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Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3
Review By:  J. Michael Neal
Developer:  Neversoft
Publisher:  Activision
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Extreme Sports
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  Yes
Accessories:  Memory Card, USB adapters
Date Posted:  4-10-02

A few years back Tony Hawk's Pro Skater burst onto the gaming scene, taking many by surprise with it’s incredibly deep trick-based system and highly interactive environments. Since then Activision and Neversoft have been cashing in on the franchise’s success, building a new line of O2 branded ‘extreme sports’ titles around it. Since the debut of THPS it’s hard to find an alterative sports title that hasn’t borrowed from the series in one way or another, but none come close to matching Tony in his dominance over the genre. With this year’s installment it seems like the series will once again reign supreme over gaming, because much like the man himself, Tony Hawk is the best in its class, bar none, and will be from a long time to come.

Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 is exactly what we’ve come to expect from a THPS sequel: addictive game play, spot on controls, ripping soundtrack, brilliant level designs, and near infinite replay value. Although the series is arguably lacking in innovation these days, it more than makes up for that in sheer refinement, adding enough improvements and additions to each installment to both warrant a sequel and eclipse its predecessor. This year’s most high-profile additions, the ‘revert’ and its online capabilities, help to push THPS3 to a whole new level of gaming bliss and make this a must-have for any fan of the series.

Like any good developer Neversoft knows how to build on what makes a franchise successful while adding enough fresh ideas to keep gamers coming back for more. For anyone who’s played a Pro Skater before, THPS3 should be immediately familiar. Rookies, on the other hand, might be overwhelmed by the size and depth of the game though. For anyone who hasn’t played a Tony Hawk before, getting a feel for the trick system and level interplay might take a while, luckily a thorough and handy tutorial explains both the basics and finer points of game play, that is after you crawl out from whatever rock you’ve been living under. The learning curve isn’t too steep, within ten minutes even the most green of novices can be out there thrashing with the best of 'em. Even vets might want to check out the tutorial though, as it explains the procedure and purpose of the new ‘revert’ and how it helps expand the game’s already dynamic play mechanics into a whole new beast.

As previously mentioned one of this year’s new editions is the ‘revert’. Put simply, a revert is a move done while coming off a ramp that allows you to continue your trick combo after landing. The revert’s not only easy to execute (simply tap the R2 button while landing), but along with new "hidden tricks" and thousands of new possible combinations, open up a whole new world of sick-trickdom. Doing for vert skaters what the addition of the manual in THPS2 did for street skaters, the revert allows players to link dozens of tricks together, without ending the combo, in an effort to pull off six figure combos. While this definitely keeps the excitement level high, such over-the-top antics constantly reminds you that you’re playing only a video game.

The series has never been considered very ‘sim-like’, yet as it progresses, each Pro Skater manages to move further and further away from reality. While the first game, for the most part, could best be described as "exaggerated", this game falls under "on what planet?" For a real expert a single string of grinds can pack up to a few dozen different tricks and hundreds of thousands of points. Pulling off sixteen or seventeen tricks in a single combination may be cool as hell, but kills whatever sense of realism that’s managed to cling to the series through three incarnations. But, if a lack of realism is the only price one must pay for this much fun, I think we can all look the other way on this.

Basic gameplay is pure Tony Hawk, remaining practically unchanged through three installments. Perform as many high scoring grinds, grabs, kicks, manuals, and lip tricks before the time runs out while completing a number of level based objects to move forward in the game, unlocking new areas and building character stats along the way. The more tricks you can string together the more points they net, so building a chain and keeping it alive quickly becomes the best, and most challenging, strategy for the game.

Being able to trick off of anything and continue one string for as long as possible has always been the bread and butter of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series and Neversoft’s uncanny knack for level design has always been the primary reason why. Each level gives players more interactivity then most could dare dream. Each installment brings more expansive levels, giving players progressively better race lines to exploit. This time around any route can become killer, any gap can be cleared, any height can be reached, and every edge can be grinded, allowing gamers to pull off some truly wild stuff if they know how to keep the good combo alive.

Neversoft packed a lot of levels into THPS3, and all are spectacular. A host of real-world locations like Rio, L.A., Tokyo, and the great, white north itself, Canada along with settings like a foundry, a trailer park, and a cruise ship make up the player’s new stomping grounds. Even a few hidden levels from previous Tony Hawks can be found with a little time and patents. For anyone bold enough to think they can do a better job at level design than the guys and gals over at Neversoft, THPS3 brings back it’s Create-a-Park mode, bigger and better than ever before. The size and depth of the feature has been increased, giving players even more options for building even bigger skate parks. There are twice as many items for which to populate your budding skate parks with, as well as an increase in the maximum size of the file itself. While the mode does allow users to build some pretty complex settings, the cumbersome controls and daunting menus turn level creations into an arduous task, time-consuming task that only the most hardcore will stick with.

In terms of modes to choose from, THPS3 retains the Free Skate and Single Race options of the previous games, as well as the Head-to-Head and Career modes. The Career, however, still makes up the bulk of the single player experience. The goal of the Career Mode is to build up your character and bring home the gold from various best-run-out-of-three competitions as you play through the levels, completing objectives and collecting hidden items. Hidden items include everything from new decks to stat increasing icons that can be found littered about the levels to actual footage of the real Pro Skaters. Each level has to be played dozens of times by every character in order to complete every objective, and a specific number of objectives have to be reached before unlocking the next level, so it could be days before you clear a stage enough to move on to the next one.

Most objectives follow the same pattern as the previous games, break certain high scores, collect certain icons, spell out certain words, and so on, but some objectives have been randomized, changing between characters for a particular level. For example, the first time through a level you might be asked to Crooked Grind a specific rail hanging high above the streets below. The next time through you may be asked to do a Kick Flip a specific gap. This goes a long way to help combat the tedium of playing the same levels over and over while at the same time forces the player to use the entire array of tricks.

As always THPS delivers when it comes to multiplayer mayhem. Few games can create such a frenzied atmosphere as Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 and a room full of friends. This time around players can also test out the new and old multiplayer modes, like Splat, Graffiti, and King of the Hill, online thanks to the game’s build-in support for USB network adaptors and the Gamespy player matching software. You heard right, the PS2 is going online, and it’s bringing Tony and friends with it! This may be a fun bonus for gamers who have the equipment to participate, but most people won’t be so fortunate, while others won’t take the time to get all the extra gear required for going online. And with Sony’s official broadband network launch on the horizon going through all the trouble of buying a 3rd party network adaptor and setting it up just to get a few good months of Tony Hawk in before everyone else does might not be a sound investment. It is unknown whether or not Playstation 2 players will have the ability to go head-to-head with their PC brethren after the PS2 officially goes online, but it definitely is a possibility.

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