Editorials

Tony Hawk Tuesdays – Is Eight Enough?

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Tony Hawk’s Project 8 (THP8) was released in 2006 for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 (as a launch title), Xbox, Xbox 360, and PlayStation Portable systems. If you lost count of how many games there are in this series, Project 8 makes it easy for you. It was the eight installment in the long running Hawk series.

For the record, both the sixth generation (PS2, Xbox) and seventh generation (PS3, 360) versions of the game were, for the most part, identical. The older versions didn’t have an open world, and required a level swap from a menu, but otherwise, there were very few differences.

Project 8 is a weird case, or at least it is for me. I remember playing this game around the time it came out, and I was blown away. But playing it again recently just makes me think. Project 8 isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but something about it just feels off, whether it’s the overly shiny graphics or the new physics, it’s tough to describe. At least to me, it felt like the very definition of a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ sort of game.

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“Whuh?”

The first thing that stands out with Project 8, aside from the noticeably improved presentation (which actually felt ‘next-gen’), was the open world. 2005’s American Wasteland attempted it, but the effort fell flat thanks to the infamous ‘load tunnels’ between areas. Project 8 does it seamlessly, without any empty areas designed to mask the loading. It was an impressive feat to have all the levels intertwined with each other, and even some of the levels from older games (‘School’ from Pro Skater 1 and ‘Factory’ from Pro Skater 3) were revamped and included as well, but you couldn’t shake the fact that the open world felt barren and lifeless, considerably moreso than Wasteland or the Underground games.

The story was more grounded in reality this time around. Gone were the premises of ‘be a punk’ and ‘piss people off,’ this time it was all about the skating. The goal of the game was to make it into the titular ‘Project 8’ team, starting all the way from the bottom at rank 200. The goal may have been to simply crack the top 8, but you’d have your work cut out for you if you wanted to hit that number one spot. With over 180 goals in the game, you’d need to master them all if you wanted that top spot.

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THUG villain Eric “A-Face” Sparrow made a cameo, though in name only. What we wouldn’t give to punch him in the face again.

If you remember the older games, there wasn’t any range in completing your goals: you either did them or didn’t. Project 8 completely changes this with a ‘rank system’ for each of the 180+ goals. Simply put, the further your distance or the higher your score, the better the rank you got. For example, the game may ask you to trick off a certain number of objects. You could get an ‘am’ rank if you did most of it, a ‘pro’ rank if you completed the entire path, OR you could get a ‘sick’ rank if you clear the path AND get a really high combo at the same time. It added a great deal to the challenge and replayabilty.

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There was also the ‘nail-the-trick’ mode: by tapping the left and right thumbsticks in while in the air, the game would go into slow motion and you’d gain complete control of your character’s feet, with each analog stick controlling a foot, which either led to big points or big bails. Classic mode also made a return, integrated into the main game as opposed to being its own separate mode. The premise was still the same: ten goals, two minutes. They also had the distinction of being (according to many) the hardest goals in the game to get a perfect rank on.

Not as challenging as the ‘ragdoll challenges,’ mind you. The new physics engine allowed you bail harder then ever before, flying high and smashing bones. Completing these challenges, whether you had to rack up a certain hospital bill or hit a target, required such a high degree of luck (as opposed to skill) that they weren’t well liked by the community. They were a novelty at best.

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Project 8 wasn’t without its share of issues. The PlayStation 2 and 3 versions lacked any form of online play, the PS3 version had some performance and framerate problems, and some horribly designed (though entirely optional) SIXAXIS controls. It was also very difficult, especially if you were shooting for all those sick goals, though it was appreciated after American Wasteland’s very apparent lack of challenge. Character creation was also significantly weaker than previous games in the series.

You may recall last week that I called American Wasteland one of the weaker soundtracks in the series, but not the worst. Project 8 holds that unfortunate distinction (pre-RIDE, of course), if only because it has nothing going for it. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. The soundtrack had several artists we’ve seen before, like The Ramones, Primus, Bad Religion (who we’ve been seeing a LOT in this series), and even The Thunderlords, of¬†American Wasteland’s “I Like Dirt” fame. Other artists included Nine Inch Nails, The Sword,¬†Eagles of Death Metal, Slayer, and that one song from Spec Ops: The Line.

If I didn’t make it clear, I did not care for Project 8’s soundtrack whatsoever. I might be in a minority though, as it was well received by many, and even won a couple “best soundtrack of 2006” awards. It just came across as astoundingly ‘meh’ to me.

Project 8 was well received like the rest of the series, but the notion that the franchise may have been going downhill was becoming more apparent. But speaking of downhill, there was also an exclusive Hawk game on the Nintendo Wii released the same year, appropriately titled Downhill Jam. It deviated from the franchise formula and it worked highly in its favor. That’s next week.

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