The Tony Hawk series is one of SPOnG's very firmest favourites. There's no two ways about this... many's the time that Marcus and Gavin have left the offices well after midnight after sitting down for a quick game of Graffiti Mode at 18:30. Part of the game’s appeal to Marcus is explained by the fact that he has a skateboard ramp in his back garden, a Dogtown tattoo on his left arm, and over 30 pairs of Vans in his wardrobe. Gavin, on the other hand, has never even stood on a deck, so his love of the game speaks volumes for its appeal to non-skaters.
Like many gaming franchises with multiple versions released, Tony Hawk has suffered from the law of diminishing returns as each new version has struggled to add features to an already comprehensive game. The FIFAs and NFLs of this world have the ever-changing team line-ups to justify their yearly iterations, but Tony Hawk’s has no such character churn. Tony himself was world champion for nine years on the trot, and characters you'll find in the game have been at the top of the sport for years.
The early games were good too; so good, that improving on them has proved to be a tough task. As a result, recent versions – while excellent games for newcomers – didn't offer that much to owners of the earlier games, and some even thought they had lost direction. While this didn't hurt their sales too badly, as new gamers were attracted to the franchise by each new release, it still meant that buying all seven of the previous titles was not essential. Even the most hardened fan could be excused for missing one or two.
For the most part the series has maintained a true course, with even the Underground and American Wasteland examples having the good, solid base of the Pro Skater games at their core. It has, however, wandered off track somewhat, with the boyish pranks of Bam and the Jackass crowd sullying its purity. Project 8 aims to correct this trend by exploiting the power of the emerging generation of consoles to offer the definitive Tony Hawk's skateboarding game... which, of course, means THE definitive skateboarding game.
THP8 is available for PS2 and Xbox, but it is on PS3 and Xbox 360 that it will truly shine. And we're not just talking about the graphics – though they are (obviously) the best so far seen in a skating game. The whole game engine has been re-written from the ground up, and the result is an all-new and improved physics model.
Tony Hawk's American Wasteland introduced the idea of one great big level with no load times to the series, but of course, this was just a cunningly executed cheat. Instead of viewing a loading screen between levels, your character skated down a tunnel... it was good, but it wasn't really one truly seamless level. THP8 harnesses the extra grunt of the new consoles to take that idea to its logical conclusion – and enables you to skate one true, single extensive level. Sections of the level are themed – skatepark, school, streets, but you can skate from any one of these to any other at any time during the game. Just like real life.
Activision assures us that all of the terrain is newly-modelled, but there were areas that we recognised from hours and hours (and weeks and months) of playing earlier versions. These weren’t whole levels, you understand, but sections of earlier models have been chopped up and pasted together in ways that are at once familiar, and then strangely unfamiliar as they segue into newly-designed sections. The area that gave us the greatest feeling of deja vu was the school – which feels very familiar from the early TH games.