Tony Hawk's Project 8 Review (Xbox 360)
It’s been 20 years since I was first introduced to the world of skateboarding. Sure, prior to that I had seen skateboards. I think I even owned one, but it wasn’t until 1986, seventh grade for those scoring at home, that I actually knew skateboarders.
They were called “Squids” at the John Hughes-esque white-bread utopia that was East Middle School. The name was there before I was, but I’m pretty sure it had to do with how their hair was cut. They were the alternative kids before there was alternative. They weren’t "Preps", but they knew fashion. They weren’t "Burnouts", but they could party. They weren’t "Jocks", but they were certainly athletes. They were skateboarders. They were my friends.
For all the sports I played in my life, for all the athletic skills I learned, for all of things that I accomplished physically – I’ve never been able to skateboard. Even when I had a large group of friends who could, I was never able to put it together. Hit a baseball 300 feet? Hit a golfball 275 yards? Wrestling? Shot put? Basketball? I met every physical challenge. I practiced. I improved. But, try as I might, I could not skateboard. I could ride a skateboard down a hill, but that’s just balance and gravity. What I couldn’t do was skateboard.
I think that’s why I’ve always been a huge “mark” for skateboarding. To this day, I watch it when it’s on TV. I support the local efforts to build a skatepark in my hometown. And, I’ve yet to miss a game in the Tony Hawk series. So, needless to say, the announcement of Tony Hawk’s Project 8 on Xbox 360 instantly shot the title to the top of my must-have list. The Tony Hawk series has shown time and time again the ability to grow and expand, to perfect what they do well while reinventing itself at the same time. With the power of the 360 and full year of development time on it, I could hardly wait to see what was in store.
Before we move on any further ,I will tell all of those who are on the fence to get off of it, get to the store and pick up a copy of Tony Hawk’s Project 8. There, you don’t have to do any more reading if you don’t want to. If that’s what you’ve been waiting to find out, then you have your answer. Go ahead and go. We’ll give you a second to gather your stuff before we move on.
For those of you who stuck around to hear the details, let me start off by saying this; this is the best Tony Hawk title in the series. Period. End of discussion. The visuals. The sound. The gameplay. The depth. It’s unmatched by the first seven in the series. Not to sell the rest of the series short, because it’s a great series. In fact, I would go as far as saying it is the most underrated series in sports gaming, and perhaps all of gaming history. The team at Neversoft continues to churn out quality titles year after year without letting the gameplay, the concept or the execution get stale.
The story of Tony Hawk’s Project 8 is simple. Tony Hawk is looking for the sickest 8 skateboarders in the country and it’s your job to rise up the rankings to reach the coveted Top 8. It won’t be easy. You start all the way down at #200 and have to earn your way to the top through challenges, events and various other methods all laid out in a semi-wide open town. I say semi-wide open because the town is split up into sections like Suburbia, School, and the Slums, which are not all open from the second you launch your adventure. You’ll systematically open up different challenges and section as you progress through the story.
Speaking of story, the story behind Tony Hawk’s Project 8 is well written, voice acted, and hashed out over the course of your gaming experience. You’ll find out rather quickly that your guide in your adventure isn’t actually Tony Hawk, but former pro skateboarder and star of NBC's “My Name Is Earl”, Jason Lee. Lee’s voice acting fits perfectly into this game and he even did some video vignettes for his skateboard company, Stereo, that come up during gameplay. No offense to Tony Hawk, who has grown in his voice-work over the last decade, but Lee’s presence really adds a ton to this game. Plus, as a side benefit, less Tony actually works better as it seems to pay off more when Tony does show up.
As you make your way through the Career/Story, you will run into numerous types of challenges. Some will come from pros that are located throughout the town. Others will be spot challenges that will dare you to try to beat someone’s previous best in different skills like grinding, manuals, and wallplants. The better you do, the better you score, and the best are rewarded with a “sick” level. You can continually retry challenges as well until you reach that point.
Along the way you will also run into some old-school “classic” challenges in each area of the city. These challenges are broken down like the old Pro Skater series with things like collecting S-K-A-T-E, performing for high scores, and combo-ing through the word COMBO. It’s a great blast from the past that fits perfectly into the flow of the modern game.
From something old to something new, the two most significant changes in the gameplay department are the addition of the new “Nail The Trick” mode and the new bailing system.
I was skeptical about “Nail The Trick” when I first heard about it in early previews. Basically, when you hit a “Nail The Trick” challenge or when you initiate the mode by clicking both analog sticks, your skater goes into what is commonly called "bullet time" in gaming, but in the Tony Hawk series they use the term Focus Mode. Everything slows down and the camera takes aim directly on your board. At that point, your left and right analog sticks control your left and right leg. You use the sticks to create new tricks while you’re in the air. Using them to kick or flip the board in different combinations and angles before eventually letting go (when the board is up and trucks are down, of course) in time to land your trick. This mode is absolutely addictive, mesmerizing, and even after dozens and dozens of hours of gameplay, it never seemed to get old for me.
The new bail system is Tony Hawk’s Project 8’s foray into the world of rag-doll physics. Now via wipeouts, crashes or through self-initiated means, your skater can go into a full bail out that results in large hospital bills and even broken bones. Of course, the broken bones are repaired on the spot and, since the game deals in “stokens” and not real money, the hospital bills are more for reference and for challenges then having any actual effect on the game. There isn’t really a strong need for this mode, but I have to say, the challenges related to the system have a very Burnout-type feel to them and can provide a lot of laughs.
If you get bored with the Career/Story mode, and believe me, it will take some time, you can also take Tony Hawk’s Project 8 online for full on Xbox Live gaming. There are a nice collection of modes and mini-games to be played, but I can tell you right now, unless you have mastered the manual and the ability to string six or seven figure tricks consistently, you will be hard-pressed to challenge many gamers online. I was playing the off-line modes for over a week before the game was released to the general public. During the first week, online modes weren’t even available. Silly me, I thought I would dominate the first day of online competition because I had the week head-start. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. That’s not to say it wasn’t fun, but you better bring your “A” game.
Visually, this is the best Tony Hawk to date. Naturally, the power of the 360 lends greatly to that fact, but more importantly, the motion capture work is flawless. Now, because the Tony Hawk series is really skating on steroids, you can’t take 100% accurate motion capture and use it in the game, but the marriage between the reality of skateboarding and the product that is found in Tony Hawk’s Project 8 is blended perfectly.
The sounds of the game are the usual mix of old and new from multiple genres. The game had me hooked to the soundtrack in the first two minutes of play when The Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl” started playing. The voice acting, as mentioned before, is really well done, especially when you consider that most of the people involved are actual pro skateboarders and not actors.
Yes, I love skateboarding. Yes, I love the Tony Hawk series. Perhaps that doesn’t make me the correct person to write an completely objective review. I won’t sit here and tell you that the game is perfect. It’s close, but there are still holes. I thought the create-a-skater function that went with the Career/Story mode was painfully underdone. You basically choose from a few stereotypes and move on from there. In today’s market, we're used to great player creators, and to see the effort lacking here is disappointing. Next year, I would love to see a deeper engine for skater creation, perhaps even a little love for the Xbox Live Vision camera.
So, I can’t skate. I can’t ollie, revert, manual or anything any where close. I can’t take my board off any sweet ramps and I sure can’t wall-ride. But, I do know how to play video games. And, more importantly, I know how to have fun. Tony Hawk’s Project 8 is a ton of fun – regardless of your personal abilities.