When Tony Hawk's Project 8 arrived on the Xbox 360 late last year, we were impressed by the way that Neversoft got the series back on track. With the focus placed firmly on skating, the Underground series quickly became a distant memory. Project 8 arrived on every platform, but due to the delay of the PAL launch we've only just gotten our hands on the PlayStation 3 version now. Some sacrifices were made by Neversoft to bring the game to Sony's console in time for the launch, so is Tony's PlayStation 3 debut a Project 8 or more of a Project 5?
For Project 8, Neversoft has redesigned the story mode once again. In the story mode, Tony Hawk is starting up the Project 8, which consists of the top eight skaters in town. Your objective is to begin as a nobody are try and work your way up into the top 8. Before you can actually begin skating you'll need to customise your character. The character customisation is a little limited but should allow you to create a reasonable looking skater. When you first begin you'll be ranked at 200. You'll start off in an open neighbourhood which is locked up for the time being. As you navigate around the world you'll see challenges, and by completing these challenges you may rank up. There is no set order in which you have to complete the challenges though - as the challenges are littered all throughout the world you can pick and choose what tasks to complete and which ones to ignore. In previous Tony Hawk games you had to choose the one difficulty level, this time around the game doesn't force you into the one difficulty level and you can select either amateur, pro or sick for every challenge.
The one thing that makes the story mode that much more enjoyable is the fact that the annoying, mindless tasks of the previous Tony Hawk games have generally been removed. There is still a wide range of challenges and old favourites (such as collecting S.K.A.T.E) that return. There are still a few challenges that don't relate to skating, such as tasks where you have to try and bail "correctly', but for the most part the challenges are focused squarely on skating. The game also introduces chalk challenges, which are like instant challenges that you can do repeatedly. Chalk challenges are drawn into the ground and require you to do things like wall planting for a certain distance or grinding for as far as you can. There are three difficulty levels once again to these chalk challenges and completing them will help you get to the top 8. Initially you'll only be able to complete these chalk challenges at the amateur level, so you will return to complete them again throughout the game as your stats improve.
Project 8 delivers on the seamless world promise that American Wasteland couldn't deliver. Each part of the world is divided up and you'll need to complete certain tasks to unlock the next area. The levels are literally right next to each other, so you're able to skate from one area to the next without any loading. The classic mode has been redesigned and is now incorporated directly into the career mode. In the career mode you'll find characters throughout each of the levels who will offer the two minute challenges, such as collecting S-K-A-T-E or getting a high score. You don't need to do all of the challenges at once and you can return to them at any time during the course of your quest to get to the top eight.
One of the major additions to the game is the 'nail the trick' mode. If you have a full special meter then you can push the left analog stick down and slow time down as you pull off a trick. The left analog stick is used to control your left foot and the right analog stick is used for your right foot. You'll need really precise timing to execute the tricks but nothing is more satisfying than crafting your own tricks. There are areas in the story mode which are devoted to nailing a trick, so the addition isn't just a gimmick but one of the best additions to a Tony Hawk title in awhile. It also seemed a little easier to fill your special meter this time around - it seems that if you only do a few flips the special meter will fill, so you'll be using the nail the trick option quite frequently.
Overall the game just feels a lot more realistic as the engine has been built completely from the ground up. All of the tricks have been motion captured, so everything is just a lot more natural. The game uses rag doll physics as well, and while this isn't highly realistic, it does result in some awesome (and bone crunching) bails. The engine does have a few limitations however. The frame rate does suffer occasionally which can actually throw you off and can result in your skater bailing. Overall Project 8's engine is definitely an improvement, but it is a shame about the frame rate issue.
The PlayStation 3 version obviously doesn't feature achievements but is unfortunately also missing a multiplayer mode completely. The Xbox 360 version had support for up to eight players online with a wide variety of game modes. This is essentially the deal breaker for the PlayStation 3 version, the lack of any multiplayer support at all (even if offline multiplayer would have been better than nothing) is disappointing. However, much like SSX is suited well to the PlayStation controller, Tony Hawk is also well suited to the PlayStation controller. The PlayStation 3 version also allows you to control the game with the SIXAXIS tilt. The game turns off the motion control by default but if you want then you can control grinds and tricks by tilting the controller.
Graphically the game looks good with highly distinctive levels - it's only really the frame rate that lets Project 8 down and it's very disappointing that there are still frame rate issues even present in the game. Unfortunately the PlayStation 3 version also features a worse frame rate than it's Xbox 360 cousin which is frankly unacceptable. In terms of the audio Neversoft have done well to license quite a few decent songs for the game. None of the music particularly stands out, but Wolfmother make an appearance for Australia. The voice acting is average, but isn't as forced as in previous Tony outings.
Tony Hawk's Project 8 is also a tough game. Getting to the top eight will require skill and getting to the number one position is something that few skaters will likely ever experience. There are plenty of reasons to come back to the challenges as your stats are always improving. The lack of a multiplayer mode is disappointing though, as it's a lot of fun hopping online and seeing just how good of a skater you really are.
Tony Hawk's Project 8 is still an incredibly fun game that is undoubtedly one of the better Tony Hawk titles of recent times. However, the delay has hurt the game as those who wanted the game have likely picked it up on one of the other platforms it's available on by now. If you haven't though rest assured that while Project 8 on the PlayStation 3 doesn't really contain anything new (aside from some basic tilt functionality) the game is still incredibly fun and still comes highly recommended. A step in the right direction for the birdman.