Tony Hawk’s Project 8 Xbox 360 Review

It’s no secret that the Tony Hawk series has being in a rather depressing downward spiral ever since the THUG acronym was coined – now way back – in 2003. Ever since Tony went underground a never ending line of complaints have been directed straight at the offices of Neversoft. Many people hated the new layouts… even more hate the Jackass antics introduced and some despised questionable changes to core gameplay mechanics. It seemed obvious to everyone that the series needed drastic changes to get back on track and now finally with the release of Project 8 it seems Neversoft have finally decided to listen.

The first notable change when the game loads is that you now have a career mode – not a story mode. This was one of the big changes fans had asked for and now thankfully the game directs it focus back on skateboarding once again. Of course you’re going to need a reason to play though the mode and this is set up with the Birdman starting up an event called Project 8 in which he wants to find the eight best skaters in town – of course it’s up to you to rise through the ranks from a nobody (rank #200) all the way to number #1. To take part in this you’re going to need to create your own skater unfortunately this was one of the first flaws I found with the game. The number of options you have to create with are very limited – with only a few different types of hairstyles, faces and eyes to choose from – so no matter how long to slave trying to make a skater to call you own it will always just feel like a jumble of random parts.

Once in career mode there are some familiar and some new sightings to be seen. As stated above, Project 8 is more focused on skating than it was in recent efforts from the past few years, so gone are most of the people making a ‘Jackass’ of themselves and in are the kind of objectives which will up your stats and in turn help you get better at the game as you advance. Almost all the objectives in the game are split into three levels – amateur, pro and sick – some of the ‘sick’ levels are nigh on impossible when you first try them and are only worth coming back to when you have maxxed out your character by working through the game trying to complete everything on amateur or pro. Finishing the game on amateur will only take around 10 hours but to complete everything on sick could take days to accomplish.

Career mode is also very open ended… you start out in a small area with a certain number of tasks to accomplish. Once you beat a few of them (you can pick which order, and which ones you want to do) you then get to open up a gate or knock down a fence to open up another part of the world to skate in. All the areas are joined together and you can freely traverse into any of the areas you have opened without ever seeing a loading screen. I am sure some extremely skilled TH fans could manual and grind their way from one end of the huge play area to the other as the levels are very well laid out.

A brand new objective has been added for Project 8 called chalk challenges; these are shown via a selection of chalk marks on the ground or on a wall with different colours for amateur, pro and sick. You then either have to jump, grind, manual, wallplant, etc.as far as you can and hopefully beat one of the marks laid down. I liked these challenges as they were definitely a nice new extra for the series but there definitely is another extra that tops it…namely “Nail the Trick”

The much vaunted “Nail the Trick” system is unquestionably a hit and thankfully it is nowhere near as hard as it looks. In fact it takes less that 5 minutes for your brain to click and figure out what it’s all about and from there on you will most likely find yourself including it in combos as you dash around environments without a second thought. The mode can be entered any time when you make a jump by clicking down both analogue sticks on the 360 controller – however higher jumps off ledges offer the best opportunities big points. Once both sticks are clicked, the whole game slows down and the camera seamlessly zooms in on the skateboard and your skater’s feet. From there you directly control the skater’s feet with the analogue sticks and basically invent your own moves as the feet move in relation to where you move the sticks. It sounds complicated on paper and I would be willing to bet that – just like I did – you will fall flat on your face during the first 10 attempts but as I said the mode is well implemented and easy enough to get your head round once you stop throwing the controller down after only a half-dozen attempts.

Other extras come in the form of skate demos where you have to try your best to keep a crowd entertained for one minute… the crowd is split into three sections and you have to move between them, trying to keep each meter as high as possible. Then there are pro challenges where a selection of pro’s will ask you to perform certain tasks. Each pro challenge will focus on a different discipline with the likes of Bob Burnquist focusing on team skating; Daewon Song focusing on grind lines; Ryan Scheckler teaching you big drops and Bam Margera (the only hint of Jackass in this game) telling you to jump into rubbish skips. Multiplayer (split-screen offline and online) is also a lot of fun and it seems some considerable thought has gone into it with Neversoft even adding a new mode for gamers to get to grips with. The likes of Trick Attack, Graffiti, Score Challenge, Combo Challenge, Combo Mambo from older games reappear but the new mode that debuts is called Walls… which reminded me of Tron. In Walls, each trick you do causes walls to come up from the ground and if the other player crashes into on it game over – it a good new addition but it does take some getting used to and finding a winning tactic is hard.

As is highly evident in most screenshots and videos available online Project 8 is certainly not a let down in the graphics department. Ever since that first video appeared online showcasing what we now know to be the “Nail the Trick” system it was obvious Neversoft were dead set on advancing the visuals of Tony Hawk games in leaps and bounds – or should that be Ollies? The animation in the game is also top-notch and has been completely redone with not even one frame being brought over from the older Hawk games. Almost all the new animations in the game are motion-captured and even at close scrutiny look fantastic. The bails however are provided via the ragdoll physics engine and as such each fall really looks like they hurt – of course due to the randomness of ragdoll your skater can end up in a myriad of funny positions leading to some hilarity as you advance throughout the game.

Sadly, even though the game now sports some nice visuals not everything is hunky-dory as the framerate in the game can be very erratic at times. Now, I am not usually one to hark on about a little bit of slowdown in games but the framerate problems in Project 8 gets very close to almost ruining the whole game as it can hugely affect gameplay. The problems also seem to kick in at inopportune times… imagine being in the middle of a combo; spinning wildly in mid air and suddenly the game gets all choppy, drops a few frames and suddenly you fall face first in the concrete as you overspin due to the slowdown. The above scenario is not a one off occurrence either and it has personally ruined some great combos for me during my time with the game. If you are the patient type then you can probably endure this letdown and work around it but disappointingly it is a very big blemish that almost ruins a possibly great title.

The game’s soundtrack is best described as an acquired taste. Although the 56-strong list of songs spans such genres as punk rock, metal, hip-hop, rap, and alternative I personally found nothing to suit my taste even with bands like Ministry, The Dead Milkmen, Primus, Slayer, Sonic Youth, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, The Ramones on show. As a result I quickly scrambled for my iPod after less than an hour with the game and booted up some custom soundtracks more pleasing to my ears. Interestingly the exact opposite of this happened when a buddy of mine came round to play the game as I noticed him fiddling around with the sound menu picking and choosing his favourites. When I quizzed my mate if it was a case of “the bands you love, the songs you don’t” he looked at me as if I had killed someone (note: no one has ever died by my hand!); which once again reinforced my acquired taste comment. If you want to find out if the soundtrack is for you then the full listing is just a click away. There is also some voice work with many of the real world pro skaters lending their voice to the game… the great Jason Lee (from My Name Is Earl) also narrates some goings on as well, which is a nice extra.

Project 8 no doubt tries it’s best to push the Tony Hawks series to the next level. It does a lot of things right – most notably greatly limiting the stupid Jackass gimmickry of previous titles and adding the “Nail the Trick” system which in all honesty is a tremendous success. Disappointingly there are still a couple of annoying flaws included which do their best to ruin what it s a great package. Project 8 is a good game and one that will please long-term fans of the series but Neversoft still have a few bugs and flaws to correct before the series can be called great once again.

The series is most definitely back on the right track but some more work is needed for whatever they choose to label the ninth edition.

8 out of 10