Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 (Xbox)

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 (Xbox)

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 11/22/2002 for Xbox  

What happens when you’ve struck oil three times in a row? You do the smart thing and keep drilling until the well runs dry. Much like this story, it seems to be the motto of the guys at Activision O2. Now in its fourth iteration, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater has hit the store shelves and in the process, has done the impossible, it has managed to remain fresh and appealing even after all these years. You know there’s a saying that goes first time’s luck, second time is coincidence and the third time is skill, but what about the fourth time? Well if Activision O2 has anything to say about it would probably be “Fourth Time? Damn we’re good.”

This year’s game is just absolutely ridiculous; the competition is probably sitting at home thinking “what the hell do we have to do to beat these guys?” While the game appears to be the same game in new clothing at first, you’ll soon learn that this is perhaps one of the deepest and most engrossing games to appear on the scene in the past five years, not to mention addictive. New to this year’s game is the absence of the time limit and in some respects, this can be seen as a negative. The thrill of competing the goals in the given limit has been removed and the pace is much more relaxed. On the other hand, the goals are much more engaging and well-thought out than ever. Instead of just seeing a list of objectives at the onset of each area you’ll see pedestrians and skaters who populate the level.

The structure of the goals has changed quite a bit and at times, it’s for the worse. Sometimes you’ll be given a sick combo to perform and one mishap will force you to start over from the beginning. You can pause the game to restart the goal immediately but this really ruins the game. It gives some of the goals that “trial and error” feeling that ultimately leads to frustration. You’re given less freedom and less ways to complete goals and at times, the game feels communist in nature rather than democratic. The truth of the matter is that the entire structure of the game has been changed and it’s taken a turn for the worse. You can only compete one goal at a time so let’s say you have a goal where you have to garner 20,000 points. You can complete it only to find another goal where you must gain 100,000. Instead of being able to kill two birds with one stone you’re forced to follow this structure that is again, very communistic and confining. It really bogged down Activision O2’s own Mat Hoffman 2 and it appears that no franchise is immune.

Completing these goals will net you stat points that can be used to increase your stats, money that can be used to purchase new outfits, and points that can be used to unlock new levels. When you earn enough points you’ll be able to unlock a whole new set of goals for the current skater that of course increase in difficulty. New to this year’s game is the Spine Transfer maneuver that will allow you to link tricks over the spines of ramps. While the use of the spine transfer isn’t necessary to rack up those insane scores that we’ve become accustomed to, it sure does make it a whole lot easier. You’ll also be able to skitch on the bumpers of moving vehicles (a la Aggressive Inline or EA’s Classic game Skitchin’) for faster transportation around the game’s larger levels. Add the revert, manual and the expanding number of flatland tricks and you have a nice arsenal of maneuvers at your disposal.

Other than the inclusion of the spine transfer, the gameplay remains relatively unchanged. This means that veterans of the series will most likely have no problem picking up the controller and feeling right at home. The increased speed of Tony Hawk 3 also makes a return here as well, meaning that the game moves at a blistering fast pace. Those who are used to the slow pace of the PSOne titles will be in for one hell of a surprise. The functions are still exactly the same, kickflips, grabs and 540’s are the toast of the day here. Of course the grind combos and special moves make a return appearance as well. The game’s simplicity is what makes the game so fun and addicting. THPS4 is another case of a game that is easy to play yet difficult to master.
This year’s game marks the return of the Brazilian skater, Bob Burnquist, after Konami decided to take another route with their skating game. You’ve got Tony, Bob, Elissa, Kareem, Bam, and of course, the god of all things skating, Rodney Mullen. The rest of the roster makes a return appearance, making this the most well rounded cast to appear in a Pro Skater game yet. Each of their models look very similar to the ones that appeared in Tony Hawk 3, except with different clothing and styles. Again, the same complaints arise that I had last time around. Tony Hawk looks nothing like Tony Hawk and Elissa Steemer just doesn’t look as manly here as she does in real life. For one, her breasts are a bit too large and the artists failed to include that burly mustache that she’s been harvesting for the past few years. All of that was forgiven after I saw the game in action again. Their animation is still top notch and completely blows the competition out of the water. Everything looks natural and the animations generally flow well together and are devoid of any jerkiness or stuttering. The visual element of the game succeeds because it has a firm grasp of a concept that the competition seems to have no clue about, making the onscreen action look natural and believable.

