It’s not often you wake up Saturday morning to a nice surprise on the Xbox Live Marketplace: a demo of Tony Hawk’s Project 8 and a new arcade title, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. I’m not much of a fan for clunky 2D fighting games, so I downloaded THP8. Is the only skateboarding game in town entering next-gen in style or killing time before EA swoops in with its own entry next year?
Initial impressions were not terribly positive. Graphically the game moves along at brisk pace with clean textures, detailed skaters, and nice environments. It doesn’t look noticeably better than the last Tony Hawk game at first glance, but that’s why they call it “first glance.” After spending the entire allotted 20 minutes eating blacktop (the new “nail the trick” mode takes some getting used to), I started to notice a lot of improvements in the animation department.
Your skater leans into turns now, the board reacts to cracks/rough surfaces realistically, and when rolling up a ramp the skater doesn’t stick out at a 45 degree angle anymore. I’m still not sold on the graphics from a gee-wiz standpoint, but Tony Hawk’s Project 8 sports fluid animations that have a greater impact than all the specular-bump-shine-mapping in the world.
Gameplay remains the same flip/grab/twist combo munching as in the past. You can still get off the board, but on-foot all the grace leaves your skater. Personally, I’ve always felt the game moved just a bit too fast, and that hasn’t changed from what I can see. Land a couple of tricks and you’ll notice your speed has increased to what I’d estimate to be mach 2. Blink and suddenly you’re on your face.
Tony Hawk Project 8 still favors gamers with very quick reaction times.
That is unless you slip into the menu and lower the speed of your skater. I’m unsure if this a demo-only feature or something the full game will contain. Lowering the skater speed from the default 10 to 5 created a much more enjoyable experience for this gamer, but your mileage (and preference) will vary.
The focus-mode returns, but annoyingly it’s mapped to pressing down on the left-thumbstick. Why?! Despite all the talk about making Tony Hawk more friendly to gamers who use the thumbstick, Neversoft has gone ahead and made it all too easy to accidentally activate the focus-mode mid-trick. I’m hoping the final game will allow for controller customization.
I complain so loudly about focus-mode being mapped to the left-thumbstick click because the new “nail-the-trick” mode is activated by pressing in on both thumbsticks. If you press the left stick in ahead of the right stick you’ll activate focus-mode instead, which can be confusing as both modes appear similar graphically.
Overall the demo, which according to word on the street is several months old, does a great job of showing off the new mode (nail the trick), the return to realism, and the next-gen graphics Tony Hawk fans should be looking forward to playing with in early November. Verdict? Download it!