Reviewed: December 6, 2006
Released: November 14, 2006
I had a chance to play Tony Hawk’s Project 8 a few months ago on the PS3 and while it nowhere near compared to the 360 version I played that same day, it did look good and there is no denying the PlayStation controller has always been better suited for the Tony Hawk games.
And therein lies the rub – the PS3 is consistently proving that it cannot begin to compete with the Xbox 360, at least on cross-platform titles where comparisons are easy and quick to prove the PS3’s shortcomings. In a perfect editorial world I shouldn’t even be comparing PS3 games (apples) to 360 titles (oranges), but most serious gamers own both systems, so you need to know how these games compare.
Tony Hawk’s Project 8 has released in time for the launch of the PS3, but this is one title that should have been left in the oven to cook a bit longer. Project 8 returns to the roots of the Tony Hawk franchise, to the very essence of skateboarding in its purist form, but extreme sacrifices had to be made to either get this game ready for launch, or perhaps the PS3 just isn’t capable of doing what the 360 has already done.
Project 8 isn’t all that story driven. You are given a loose setup about Tony Hawk looking for the top eight borders to join his team and then you are off to rise through the ranks from 200 to number one, or at least somewhere in the top eight.
The game world is massive, divided into 11 distinct areas that are seamlessly integrated once you leave the map view. There were no discernable load times that I could tell, even when skating from opposite sides of the map. Several sections are locked out until you earn the right to skate there, but for the moment you start outside your house in a classic neighborhood setting with all of the expected (and a few unexpected) trick lines and icons to guide you.
There are literally hundreds and hundreds of challenges in Project 8 and almost all of them offer three variations of difficulty, Am, Pro, and Sick. These are often visually represented by colorful markers painted on the sidewalk or other parts of the level. For instance, you might spot a green marker on the curb that indicates the start of a grind trick. You start the grind and try to reach the next marker to get the Am rank. Keep going to the next marker and you get the Pro award, and if you can manage to find it and reach it, the final marker earns you the Sick ranking.
The classic Tony Hawk challenges are back, only now they are integrated right into the game world. Find the right person to talk to and these challenges will trigger, effectively sealing you into a limited area as you try to knockoff an impressive checklist of stunts and collection objectives in the standard two-minute limit. Am and Pro require certain numbers of objectives to be complete whereas Sick requires you to complete ALL challenges within the two minutes.
You can keep track of all the available challenges and events with your handy Nokia cell phone that synchs up with the on-screen navigation compass to show your available waypoints. Key people are outlined in orange and talking to them will trigger new challenges, events, or other updates that will appear on your phone.
As you rise through the ranks other people start to take notice and other pros will come to your town to challenge you. There are some pretty cool new concepts in place here. One such challenge is the Puzzle where you are required to perform a certain task – in my case I had to skate out into a parking lot, make a U-turn around a light post and return to the ledge without ever touching pavement. You are given several puzzle pieces like bars and even school busses that you must place in the overhead view to create your trick line. Then you have to do it. It’s certainly not as deep as the Create-a-Park, but it’s a fun diversion and implemented nicely.
The guys at Neversoft must be fans of 2K Sports, Amped 3 because they have borrowed two of the greatest concepts from that title. The first is crowd appreciation and your ability to impress the local bystanders with your skating skills, and the second is my personal favorite, the force bail mode where you try to see how far you can fly, how many bones you can break, and how big a hospital bill you can rack up. They even turn this into a painful bowling game.
But wait, I’ve saved the best for last. The new “Nail the Trick” mode is quite simply inspired and will have you playing and replaying small portions of the game and even the same jump over and over again. The way it works is that once you catch some air you click down on both the analog sticks to enter a focus mode. The camera zooms in to focus on the board, your feet, and your legs up to your waist. The rest of the world goes into a blur.
You now have direct control over your left and right legs and feet with the analog sticks, so pulling back on the left stick gets your foot out of the way and you can use your right foot (right analog stick) to spin and flip the board as much as you safely can before landing.
There are all sorts of subtle nuances at work here. You score more when the trucks are “up” but you can only flip the board and land when the tape is up. The game also monitors the speed and accuracy of your analog movements to determine the speed and rotation of the board, rewarding you with more points for more precise moves.
During this focus time you can also rotate your body using the LB and RB buttons, which effectively moves the camera as well. Not only does this give you big bonus points, but it also allows you to line up your next possible trick or object to continue the line.
The PS3 version allows you to use the motion-control abilities of the Sixaxis controller to control balance, turning, and tricks. You can toggle these three abilities independently allowing you to mix and match between analog stick and motion control, but for me none of the motion stuff worked. In a game that requires utmost precision, the Sixaxis is just way too sloppy. It’s fun to play around with but don’t try to compete or rise through the ranks using it.
There are dozens of locations around the world marked with a nail that indicates a “Nail the Trick” challenge, but you can also enter this focus mode and make this a part of any conventional series of tricks in a normal trick line pretty much anywhere in the game. The standard focus mode is also back and can be invoked as long as you have focus power built up in the orange meter by doing tricks.
As with any new release things have been added and others removed. Gone are graffiti tags, skitching on cars, and that obtrusive BMX bike that invaded American Wasteland. Also gone is the Create-a-Park, but with a world this large and dynamic it won't be missed. New to the game (and a long time coming if I might add) is the Quick Recover that lets you return to your board immediately after a spill with hardly any break in your momentum. But for those who are bailing on purpose, you can make use of the Y button to enhance your impact and bounce for additional broken bones and financial woes.
While you can’t actually tag the environment like you could in THAW, you will spot rival graffiti around the world. This indicates a lengthy trick line challenge that, if you can complete, will swap the existing graffiti with your own tag.