Speaking of natural, the levels look more natural and realistic than ever. Though some of the blocky designs return from last year’s game, the architecture is much more refined this time around. As you tear it up you’ll no doubt notice the sophisticated structures that populate the game’s landscape. Adding to the realistic feeling is the number of people strewn about the levels. You’ll see skaters, civilians and vehicles hanging around the areas, adding much more depth to the game. Of course the landscapes themselves have been vastly improved and feature much more attention to detail than any of the previous titles.

The levels all look nice as well and benefit from some beautiful layouts and designs. Each of the levels looks like they could have been created from the blue prints of an existing locale. There are nearly infinite amounts of scoring lines that exist in each level and it all seems conceivable. There aren’t any random objects strewn around just for the purpose of allowing you to extend your string of tricks. Rails and curbs and other such surfaces all benefit from logical placement as opposed to the seemingly random placement of previous entries into the series. Each of the levels also benefit from an increase in size, making them even larger and expanse than before. While they’re not quite as large as the levels that appeared in Z-Axis excellent title, Aggressive Inline, they’re more than capable of holding their own. The architecture and design just simply has to be seen to be believed, definitely what we have come to expect from the people who pioneered the genre.

As always the audio elements are another strong portion of the game. I’ve come to expect only the best from Neversoft and thankfully, they always manage to deliver. Every onscreen action features a sound effect that seemingly corresponds to its real life counterpart. It appears that most of the sound effects are carryovers from THPS3 but that’s not really a negative, as that game featured some truly amazing sounds. Besides, why spend the time recording the sound of a pair of trucks grinding on a metallic rail when you’ve already got it in your library? I can’t guarantee for sure if these are in fact the same recycled effects but they sure do sound similar, not that I’m complaining or anything.

Speaking of complaints, I have quite a few pertaining to the soundtrack choices. Though this features the largest number of tracks to appear in a game of this genre (35) only 3 or 4 of them are memorable. The ones that are good get the wind knocked out of them thanks to some seriously questionable editing. Then again, there are some tracks that feature far more offensive content than some but appear on the soundtrack unscathed. So it’s okay to include songs about satanic rituals and mayhem but it’s not all right to include minor lines about smoking weed? Come on now. I’m very appreciative that Neversoft tried to cater to nearly all audiences by including songs of all genres but the truth of the matter is, no one wants to listen to NWA while they’re skating. Most of the tracks just seem entirely out of place in a culture dominated by punk and alternative. Refer back to the soundtrack for the original THPS that included The Vandals and Goldfinger if you’re interested in what skating music sounds like.
I can recall nights when a few friends of mine would be so awe-struck by what they were seeing on the screen. It appears that the over-saturation has caused the game to lose much of its original charm that really made the game feel unique and special. The series has gone from ‘must-buy’ to a ‘maybe-buy but definitely rental’ material. Then again, the game is still fun and excellent and if you loved the previous entries in the series there is much here for you to love.

If you hated last year’s game then THPS4 will do little to change your mind. There’s not much here to differentiate it from last year’s game and to be honest, if you were to see two side-by-side screenshots you’d probably be hard pressed to tell the difference. You know, I’m still a big fan of the game, the genre, and the series, but it’s all starting to grow old and stale. While THPS4 still manages to please and entertain, I doubt that I’ll really notice when Activision releases Tony Hawk 15 in the year 2008.

This is still a great game and while Tony Hawk 4 is bigger and badder than ever does that really make it the best entry in the series? In my personal opinion, this year’s game seems to be lacking the intangibles that made the previous entries so addicting. Gamers are starting to become overexposed to the game and it appears that the series, not to mention the genre, just might have run its course. The gameplay is starting to become more and more repetitive and while this was all right in previous years, it just seems to have become old hat as of late. I’m not into the game as much as I used to be and that “just one more game” quality that the series used to exude has seemingly disappeared. So often I find myself turning off the game much earlier than I feel I should be, most likely a result of my overexposure to the series.





Having trouble pulling off simple combos like the 50-50 bs grind to a 360 mute grab to a frontside manual to a handstand to a spine transfer to a 540 Benihana to a darkslide? Then you should pick up Brady Games excellent strategy guide to ease you through the process.
Activision O2 delivers yet another excellent entry into the Pro Skater series. Though the game is still fun and entertaining, the idea is starting to run its course.

Rating: 9 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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