With an old school attitude and a few new tricks the Tony Hawk franchise is back. Gone is the ‘story mode’ that the last few games were based around, now you concentrate on your career. The goal is to reach the top 8 in the world rankings and be invited to join Tony Hawk’s new pro tour. Once on the team you keep working on new tricks, buying new decks, adding to your skills and ultimately get to number 1.
Looking back to the Pro Skater days, the Tony Hawk series has made its name on accurately replicating tricks and combining environment and animation brilliantly to give the game a smooth and intuitive feel. In Project 8 this is the focus. There is an enormous amount of basic tricks to master and, as you progress there is a comparable amount of special tricks to buy. The two basic tricks are still here - balanced based grinds, inverts and manuals that you perform on the ground and grab, kick and spin tricks that you nail in the air. The game is broken into levels each representing a different area of the city. As you move around each location various characters introduce goals. Complete enough goals at one location and the next location becomes available. These goals may be as simple as performing a kick flip over a fence to grinding twenty objects in a single combination. Mastering combinations is an important element to progressing in the game. Each trick gains points and linking tricks multiplies those points. You’ll need those fifty plus combinations later in the game to get onto Tony’s team.
In Tony Hawk’s Project 8 each goal has three levels of completion - amateur, pro and sick. Fifty thousand points might get you an amateur pass for one goal while half a million points may be needed for a sick level of completion. In this way the difficulty arc of the game caters to both experienced players and newbies. You can open most of the levels with the amateur passes but to get that top 8 ranking, and eventually to number 1, you will need to have a majority of sick passes. Among the characters that introduce the goals there are a few celebrities together with the usual crop of pro skaters. The pros are animated in game and are playable in free-skate and 2-player mode. You also unlock a stack of short movies, ads and promos. Joining the cast are kid sensations Lyn-z Adams Hawkins and Nyjah Houston. Seeing the tiny, dreadlocked Nyjah ripping up his school is amazing stuff and even a veteran like Bam Margera shows us he’s got talents, more then just being the pain in the butt we see on shows like Jackass and Viva la Bam.
A new addition to the Tony Hawk games is the acquisition of stokens. As well as in game characters introducing goals there are a few locals. These characters give you money if you land a good trick near them. The better the trick the more stokens they throw your way. These stokens can be used to buy new decks and special tricks. Also new to the franchise is the ‘nail the trick’ mode. While in the air you click simultaneously on L3 and R3, in slow motion the camera focuses in on the deck. By manipulating the left and right analog sticks you can pull off complex and subtle kick and flip combinations to rack up those points. A few new goals are also added to the mix. There are now a couple of checkpoint races, two puzzle areas where you place objects to help you reach targets and a tournament feature. To compete in the tournament you first have to qualify for the am, pro or sick bracket. You then have a limited time to show your stuff. Here the scoring is more in line with reality not just the usual accumulation of combo multipliers. Bail a couple of times and your average score of 98.2 may drop to below 60.
Why is it called Project 8? Well, 4 ‘Pro Skaters’, 2 ‘Undergrounds’ and an ‘American Wasteland’ later - you work it out. Overall Tony Hawk’s Project 8 is a stripped down return to the ‘Pro Skater’ days rather then the more resent and less serious games. In those games finishing the story was the impetus for playing, there was much more latitude to modify your skater and do stuff off your board. In Project 8 opening the levels and unlocking a good portion of the content is fairly simple, getting a top 8 ranking and making it onto Tony’s team is more difficult. Getting that top spot is a real challenge.
Tony Hawk’s Project 8 is a perfectly good game. Aimed at those who like plenty of film of their favourite skaters and a seemly endless supply of tricks to unlock and master. For those that want an involving and emotional story or minutely customisable characters, well this isn’t the game. But the music is great, covering everything from 80’s punk to current releases from Wolfmother and Gnarls Barkley. The graphics are more sophisticated then in earlier games and the controls remain just as instinctive. However, the levels have a familiarity to them and a slightly cramped and cluttered feel.
So whether you enjoy transferring from rooftop to rooftop, with a backside impossible 900 thrown in, or just mastering that touchy little nosestail variant on the quarterpipe then work hard, get onto Tony’s team and make it all the way to number 1.