After going through last year's Tony Hawk's American Wasteland I started to worry that the series was starting to lose some of its charm. The game was a lot like the rest of the series, but it felt like it was simply going through the motions instead of actually innovating. Thankfully Tony Hawk's Project 8 manages to fix a lot of the problems I had with American Wasteland. This new game may not be perfect, but it goes a long way to reminding me what was so great about the series in the first place.
As the title suggests, this is Tony Hawk's eighth game in as many years. In that time Neversoft has tried a number of different ways to keep the series fresh. Project 8 is no exception, however it manages to combine what was great about the first four Tony Hawk titles with some of the additions they have made to the Underground and American Wasteland games. Ultimately this is one of the best Tony Hawk games to come out of Neversoft in the past few years, but the game just can't reach the heights of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 and 4.
Fans of the series have a right to be disappointed by the last Tony Hawk game on the Xbox 360; American Wasteland was nothing more than a port of a PS2/Xbox game with slightly better graphics. This time around Neversoft has decided to build Project 8 from the ground up; specifically making the game for the newer systems that can push amazing graphics.
In a lot of ways this Tony Hawk game feels like it realizes some of the enhancements they were going for in American Wasteland. When American Wasteland was first announced the developers talked about how it would be a giant open world where everything connected together, but when the game shipped Tony Hawk fans were disappointed to learn that the levels weren't connected as seamlessly as was promised. This time around Neversoft managed to get it right, everything in Project 8 is connected; you can go from one side of the city to the other side without dealing with a single loading screen.
Despite the new graphics and open ended city, Project 8 is still the same old Tony Hawk experience you fell in love with years ago. The game still gives you a series of tasks it wants you to perform, stats you'll want to improve and money (in this case "Stokens") it wants you to earn. For the most part the game controls like it has for several installments now, all of the tricks and grinds are still mapped to the same buttons and you can do almost all of the special moves you learned in previous titles.
But that doesn't mean Project 8 has nothing new to offer you, this time around you will be given a brand new move that allows you to interact with your skater in ways you never thought possible. New to Project 8 is a move called "Nail a Trick", which you can start at any time by pushing down on both analog sticks at the same time. When you enter this mode the camera will slow down and zoom to your feet and skateboard. Instead of performing tricks by pushing the X or B buttons, you actually get to use the two analog sticks to control your feet. This means that you can customize your trick in a number of new ways just by holding the analog sticks in different ways. This mode is tricky at first (especially when it comes to landing), but after some practice you'll be amazed at the kinds of tricks you will be able to unleash. Unfortunately this is the only major addition to Tony Hawk's game play.
Outside of the game play, the game itself is actually set up a little different than previous Tony Hawk titles. In this game Tony Hawk is looking for the eight best skaters in the world, together they make (wait for it) Tony Hawk's Project 8. When you first enter the city you start out ranked number 200, so it's up to you to complete a lot of tasks and beat a lot of pro-challengers in order to improve your overall standing.
Instead of featuring a linear set of tasks, Project 8 actually gives you a lot of flexibility when it comes to how you want to play. There are a few different kinds of tasks to accomplish in the game, all of which are a lot of fun and quite diverse. Some of the tasks you will get from citizens around town that just happen to be glowing a funky orange color. Other tasks you will find on the walls and on posters. Most of the tasks you need to complete are nothing more than spray paint challenges. These goals require you to manual for a certain distance, grind until it tells you to stop or wall ride to a certain height. This is a new and interesting way of giving you things to do that doesn't come off feeling like it's forced.
Each of these challenges has three different difficulties it wants you to complete. If you're just looking for an easy time then chances are you will want to deal with the AM (amateur) tasks. Those who need a little extra challenge will try for the PRO tasks. And if you're a die hard fan who has been playing the game so long that you can do just about anything with the skateboard, then the SICK tasks are for you. Without a doubt this is the most difficult Tony Hawk title I have ever seen, it's going to take all but the best skaters hundreds of hours of play before you will even get close to completing all of the sick tasks. While there's no doubt that some of these goals are the very definition of frustrating, it's nice to see Neversoft experimenting with the game's difficulty. Recent Tony Hawk games have been so easy that even new fans could breeze through them in only a day or two; Project 8 will definitely have you working on the story mode for days, if not weeks.
