As sports games mature with each new generation of consoles, they face the renewed dilemma of balancing the need to entice the causal player while still satisfying the whims of the hardcore fan. Developers of annual titles need to up the ante year in and year out. Now in it's eighth iteration, Tony Hawk skateboarding has once again managed to strike that necessary balance with Tony Hawk's Project 8. That balance is apparent in the newest addition to the series, Nail the Trick, which bridges the gap between the two extremes.
Essentially, Nail the Trick allows you to slow down time midair and use the dual joysticks to perform tricks. It simplifies some of the complicated button pushing that can overwhelm series newcomers and allows you to whip up a cool, high scoring custom trick fairly easily. It helps a causal player feel like a badass skater without pouring hours and hours into the game. For the hardcore fans though, Nail the Trick represents a chance to bring some creativity to trick creation and opportunity to rack up massive points. The feature is both a great introduction and a deep gameplay mechanic. And it's just a small portion of the hours and hours of depth of this title. In fact, it's probably the deepest game in the series.
Project 8 has ditched the storyline of American Wasteland in favor of presenting you with a simple goal: make it onto Tony Hawk's elite eight skating team. Of course you start out as an unknown amateur, the bottom of the skating foodchain at rank 200, and moving up requires you to accomplish the goals laid out in the game. There are no set game difficulty levels, rather each goal can be completed at three levels: amateur, pro and sick. You'll get some more cred by passing goals at the harder difficulty levels, and therefore rank up quicker, but you can still beat the game by passing a majority of the goals on the amateur level.
...Project 8 once again makes Tony Hawk feel like a game that anyone can pick up and have some fun with.
The style and types of goals are really where the depth of the game shines through, as there are numerous goals in each skating zone waiting to be conquered by you. Thankfully, a brash and bearded Jason Lee is around to guide you through some of the bigger goals, and video messages pop up from time to time to alert you to new ones. Others, like spot challenges, you discover as you skate by them. Spot challenges test your basic skills, like manualing, grinding, etc. There are so many goals that there isn't any need to frustrate yourself retrying a trick that you can't pull off, so can simply skate around and find something else to do.
While you're cruising around for goals you won't have to worry about load times. Project 8 doesn't have any loading between areas. That's right, it doesn't even need any load tunnels. It makes it feel like you're skating in the real world as you skate from area to area. Small details throughout make the world feel like your playground. Of course, just like skating in the real world, pedestrians can be a bother. For some unknown reason they also tend to get in the way more the more times you retry a goal. There's nothing quite like skating in a swimming pool and having your spectators move closer and closer until they're right down in there with you.
While Tony Hawk titles always feature some questionable physics at times, the bugs in this version kick it up a notch, particularly when you wipe out without bailing. In several situations your body can fly through the air, inexplicably defying gravity. It's not isolated either, it's a completely repeatable issue. Most of the time it's not that big of a deal, but it can occasionally be a hassle during goals where your actions must be accomplished in a specific area and the physics are prone to launching you out of it.
While there's a ton of content of in the single player game, the multiplayer in the PS3 version suffers. It lacks the online play found in the 360 version, therefore limiting the fun to two players in the comfort of your living room. While this does make for some intense skate battles but there's nothing that rivals the populated world of the single player game. It's a shame that the title's single player game feels much more like a multiplayer world than its actual multiplayer component.
Without online gameplay, the biggest addition the PS3 version brings to the table is its use of the tilt controller. Unfortunately, it's also the biggest disappointment. You can use tilt to control three aspects: balance, steering and tricks. You can turn them on or off separately, but you're probably going to want to leave them off. Even after fiddling around with sensitivity settings, there isn't much middle ground, for instance, between skating straight ahead and make a major turn. It's not that the tilt controls don't work, it's just that they aren't as good as using the regular control scheme. They don't give you the tight control you need for Tony Hawk. It's no wonder that the default control style is set with all tilt features turned off.
With a wide open, loadless world to skate, a seemingly endless parade of goals to seek out and perfect, and the addition of the excellent Nail the Trick feature, Project 8 once again makes Tony Hawk feel like a game that anyone can pick up and have some fun with. The next thing you know, though, you're hours into the game trying to land that last trick on sick. It easily hooks the newcomer and the hardcore and has plenty to do for both. Just like real life skateboarding, it's all about balance.