolves and becomes one step closer to being almost perfect in terms of arcade skateboarding.
Another thing I’d like to mention is the new bailing system which although terribly fake and over the top, creates a fun mini-game like gameplay mechanic that serves its purpose well for the time being but should probably be left out from future renditions. In league with this style of crazy arcade physics is the –what we have come to expect- game’s physics engine which although takes a small step to reducing the need for the user’s suspense of disbelief, still remains on the ‘video game’ side of the spectrum as opposed to the ‘realistic simulation’ side.
Throughout the story mode you’ll –of course- have to carry out all sorts of missions and tasks that will take you up and up through the skater rankings to eventually break into the top 8. The tasks consist of everything from previous games such as the 2:00 runs, the over-the-top search and skate style missions, heavy-trick based tasks, competitions and Pro Challenges in which each of the top 8 pros in the game give you a special set of things to do for them. There are some which repeat over and over from each section of the game but most of them keeping adding a little more each time, making sure it doesn’t get repetitive too quickly too soon.
‘Sections’ which I have just mentioned are areas in the giant map/play-area in the game which is all pre-loaded when you enter the story mode and so no extensive amounts of loading is ever needed. Remember that fluidity I was talking about? Well, here’s where the developers have really pushed the bar higher, making the game more or less flow perfectly through a vast and dynamic city ranging from suburbs to city halls, fun parks and the typical high school plus more. All of these areas work extremely well and are designed as to allow the player to travel through them with ease but at the same time offering so much around them to get creative with. The only real problem I had with the level design was that there wasn’t that much skate park areas where I could go if I just wanted to practice my skills on vert ramps or such. This has been a problem with me for a long time however, ever since THPS3 the amount of actual real skating areas in the game has decreased with more everyday settings becoming ever more dominant.
… Tricky tricks are trickily tricky
The difficulty balance within THP8 is more or less on-key. Just about anyone can play and have fun, and complete the game to a certain degree depending on their skill level. Most of the missions in the game have 3 ranking systems which reward you depending on how well you done. These are: Amateur; Pro; Sick. As you can probably tell already it is essentially the three typical difficulty settings of Easy, Medium and Hard. Granted, most of the amateur parameters that you have to meet in order to gain the qualification are easy and you should get them in fewer than three attempts although most of them should only take one. The professional parameters on the other hand vary from easier than some of the amateur challenge settings, to harder than some of the sick. The same goes for the sick challenges, but for the most part they do stick suitably to their titles.
As far as areas of the map that you unlock are concerned, I can’t tell. Some areas did offer a vast amount of challenging tasks for you to achieve but from what I could make out, there wasn’t that much progression from level to level. However it could be said that this is because of my adaptation to the game and my skill level increasing along with the progression of the story, hence why I noticed much –if any- increase in difficulty by area. All in all though, the game is fairly well balanced and should definitely have you playing for hour upon hour trying to conquer all the sick levels in their entirety.
… Breaking bones never looked so good
THP8 looks and sounds great, and is one of the best things about the series’ latest offering. As I mentioned previously, the game runs on an engine that pre-loads the entire map into memory but displays it depending on how close you are in relation, ala GTA or Just Cause, both of which use similar systems but produce the same effect. As a result the entire city in which you skate around in during your stay looks stunning and highly detailed throughout with hardly a corner left shabby. Environments as a whole are attractive, featuring high resolution textures almost everywhere and causing near enough no slow down or frame rate problems whatsoever. Characters themselves look great too and entirely like their real-life selves boasting realistic clothing, skin textures and animation.
Speaking of animation, you may be glad to know (as was I) that most -if not all- the tricks in Project 8 have been re-captured using motion capture with the latest technology devices and well, the results are fantastic. Again I’ll mentioned the fluidity, of which is progressed ever further by the superior animation present in the 8 game of the series. Characters flow in and out of tricks, whilst linking them all together in near poetic flow, creating a beautiful transition not just between tricks but between every area of the game itself. Not only this but the pro skaters that are featured in the game have also took the time to capture everything from their stances and little imperfections in their special tricks to make playing with them during multiplayer or free skate even more immersive and realistic.
The game isn’t perfect however as there is a few bugs here and there involving 3D model clipping, animation loops, and collision detection. Nonetheless this do not occur all that often and when they do, you’re not going to turn off the game in disgust or even feel you’re playing something below the standards of modern gaming because moments later you’re back in the game and it looks brilliant.
The sound too is near perfect, but probably more so than the looks of the game. As usual, a lot of detail has been put into the sound effects, with the team adding depth to the smallest of rail kisses to the different sounds of wheel against ground dependant on the surface material. Nothing at all sounds out of place or overly used and creates a nice realistic touch to the aesthetics. What is also expected and doesn’t disappoint is the extensive soundtrack that accompanies you as skate. There’s a nice mix of genres from rock and roll, to alternative, hip-hop and punk but don’t expect anything slow or ballad like, as the music serves to keep you awake and ‘pumped’ and in that respect, it does its job perfectly.
… Spend some time together
What makes these games so great but has gradually became less evident which each subsequent game is the replay value and the amount of hours you can spend playing through, messing around and being creative with. With Project 8 however, I spent longer playing it than I probably did playing the last three games altogether, not only because it engaged me more with the varied tasks and challenges but because it offers brilliant level designs, original gameplay mechanics and challenging game modes. I could probably spend a good few months playing this game further but I do believe the average player should get around 80 hours out of Project 8 easily without tossing the game aside forever.
And when that time comes at least you’ll know that the Tony Hawk’s series isn’t going downhill anymore, and Project 8 is the supreme testament to that observation. When it comes to it, it may not be the greatest and most ground breaking game of the title’s run but it has done is brought a fresh twist to the genre. I recommend it to everyone who has enjoyed the previous games and even those who were troubled with either the old or the new games. It’s definitely one of the best sports games out for the 360 at the moment and in its own right, one of the most enjoyable games available on the system as a whole.
Story & Game Modes… 7
Gameplay & Control… 9
Graphics & Design… 9