The most famous name in extreme sports is starting to show his age. In this, the eighth Tony Hawk game, Tony gets an extreme skating makeover. Grinding away from the complexities of Project 8 and the Underground games, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam skates squarely at the SSX market and while it olies a little off the mark, kudos has to be given for the kick-flip to what was becoming a predictable franchise.
Fans are going to be split right down the middle on this title. While it bears the Tony Hawk moniker it has little in common with previous games in the series. The name of the game this time around is racing; the emphasis has shifted away from skill and now falls on speed.
You can chose between only a handful of available players, each with their own specific strengths. Most gamers will find themselves drawn to the only “big name” player available, Mr Hawk himself. The game is divided up into progressively more difficult tiered sections, with access to being restricted to the first few events to start with. Events take the racers across the globe into some very recognisable locales including Edinburgh and Los Angeles.
The majority of events take the form of races against other equally determined downhill skaters. But you could also be facing trick, cash collecting, slalom races and more in your quest to, well, you know the rest. More boards and skills are unlocked as you journey through which allows your chosen player, who is probably Tony Hawk, to become even more skilful than the computer A.I.
The tiers do become marginally more testing as the game progresses but most of the interest will come from finding some of the numerous short-cuts hidden throughout the levels. These shortcuts are almost guaranteed to win you each race and sometimes provide enough challenge for Tony Hawk veterans to explore.
What was the main crux of previous games, the tricks, has been relegated to a mere sideshow in Downhill Jam. Tricks have been modified to be easier than ever and penalties for lack of creativity, repetitive tricking and bad landings have almost completely disappeared.
While Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam isn’t a terrible game by any stretch of the imagination but the over-simplification of a beautiful designed trick system seems like a step backward by Activision with the series as a whole. But with Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground facing an imminent threat with EA’s upcoming SKATE title, hopefully Downhill Jam is merely a pebble in the road and not a boulder.