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Tony Hawk's Project 8
Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Shaba/Neversoft
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Sports (Extreme)

Graphics & Sound:
Tony Hawk’s Project 8 is the latest incarnation of the best-selling series featuring the lanky legend from sunny California. Neversoft has made quite a name for themselves developing all the games so far, but this time around Shaba has taken most of the reigns for this project. The numerous titles have spanned basic tournament progressions, custom skate park builders, to even a fully fleshed-out Story mode with wacky side quests, complete with many memorable faces from MTV and other extreme sports venues. In Project 8… well, it’s more or less a mishmash of the previous elements, and from first sight, appears to be trying to bank upon the name alone, regardless if it has any real merit. We shall find out…

Graphically, the models themselves look pretty good and animate well enough, but at times they do look a tad grainy. These blocky and dampened textures extend into the environments as well, with passé locales you have seen again and again - how many quarter pipes, ramps and empty swimming pools can you stomach over the last 7 years? Where are the Amazonian rainforests or Moon Landing scenes at? Isn’t it time to get a little crazy? However, there are some neat features such as when you focus in and get a cool Matrix-esque slow-mo blur effect. The frame rates are also pretty solid to boot, but I am still surprised to see such lackluster graphics from this late-gen PS2 title.

Thankfully, the audio department really picks up the slack for the visuals. Over 50 tracks from a host of licensed artists keep us humming along as we pull off sick tricks and maneuvers. Some of the artists include Primus, Sonic Youth, The Ramones, Kool and the Gang (my girlfriend’s favorite song), Slayer, Wolfmother, Kasabian and Bad Religion. Of course, if one of these bands doesn’t suit your fancy, you can customize the playlist to your every desire. Along with the music, various skaters and other celebrities also lend their voices to the game – even Jason Lee (a former pro himself) from “My Name is Earl” makes a cameo! Rounding out this department are the excellent sound effects as well, from all the groans of biting it hard, to the now classic sound of board grinding rail, or touching off a ramp.

This time around, Tony Hawk's Project 8 goes for a return to the basics; you get to pick from a limited roster of skaters (instead of a user created one, as in the RPG-esque THPS: Underground ). Interestingly enough, no females are playable in the Career mode. Mr. Hawk is out for the 8 best skaters out there, and you have to fight your way up the ranks to win his approval for his new all-pro team. From here, you set about completing various tasks that go in a series of three; Amateur (AM), Pro and Sick, for completing such things as grinds, spins, kickflips and more. Obviously, the more challenging and diverse you go on these, the higher you will climb the proverbial ladder.

There are also challenges where you are given a certain amount of time to score as many points as possible, in the aforementioned AM, Pro and Sick levels, further advancing you along your path to Project 8 glory. This mode should feel right at home for most THPS veterans. Along the way, you will draw some attention from various sponsors as well, that can lead to some more things to keep you entertained. If you can complete a few tasks handed out by these folks, you may get some cool logo stampage on your moniker, helping you advance that much faster. Oh and you can unlock all kinds of goodies too… but you don’t really care about that, do ya?

The latest addition this time around is the Nail the Trick mode, and employs some of that cool slow-mo I mentioned earlier, allowing for some innovative tricks that defy time and space. The two analog sticks represent your legs, and depending on how you tweak them, will determine if you eat asphalt, or become the next big thing. While this sounds pretty awesome, and graphically it does, you may be surprised how easy it is to pull off, thanks to the visual clues on how to maintain control and spike your point totals.

And like many of these Tony Hawk games, you can assign points to such skill areas as speed, air, manual, grind, flip and more. Sadly, you can’t adjust them later on, a befuddling departure from years past. Finally, you can earn Stokens, which are some kind of uber cool skater currency, I guess… either way, you can use these to buy all kinds of goodies like videos, decks, crazy tricks and more.

If single player grows old, you can always bust out some of the time tested multiplayer modes in classic two-player split screen mode - surprisingly, no online mode is offered, so call some friends and find one with a big ‘ol TV. The modes include long-time staples Graffiti (tag over objects), Free Skate (“no worries here man”), Horse and Trick Attack.

Tony Hawk’s Project 8 is pretty dang simple. Let’s just clear that up right now. A robust tutorial mode greets veterans and noobs alike, going over the various control features and gameplay elements. The control formula is also locked in place from previous incarnations: X for crouching, O to grab, Square to flip and so forth. Throw in the slow-mo action and nailing tricks is now made even easier. Overall, anyone who has spent a few hours in the game, or has followed the series, should be a relative pro sooner rather than later.

Game Mechanics:
Controls are quite familiar as I just mentioned, so there are no real hiccups here. They respond well and pulling off a wide array of complex combinations is still as easy as ever. The camera was solid as usual, allowing for on the fly adjustment with the R3 button, always a good thing when spinning 360 degrees over a chasm, eh?

Ultimately, Tony Hawk’s Project 8 just can’t live up to the hype and precedence set before it, and does indeed seem to be cashing in on name recognition alone. There are a few bright spots like Nail the Trick and a robust sound track, but it still feels like Neversoft/Shaba need to go back to the drawing board for the next installment, and hopefully redeem this once stellar franchise.

-Tybo, GameVortex Communications
AKA Tyler Whitney

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