On paper a Tony Hawk racing game sounds like a lot of fun, but there are some flaws in the execution of Downhill Jam that keep this from being all it can be. The game itself feels a lot like the other Tony Hawk games, for the most part all of the buttons do the same things and it's easy to turn and do tricks. What sets this game apart from Project 8, American Wasteland or any other Tony Hawk game is that everything here is very forgiving. It took me over three hours before I actually fell off my board for the first time, the game's frenetic pace seems to want you to go all out with almost no repercussions.
One of the biggest problems has to do with the trick system. Since this game moves so much faster than other Tony Hawk titles you'll only have a chance to do stunts when you're making large jumps or grinding. This means that when you actually do have a major jump you have to pull off as many tricks as you can in order to receive a good score and a multiplier. That's all fine and dandy, but there's a serious lack of tricks to pull off in this game, and it all happens so fast that it's difficult to see what you were able to do. All you know is that you want to pull off as many of these tricks while jumping so that you can fill your turbo meter and hopefully gain an advantage on the other players.
That brings up my other complaint; the other characters in this game are cutthroat from the very beginning. Because the races are so short (usually only a couple minutes in length) you won't have a lot of time to get away from the pack and cement your lead. Instead you'll be fighting for first the entire time, which sounds like it would lead to some exciting races but in actuality it only makes the last few seconds more stressful and frustrating. It's not that the game is hard, but if you're the type of person that wants to get gold on everything then you better prepare for a lot of heartache. Your competition has a funny way of jumping to first place out of nowhere and winning a race you were leading the entire time.
The graphics in Downhill Jam are a mixed bag; on the one hand the character models are solid and interesting looking, but at the same time the levels aren't always very interesting and there are a lot of repeating textures. Worse yet is the frame rate, which tends to drop to the single digits for no reason at all. Oddly enough it's not always when there are a lot of people on the screen, I've had the game slow down at the most mundane times. For the most part the frame rate won't mess you up, but considering the PlayStation 2's age and the small amount of resources the game appears to take, it seems odd that there would be any problems at all.
The good news is that Downhill Jam offers you a lot of incentive to keep on playing, long after you've grown bored of playing the same levels. As you progress through the game you will earn new characters, new boards, new clothing and some bonus videos. While this is cool and all, you'll quickly learn to hate the videos that accompany these rewards, since it's the exact same 30 second clip played over and over again. Every time you win a new skateboard you get that one clip. Every time you rank your character up you get that one clip. The videos don't even look very good, which means that it fits in well with the rest of the motif.
When you're sick of the single player mode (which will only take you a few hours to complete) you can move on to the wholly unspectacular multiplayer mode. Perhaps it's a sign of the times or because this is just a port, but for whatever reason Downhill Jam only comes with a bare bones two-player mode. No online support and no four-player support, which not only limits what you can do with the game, but also keeps this mode from even being fun. I suppose racing against one friend is better than racing against the computer ... but not by much.
As I sat here playing Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam I couldn't help but feel like everything in this game was done better by the SSX series. If you can ignore the difference between a snowboard and a skateboard you'll find that these two games are practically identical. And while that should be a good thing, I couldn't help but feel like SSX has done a better job of combining tricks, racing and an open world. Downhill Jam is a fine game with plenty of exciting moments, but if you're going to play this then why not just go all the way and pick up SSX3 for a fraction of the price? As a spin-off series Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam has a lot of potential, too bad most of it is wasted on this ultimately forgettable PlayStation 2 game.
Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam really wants to be the next SSX, but due to its repetitive levels, boring single player mode, and bad trick system the game never quite hits the same high notes as EA's popular extreme sports series.
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