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Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4
Review By:  Nick Arvites
Developer:  Neversoft
Publisher:  Activision
# of Players:  1-8
Genre:  Extreme Sports
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  Yes
Accessories:  Memory Card, Network Adaptor
Date Posted:  1-7-03

The Tony Hawk series has revolutionized the extreme sports genera. However, the series seemed to become stagnant by the third installment. The innovation seemed to die. In fact, games like Aggressive Inline actually took innovative strides past the Tony Hawk series by adding in different gameplay styles that made the game more fun. Not to be outdone, the fourth installment of the Tony Hawk series brings back the innovation to the series and completely raises the bar that all other extreme sport games will try to reach.

The gameplay style has been completely changed. Instead of getting two minutes to attempt goals in a level, players can skate around and activate goals at will. In other words, you have unlimited time in the levels. If you do not complete a goal, you do not have to go through all the menus. You simply just pause the game and restart the goal from a provided checklist. Each individual goal still has a time limit, but being able to explore levels without a time pressure actually makes the game less frustrating. Most of the goals may seem familiar. Traditional favorites (or un-favorites) like collection S-K-A-T-E and racking up high scores return. We also see new challenges like collecting C-O-M-B-O (collect all the letters in one combo) and other level-specific challenges. One major change that many will notice is in the Career Mode. Instead of having to perform the same challenges over and over with the 14 pros, you only have to do them once. Before you say this is too easy, there is a catch. Neversoft has added "Pro Challenges" to the career mode. Each pro skater has their own specific challenge found on one of the stages. These challenges are more difficult than the regular ones and have some sort of relation to a feat done by that pro in real life. For example, Tony Hawkís Pro Challenge takes place on a rooftop. You have to pull tricks over a roof gap. After each series of tricks, the gap becomes larger and the tricks become harder until finally ending with performing special tricks such as the famed 900 over a huge gap. Bam Margeraís Pro Challenge is a take on one of his stunts from MTVís Jackass. He rides a shopping cart down a hill, then rides it down with hurdles and finally rides it down slalom style. By performing these challenges, you unlock the proís video. Secret skaters, levels and cheat codes are unlocked at the Skate shop by collecting money throughout the stages or by performing the challenges. If the initial list of goals looks short, donít worry. You eventually unlock more goals to complete after a certain percentage of the game is completed.

New to the series are mini-games. Several stages have certain points in them where you can activate a mini-game to earn money. In the college stage, you can play tennis using your board as a racket. In San Francisco, you mash the buttons on your controller to save sea lions from a shark. There are more, but Iíll let you discover them for yourselves. Whatís the reward for playing these games? You get cash. Each game has a limited amount of cash to give out. You can keep playing it to earn some money. Aside from that, theyíre actually either fun to play or funny to watch (Zoo...thatís all I have to say).

Neversoft has also added a few new tricks in Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4. First, the addition of spine transfers allows for some really interesting trick combinations. In order to do a spine transfer, you go up a spine ramp and press both triggers while in the air. You then transfer to the other side. If youíve played Aggressive Inline, you know the drill because it is pretty much the same. You can now skitch behind vehicles (much like in Aggressive Inline). To do this, skate behind a vehicle and press up. Your skater will grab the back of the vehicle. To stay attached, you need to watch your balance meter (similar to a grind or manual). Aside from these new additions and a few, more spectacular (and unrealistic) special tricks, the trick list is pretty much the same as the other Tony Hawk games.

The Create-a-Skater option has progressed smoothly. Before, the feature did not seem to actually work in practice because players were fairly limited in what they could do. Now, the option resembles the Create-a-Wrestler option present in the wrestling games of a few years ago. The mode is still further behind than it should be, but the progressive steps between games were huge. Hair actually looks right and you can now tattoo all parts of the body. The one drawback is the clothing. There are numerous options, but there should be even more (especially more logos for shirts). Also, hats and helmets negate long hair. Hopefully Neversoft tweaks this by the next installment of this series.

Graphics have come a long way in this series. It is not really noticeable at first because the addictive gameplay takes most of your attention. If you compare this title to the previous three games, the graphical changes seem to jump out. This is the best looking extreme sports game out there. Skaters are starting to resemble their real-life counterparts more closely than before. Stages are now massive and have people walking around in them. Besides people, there is also traffic, carnival rides and many other moving objects that make the world seem more realistic and fleshed out instead of the closed off feel that most stages in the previous game had. Of course it doesn't look as good as the Xbox or GameCube versions, but THPS4 for PS2 holds it's own pretty well.

Many people may gripe with the soundtrack. While Tony Hawk 3 (and to a lesser extent Tony Hawk 2) featured a soundtrack made up of mainstream artists, Tony Hawk 4ís soundtrack consists of bands that 90% of the people playing may not have heard of. Regardless, there is a good mix of punk, ska, metal, rap and hip hop as well as a few tracks recorded by a few of the skaters featured in the game.

This game falls short in multiplayer. Sure, they added a few new modes such as Capture the Flag and Score Challenge, but they are only good for two players or online games. Some of the better multiplayer modes are Graffiti (tricks on objects mark it with your color) and Score Challenge (whoever hits the set score first wins). The addition of online play in the PS2 version is a nice one, and in practice it works smoothly and creates a decent player community. Tony Hawk isn't as suited to online play as a lot of other games (like sports) are though, so in the end it isn't that important of an addition. It's still nice to see it, especially since the Xbox version doesn't feature it (I smell a payoff).

The replay value of this game depends on the gamer. Some people can play the Tony Hawk games for months on end without getting tired of them, while others shelf them once they finish the goals. If youíve played other Tony Hawk games, you should have an idea of what to expect with the replay factor. Remember, this game is not as repetitive, so you will not get sick of the career mode as quickly as in the previous games. Even with this in mind, I found this game just as addictive in the short term but quickly lost interest when another game hit my desk.

HIGHS:

  • Took innovative steps
  • Pro Challenges
  • Good Create-a-Skater
  • Online skating in several different gameplay modes

LOWS:

  • The worst looking version of THPS4

FINAL VERDICT:

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 proves that a series doesn't have to become stagnant over time. Apparently the designers saw games like Aggressive Inline and followed that example, and the result is a welcome step forward for the series. Throw in the addition of online play, and this is perhaps the best THPS (for any platform) yet.

Overall Score: 9.2

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