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12/01/2006 12:00:00 PM

Review: Tony Hawk's Project 8 (PS3)

By Paul Ulane

Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk hasn't just turned the extreme sports world into a cash cow over the last two decades, he's also helped us mere groundlings feel like we're still young and hip -- or at least young with bad hips -- in his steady line of skater games. Tony Hawk's Project 8 delivers exactly what we expect from the franchise: high flying vert ramps, cluttered street courses, an eclectic and ear-drum splitting soundtrack, and enough product placement to make Ricky Bobby blush. But Project 8 also shows off some new tricks, the most noteworthy of which will keep you on your couch and off that dusty board in the garage until the next Hawk game hits shelves.

Familiar controls mean you can pop the game in, jump on your board, and roll straight into career mode. The underlying theme of the game is to climb the amateur rankings through a series of tests and challenges to become one of the top eight amateur skaters in the world, thus entitling you to a spot on Tony's Project 8 team. As you roll through the layouts, the tests are administered by anyone from innocent bystanders to well-known skating pros to random guests stars. (Hey look everybody, it's My Name is Earl's Jason Lee!)

Tony Hawk's Project 8
Activision
It's a cool premise which means that all of your skating in the open world leads towards achieving top eight status, whether it's showing off tricks for the locals, learning lessons from the pros, or the good old fashioned Classic mode. (There's something about picking up hovering letters in video games that never gets old.) Move on after achieving amateur status for any challenge, or stick around and try to reach the pro or sick level. Obviously, the better you perform, the quicker you move up the rankings.

A new wrinkle pops up through the game's various "spot challenges." A bunch of tags pop up under spray paint cans on the pavement and building facades (parental advisory: this game contains graffiti) and require you to hold a grind or manual until you reach the next marker. Just like with the tests, the challenges offer the amateur, pro, and sick levels, the last of which takes considerably longer to achieve. It's a simple rule to live by for video games -- easy to learn, hard to master -- but it's been the edict since day one for a reason.

The most ambitious innovation unveiled in Project 8 is also the game's coolest. If you click down on both analog sticks when you're in the air, you implement the "Nail the Trick" feature. Everything slows down and the camera angle pans down and around to close in on your feet and the board. Once you're in "Nail the Trick" mode, you can control your feet using the analog sticks, meaning you can create undiscovered combos by either flipping or spinning the board with your feet. While the timing takes some getting used to -- for so long, we've been accustomed to pulling off combos in Hawk's games at warp speed -- it definitely adds an entirely new dimension to the franchise, which is no laughing matter considering this is Hawk's eighth run through the digital skate park.

Tony Hawk's Project 8
Activision
For the group clamoring for some next-gen love, you can test out the PS3 SIXAXIS wireless controls on everything from simply skating around to the "Nail the Trick" feature. From the pause menu, set the controller to manual steering, balancing, and trick performing. It's surprisingly responsive for all three options, but if you only like the feel of one of them, you can set the SIXAXIS for each individually as well. While using this is a blast, it's harder to pull off tricks than when playing with traditional controls. It's still much quicker to punch buttons and toggle a stick than to move the entire controller back and forth mid-ollie.

The design and layout are eerily similar to previous builds of the game, so if you're looking for fresh new rails and jumps, you might want to skate on by. But the look of the game fits the next-gen system well, including creepy facial details on all of the pros (you might want to hide the children when you find Bam Margera.) While the PS3's capabilities are fully utilized with the above mentioned features, there's still no online mode for Project 8. Some of the customizable options have also been stripped down, from creating your own park to character modifications. Sticklers for details might be put off by such subtractions.

But while hardcore gamers will point to those limitations, Project 8 still delivers on a number of levels for the casual-to-serious gamer. Striking the perfect balance between the game's signature features and it's next-gen new wrinkles, the latest addition to Tony Hawk's franchise is more than just a tacked on sequel. Skate on, Tony, we'll be right behind you. (With elbow, wrist, and knee pads on.)
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