Tony Hawk games are only as good as their level designs, and Project 8 is something of a mixed bag. I love the idea that you can go from one part of the city to another without worrying about load times or breaking your combo, but not every part of the city is as interesting as it should be. Throughout the course of the game you will skate through main street, the capitol building, a school, the slums, a factory, an amusement park, a small residential neighborhood, and more. These areas are generally large and offer a lot of different things to do tricks on (and over). The problem is that we've seen a lot of these locations done better in previous Tony Hawk games. There are a few parts of the game that really stand out, but much of the level design left something to be desired. Hopefully Neversoft will be able to build a more interesting world to skate in when they come out with their ninth installment next year.
While we're complaining about Project 8's shortcomings, it's worth mentioning that the game doesn't give you much control over who you want to skate as. At the beginning of the game it offers you a half dozen characters to select from, from there you can customize them in several different ways (change clothing, facial features, etc.). To be fair this is more than you were able to do in American Wasteland, but it's hard not to feel like the create-a-skater options are woefully inadequate. Considering how much control you've had in previous Tony Hawk games it's hard to understand why they would limit the customization so much. Ultimately this isn't that big of a deal, but it kind of left a bad taste in my mouth from the very beginning.
Thankfully not everything is bad. Project 8 has wisely decided to excise some of the more recent additions to the series. This time around you won't have any missions that require you to board a bicycle. You also won't need to drive a car. And you can forget about running up buildings and jumping from one wall to another. These additions were completely unnecessary and it's nice to see Neversoft get rid of them and focus on what made Tony Hawk's games so good: the skating.
Once you've grown sick and tired of skating through the virtual world you can switch over to the game's many multiplayer modes. Ever since Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 took the series online Neversoft has been adding new modes and allowing for a greater amount of game options. Project 8 is no exception, you can play to a certain score, see who can get the most points in a set amount of time, see who can tag the most pieces of the environment, find out who can perform the best combo and more. Perhaps the most interesting multiplayer mode comes in the form of Walls, a crazy Tron-like game where your skater has a bright wall coming out of his back. You get a point whenever a human opponent runs into your wall, making for one crazy experience that is both fun and bizarre at the exact same time.
As you might expect Project 8 is easily the best Tony Hawk has looked in the past eight years. The locations are full of small details and beautiful textures; this is definitely a major improvement over last year's American Wasteland. The character models are especially impressive, even if some of their movements are a bit on the robotic side. When you crash you will also notice that your character flails around with rag doll physics. Given that this is the first time they've used this new engine I can't wait to see how much better the next few installments look once Neversoft has figured out how to get the most out of the Xbox 360 hardware.
After eight installments I'm actually a little surprised Neversoft still has songs to license, it seems like they've already used most of the best skater anthems in the previous outings. But apparently I was wrong because Project 8 manages to cram a bunch of new songs that you'll either love or hate. This time around you can expect music from Bad Religion, The Cure, The Dead Milkmen, Gnarls Barkley, Kool and the Gang, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and Sonic Youth. If these artists don't pique your interest then you'll be happy to know that you can swap in your music at any time. While I haven't been the biggest fan of recent Tony Hawk soundtracks, I found myself a lot more excited to listen to the tunes in Project 8, if only for tracks from Sonic Youth (which they consider to be punk of all things).
Tony Hawk's Project 8 does not reinvent the series; instead it improves the graphics and gives you a huge city to trick off of. In a lot of ways this isn't a bad thing, since the Tony Hawk formula is certainly a good one. But those who were hoping for more than just a graphical improvement may be disappointed by this sequel's lack of innovation. The good news is that this is certainly a better product than American Wasteland and is well worth your $60. Some may even argue that this is the best Tony Hawk game since the fourth installment back in 2002, and I would tend to agree with those people.