In recent times the Tony Hawk franchise has really begun to get stale. The series hit its peak with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, the Underground franchise really took the focus off the skating and made the game feel like a tie in to the Jackass TV show and films. With Tony Hawk's American Wasteland Neversoft put the focus back on skating, but the title wasn't the reinvention that the franchise so direly needed. With Tony Hawk's Project 8 Neversoft have gone back to the drawing board and developed an entirely new engine. Everything in the game is firmly focused on skating and most of all the game is incredible fun, the game still has a few problems but Tony Hawk's Project 8 is easily the best Tony Hawk game since Pro Skater 4, our faith in the series has been restored.
The story mode has been redesigned and is where Project 8 derives it's name from. 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 try and get your way into the top 8. Before playing you'll need to customise your character, the character customisation isn't as deep as in previous titles but is still pretty decent. You'll begin at rank 200 and start off in Suburbia. Just about every task you complete will rank you up, you don't need to go through the world in a linear fashion though. Challenges are littered all throughout the levels and you can complete them as you see fit. If you don't want to complete a challenge then you can just come back to it later, you'll have higher stats which may make the challenge a little bit easier too. Rather than force you into the one difficulty level you're able to choose from amateur, pro and sick difficultly levels for every challenge you do. If you're finding a challenge easy then you can up the difficulty level, which is handy.
The annoying mindless tasks of previous Tony Hawk titles have been removed, which means just about every goal you're completing is related to skating in some way. There is a wide range of challenges and whilst we won't list them here they range from pulling off certain tricks on film through to pulling together a massive combo. We will admit that there are a few challenges which don't directly relate to skating (such as the tasks where you have to control your character as he bails), but for the most part they are fun tasks and there really aren't many of them at all. 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 as the amateur level, so you will return to complete them again throughout the game as your stats improve.
Project 8 also 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 click 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.
Tony Hawk's Project 8 also offers support for up to eight players online. There are six different online modes which include Trick Attack, Graffiti, Combo Mambo, Score Challenge, Combo Challenge and Walls. You're actually able to just skate around in a location and perform tricks to show off your skills, which is clever.. There is a vast range of leaderboards and you're even able to perform nail the trick online, which is appreciated. You'll want to play online, even if it's for a few achievement points. Speaking of which, the achievements have been scattered well through the game. If you stick solely to the career mode you won't get all 1000 points, so you'll need to put in a great deal of effort to achieve everything.
As previously mentioned, the engine has been completely rebuilt from the ground up. The game feels a lot more realistic and 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 whilst 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.
Visually the game is bright and colourful. The large seamless world is populated with a lot of NPCs. The animations and motion captured tricks make Project 8 look like a realistic world. The barren wastelands of THAW are no more. Like with every Tony Hawk title there are quite a few licensed songs in the game. None of the music particularly stands out, but Wolfmother do make an appearance. The sound effects are about what you would expect and the voice acting is adequate.
If you play through the story just just to get to the top eight then you'll definitely get there in under ten hours. However, there are plenty of reasons to come back to the challenges, considering your stats are always improving. You'll also need to come back to the game if you want all of the achievement points. Online is a lot of fun and already the game is very popular online. Even though the story mode isn't as long as we'd hoped it is appreciated that there are no goals which feel like "filler" material.
Tony Hawk's Project 8 is a solid game and a vast improvement upon the previous Tony Hawk games. The nail the trick option is a fantastic addition to the game and it really feels like you are actually creating and mastering your own trick. The story mode is a lot more focused and more enjoyable because you're actually completing challenges which relate to skating. The new engine that Neversoft have developed is a lot more realistic, but the frame rate issues are disappointing. This is only really a minor complaint though because Tony Hawk's Project 8 is easily the best Tony Hawk title since Pro Skater 4, highly recommended.