You can hop off your board and go caveman, but the designers have been careful to make sure that just about anything you need to do and any place you need to go can be reached on wheels as well as on foot – it might just take longer.
The PS3 version of Project 8 has removed any and all aspects of online support including multiplayer and online rankings and leaderboards. Again, I don’t know if this was because of time constraints to get the title out for launch or if the PS Network just can’t offer the same content as Xbox Live, but regardless the reason, it sucks!
Multiplayer was about 30-40% of the overall content and game value on the 360 version. Now we are reduced to the same old lame split-screen modes we were playing in the pre-Internet era. And they call this progress?
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Project 8 on the PS3 looks good, even great, until it starts to move. There are all sorts of camera problems that weren’t on the 360 game, and the framerate takes huge hits at random times, dipping into the unplayable “teen” range. This is unacceptable, especially for a game that has a native resolution support of 720p. The PS2 and original Xbox versions might not have the polish of the PS3 but at least they ran well.
Assuming you can deal with last-gen framerates and quirky cameras, Project 8 has a slick new interface that starts with a fun menu that blends in live video. Creating your character is just as fun as it’s always been, and you have plenty of choices for body designs and clothing and accessory options. You can return to your “bedroom” at anytime to redress with anything you may have unlocked or purchased at the pro shop.
The key phrase for this eighth installment of Tony Hawk is “motion capture”. In all the previous titles the artists and designers created all the skate motions and moves by hand then linked the tricks together with transitional frames. Project 8 makes use of Neversoft’s new state-of-the-art motion capture studio. Imagine a room at least 100-feet square, surrounded by 18 motion sensors. Powerful computers read location data as it is picked up from small, white, spherical sensors strategically positioned on the bodysuit and goggles of the "actor", and in this case, even the skateboard.
This data, which is accurate to within .5mm and recorded at 240fps for super slow-motion replays, can quickly be turned into realistic skeletal information and later used to animate more detailed character models with uncanny realism. Neversoft brought in 12 professional skateboarders and over a period of 60 days managed to capture some of the sweetest moves you are likely to see outside of an X-Games DVD. They even packed up their mo-cap gear and went to Tony Hawk’s private estate to capture the man himself on his own personal skateboard ramp.
This new technology is the core of an entirely rebuilt engine that allows for ultra-realistic motion in every facet of the game. Every subtle twist of the body, head movement, arm and leg position, and even the realistic bending of the board and the twisting of the trucks as you lean into turns are all perfectly recreated. Even the non-skaters wandering the streets are mo-capped.
Using the same mo-cap technology that drives the animation, the designers use these same sensors in a much closer configuration to do ultra-realistic facial animation and lip-synch on every character in the game. All of this data is then taken to the art department for the next phase.
Using full body scans and a 22 mega-pixel camera, the art department is able to capture all of the pros right down to freckles and nose hairs. Each pro was allowed to pick his own wardrobe, which was then scanned for textures, wrinkles, etc. The results are absolutely stunning.
There is also a large selection of video that shows off the talents of many of the pros featured in Project 8. Just when you start to think these crazy tricks could never be done in real-life, you can now watch them being performed, often by the people who invented the trick. And any Jason Lee fan will hurt themselves laughing when they watch his commercial for a golf instructional video.
Project 8 offers a soundtrack that Tony Hawk veterans have come to expect, loaded with licensed tracks, all carefully selected by the designers to not only keep you motivated during the game, but also reflect the unique culture of the skateboarding community. While I didn’t enjoy all of the music, none of it was terribly annoying.
Tony and all of the featured pros turn in adequate voice performances. It’s obvious these guys are much finer skaters than actors, but then again, the way the game is presented, you are pretty much dealing with them in real-life situations. Jason Lee is the only one who comes to the cast with any sort of fan expectations and he lives up to them in perfect style and performance.
The rest of the sound package is mostly creative ways to make your skateboard sound like it is rolling across countless surfaces. This includes grinding on pavement, picket fences, and even bamboo garden borders, which is actually quite fun and sounds like a xylophone. Perhaps the most painful effect is the breaking bones when you wipe out, either by accident or intentionally. I can just picture the Foley guy in the sound booth breaking chicken bones under a mic.
Project 8 is a massive game and one that should challenge even the most veteran players. Even the best of the best (the “sick testers”) at Neversoft require 25 hours to complete this game and that’s with them handing off the controller to the person most proficient with the trick at hand. What this translates to for most gamers is an experience that should last upwards of 100 hours, and don’t be disappointed if you never make it to the number one rank.
There are approximately 50 of the original motion capture sessions recreated in full 3D just waiting for you to unlock in the Bonus section of the game. You will be given full jog and camera control as you zoom, rotate, and study every precise trick these guys can pull off for the camera. You’ll easily loose a few hours in this mode watching the moves and playing director.
The lack of a reward system (achievement points) and the total absence of multiplayer definitely turns this game into a rental that you can probably knock off in a few days. It’s a shame because the 360 version continues to get played even today, while the PS3 version is already collecting dust.
By my own admission, I’m probably one of the worst Tony Hawk players in the world, but this game was so easy to pick up and play, and the new "Nail the Trick" only took me a few tries before I figured it out, and I was instantly hooked for life. You just can’t stop trying the same jumps over and over trying new flips and spins in hopes of besting your previous effort. It’s hypnotic.
Project 8 is a fun game and I love the new open-ended city design and integration of all the previous game modes right into the single player experience, but the quirky camera, poor framerate, and lack of any online content just makes this game feel like it was rushed out the door.
Tony Hawk’s Project 8 might be the smash hit of the holidays, especially with skateboarding fans…just not on this system. You definitely want to play this game, and if the PS3 is your only system then check it out, as a rental. If you have a 360 (or even a last gen system) then buy it for that.