Thursday, November 17, 2016

Review #353: Tony Hawk's Project 8

 Ain't no quarter pipe high enough... if you catch enough air.
 Welcome to Tony Hawk's first foray into the HD generation, at least as far as Playstation is concerned. Project 8 followed the trend of slightly tweaking what worked and piling new features and mechanics upon the old. It worked for Neversoft all throughout the Ps2 era, but would it work in the then-present day?

 For this installment they went with an entirely new concept for the series: A fully interconnected world. Selecting stages was a thing of the past, now it was up to you to go from zone to zone. I will grant it that it was an idea worth exploring, but, but I feel like it didn't work for the franchise. Part of what made Tony Hawk's games so darn good were the ridiculous, off-the-wall thematic stage designs. Sure, here the different zones have their own themes, like 'Suburbia', 'Fun Park' and 'Hilltop', but in their effort to make it feel cohesive the stages lost the ability to have entirely different concepts, like a Zoo stage, a carnival stage, an airport stage and so on. Now you get different kind of towns and skate parks, alongside a factory and a fun park for variety's sake. On the flipside, the world of Project 8 is very colorful and vibrant, so it makes the monotony more tolerable.
 Another point of contention, for me anyways, were the missions themselves. While it's easy to see that they have the same sense of humor they've always had, it's hard not to feel as if they went a bit lazy this time around. I will praise the structure for letting the player choose the difficulty in the form of complexity. Sometimes a mission consists of doing 10 tricks in 2 minutes, but you can attempt to go for 20 tricks instead to earn the Pro trophy, or go for 30 for the Sick one! It's brilliant and it works perfectly. That said, there's way too many 'spraypaint challenges', which consist of grinding, wall riding or manual-ing through certain sections. These are peppered all throughout every zone and they fill like needless filler missions. There's few standout, unique missions, so you'll be doing a lot of the same on slightly different environments. That said, the 9 or so Pro challenges are always fun, and each area has a 'Classic' mission with a few objectives(Collect SKATE, collect COMBO in a Combo, earn certain scores and complete some silly missions) that harken back to the older games which were always interesting and add variety, because even though objectives repeat(Like gathering those 8 letters), the hiding spots and combos required are always different, unlike the main objectives. Trust me on this.

 Figuring out how to do a few of these can also be a bit annoying. The Spraypaint challenges being the biggest culprits, since there tends to be a lack of hints pointing you to where you should be grinding/manual-ing next. And there also happens too many 'ragdoll' missions, which are rather finicky to pull off and are never fun. Never.
 Now that's out of the way, let's get into the nitty-gritty: Gameplay. If you've been playing the games, even if on and off skipping a few games, there's something that you'll notice immediately: The physics have changed. Skating around feels slightly heavier than before. It's not a deal breaker, and while it's jarring at first, take into consideration that the seven past games have used the same physics, but you'll get used to them in no time. As previously mentioned, this game only piles even more mechanics on top of the older ones. Flips, Grabs, Manuals, Special tricks, grind, wall-plant, getting on-and-off the board, stalling... every single mechanic from previous games are back, so veterans and returning players will feel right at home. I'd also like to mention that the game features a relatively deep tutorial that's very short, but straight to the point, and teaches you every basic skill that you'll need to play the game. Well, most of them...

 Project 8 introduces a new mechanic: 'Nail the Trick'. This mechanics is not covered by the tutorial but will be explained throughout a few missions. While they could've done a better job explaining it, once you get the hang of it, which might take some time, it's incredibly easy to do. Basically, you jump, while the SPECIAL gauge is filled, tap both L3 and R3, and you get to spin and twirl your board around. Trying to spin it in another direction while the board is not properly aligned will cause you to fall and lose your combo, though! To be perfectly honest, I never used this mechanic unless a mission required it, but it's an interesting idea and adds some variety for potential combos.
 As per usual, the game features a character creator. Unlike what's usual for the franchise, however, this time around it sucks. It's incredibly restrictive and limited. You have to pick between 6 or so 'archetypes' and then you only get a very few faces for each. Your character will look ugly and there's no way around it, and it's the character you'll be forced to play throughout the career mode! While in Tony Hawk 4 you had to earn your stat upgrades, now you enhance them by using them. Want to jump higher? Jump a lot. Better grind balancing? Grind a lot. It's a good idea, but I don't think it suits the franchise well, leveling up every stat felt like a never ending chore, so in the end I just forgot about it and played without going out of my way to raise my stats, I wasn't aiming to clear everything on the hardest difficulty setting anyways.

 While the Skate Park creator is gone, the offline 2Player mode is back and the usual suspects are back: Trick attack, HORSE, Free Skate, etc, so there's nothing to complain on that front. The music however... Music in Tony Hawk's games has always been amazing, but the OST in this game has a few stinkers... luckily you can customize which songs you want to play and which ones you don't. Hilariously, my biggest complaint is probably with the game's intro. The first time you play the game you'll be forced to endure a presentation that seems to last forever. I JUST WANTED TO START THE DAMNED GAME GODDAMMIT! On subsequent runs, however, you'll only be forced to sit through the Activision and Neversoft presentations, the latter which is egregiously long, but at least you'll be able to start skating sooner. Thank god.
 The fact is that I enjoyed my time with the game immensely... but the fact also remains that almost any other Tony Hawk game is more fun than this one. The levels are much more appealing and fun, missions are more varied, the character creator is better and, personally, I enjoyed the old physics better. Project 8 is not bad, far from it, but I'd rather play my PS2 Tony Hawk games.
 6.0 out of 10

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