|Tony Hawk's Project 8 (2006)
Available for: Xbox 360
Since the glory days of “Tony Hawk: Pro Skater 4,” the long-running skateboarding franchise has been on a downhill jam to its eventual demise. Once praised for its intuitive gameplay, the series now felt remarkably stale, with gamers grinding through the same challenges and using an arsenal of moves they perfected years before. The previously-released “American Wasteland” certainly didn’t help the progression with its cartoony visuals and story-obsessed game structure, and it was obvious that the barrier separating reality and fantasy had been completely torn down. The franchise was in dire need of a change, and if anyone knew this better than the fans, it was game developer Neversoft.
Thus marks the release of “Tony Hawk Project 8,” the eighth installment in the extreme sports series and arguably the best of the entire franchise. This time around, there isn’t much of a character-driven story. It’s actually quite simple: Tony Hawk is putting together a team featuring the best eight skaters (hence the title) and you want in. As you go around town completing random missions, meeting fellow pros (like Paul Rodriguez, Bob Burnquist, Bam Margera and even Jason Lee), and learning new tricks, you’ll slowly climb up the ladder and into the final eight; with your goal being, of course, to eventually reach that top spot – though it’s quite difficult to do.
In fact, the game as a whole is a lot harder than past installments. Luckily, there’s no set difficulty level that you’re forced to complete the entire game on. Every challenge is broken down into three difficulty settings – Am (amateur), Pro and Sick – and though you can just as easily beat the game on Amateur, the ability to revisit every challenge allows you to best your score at any time. Additional Challenge Spots (marked with graffiti spots) are also randomly scattered throughout the open-ended environment for you to tackle, including grinds, jumps and the newly introduced Nail the Trick.
The latter allows the player to go into a Matrix-styled slo-mo mode (by pressing both analog sticks) that focuses in on your feet and board. Using the left analog for your left foot, and the right analog for your right foot, you can spin the board in whatever direction possible. And while this new ability takes far more skill than it probably looks, practicing enables you to pull off some pretty sick combo tricks. Performing tricks in front of locals (or running into fellow skaters) will earn you Stokens (a sort of in-game currency which you can use to buy new gear and tricks), but you’ll also earn your fair share of free stuff by completing specific requests from pros.
Visually, the game has taken leaps and bounds on its transition to its first next-gen console. The character models have been vastly improved (though the Create-A-Character has not), and the new motion capture animations will have you wishing that this game was Xbox Live Cam-enabled. As you can imagine, multiplayer doesn’t play quite as big of a part in your “Project 8” experience, but its there if you want it, complete with all the usual suspects, and a cool new mode called Walls where performing tricks erects walls behind the player that others can crash into. Think “Tron” on a skateboard.
The in-game soundtrack is filled with an eclectic selection of songs encompassing the punk (The Dead Milkman’s “Punk Rock Girl”), rock (Eagles of Death Metal’s “Chase the Devil”) and hip-hop (Typical Cats’ “Any Day”) genres. You’ll also find a couple other standouts that you probably wouldn’t expect, including Gnarls Barkley’s “Gone Daddy Gone,” Kasabian’s “Club Foot” and Kool and the Gang’s “Summer Madness,” perhaps the coolest track to ever appear in an extreme sports video game.All in all, it looks like Neversoft may have just released the greatest skateboarding title in video game history. The new Nail the Trick ability is probably the franchise’s crowning achievement, but it’s not the only thing that makes the title so great. Everything just feels right – from the enhanced visuals to the revamped gameplay – “Project 8” is the ideal installment for both longtime fans and newcomers alike.