[17 December 2006]
It’s difficult to not be struck by the nagging contradiction at the heart of the marketing of Tony Hawk and his fellow extreme sports stars in what has become a billion dollar industry. On one hand, skateboarding culture continues to embrace the image of the rebellious iconoclast who revels in angry punk rock and ‘sticking it to The Man’ as embodied by the edgy aesthetic in Thrasher magazine.
But is it possible to thumb your nose at authority figures while simultaneously starring in deodorant commercials, as Bam Margera has recently? Can you represent the D.I.Y. ethic and create a Tony Hawk clothing line for Kohl’s? Is keeping street cred feasible while developing a “Tony Hawk Experience” ride at Six Flags?
Of course, it might be besides the point to wonder if a 38-year old father of three who earns $5 to $7 million a year from marketing deals is a “sellout.”
But these were questions I pondered nonetheless while playing Tony Hawk’s Project 8, a skateboarding game that wears its hip, anti-authoritarian heart on its sleeve, yet contains more ads plastered throughout than a NASCAR race—including companies as decidedly non-edgy as Jeep.
Project 8 is the latest in a long series of skateboarding games that have been released on a near annual basis—much like its professional sports brethren Madden Football or Tiger Woods Golf. Also similar to those non-extreme franchises, very little changes in Tony Hawk titles from year to year. There may be new areas to skate, different options, and cosmetic changes over the years, but the core gameplay has remained basically the same from the old Tony Hawk Pro Skater games on the original Playstation.
Thankfully, Project 8 is more devoted to that core gameplay than some of the more recent entries of the series, especially the Tony Hawk Underground games, which were full of so much prankish adolescent humor many critics decried it as “Jackass: The Game”.
There is a loosely developed story in Project 8 as part of the career mode, but it’s basically an excuse to do a whole lot of skating. Your character, which can be slightly modified from several different pre-made models, begins the game ranked last out of 200 skaters. Your goal is to tirelessly work your way up to the top 8, by completing an almost countless number of objectives.
Some of these objectives range from challenges given to you by Tony Hawk’s familiar coterie of pro skaters such as Rodney Mullin, My Name is Earl star Jason Lee and others, some of the wacky denizens you meet randomly while skating in the city, or what are called “spot challenges.” Spot challenges, in which you must perform tasks such as grinding on a sidewalk or jumping over a certain height, can be started simply by skating on the tagged object. In addition to these tasks, there are the classic gap, photo and video challenges where you’re required to perform tricks in a specific time limit.
Other random challenges ask you to wipe out badly and break as many bones as possible or incur a hospital bill of thousands of dollars. My favorite is a challenge where you bail off your skateboard and fling into a set of giant bowling pins until you are able to get a strike. Many of the challenges incorporate this sort of shameless sense of humor, like the one, for example, that asks you to “Shag Dad’s balls” (golf balls, get it?).
Instead of asking you to select a difficulty when you begin a game, Project 8 cleverly incorporates several different difficulty levels of tricks in each challenge—amateur, pro, and sick. New players will be able to pull off the amateur level tricks fairly easily, but even Tony Hawk vets will likely have a tough time with the ‘sick’ difficulty.
The featured gameplay addition in Project 8 is a trick mode called “Nail the Trick” in which the skater flies though the air in slow motion. Once this occurs, the player can flip the board in midair a variety of ways and rack up combo points before attempting to land. Nail the Trick may not be much more than a gimmick, but it’s an entertaining and welcome one.
The rest of the skating feels par for the course for a Tony Hawk game. There are lots of ramps to jump, rails to grind, and environments to skate on, over, or through. Some of the physics of the being on the board feel vaguely realistic, but being able to skate on a roller coaster and land safely from five stories up is not. The biggest crime of realism is when the skater bails from the board and flies through the air like a flailing Superman. Gravity seems almost nonexistent in these cases, rendering the falls patently ridiculous.
The visuals of Project 8 are the best of the series so far, and it truly looks like a next gen game on the 360 with a high definition television. The sound likewise is quality and the punk-rock heavy soundtrack (including Dead Milkmen classic “Punk Rock Girl”) is easy on the ears.
Tony Hawk’s Project 8 is not a revolutionary game, content to improve slightly on its seven predecessors. If you’re a fan of the series and are content with more of the same with the addition of Nail the Trick mode and better graphics, you’ll be thrilled by it. If you aren’t a fan of combo-heavy skateboarding sims, look elsewhere. But don’t worry, even if you don’t like Project 8, you’ll always have Tony Hawk’s Six Flags ride to look forward to.