Skateboarding is fun. To see how fun, throw yourself down 16 stairs, and when you arrive at bottom, absorb the brutal concrete smack that surges up through the bones of your feet to crush your ankles, knees and spine. If that doesn't sound pleasurable, then at least know Tony Hawk's Project 8's virtual reenactment is massively so. Score one for gaming versus the real world.
If you skate, or if you've ever wanted to, the lifelike physics and painstakingly motion-captured animation in THP8 make grinding a handrail or hammering a kick-flip down a stair-set a detailed event, portrayed with authentic weight and balance.
Realistic or not, Tony Hawk's Project 8 still plays largely like the same arcade combo-worship that’s been rocking the public for seven years. It's ridiculous scores and ridiculous goals wrapped in a generic representation of skate ethos, squealing with mall-punk clichés like "big air" and "bust out" that should force any hardcore skaters to cringe at the shameless reaming of their culture.
Yet undeniably, the game is absurd fun. The new engine, plus Nail the Trick, a slow motion tool that gives you precise control over footwork, plus a few more ditties, dropped into a truthfully free-roaming skate heaven cooks an undeniably addictive next-gen video drug.
The environment is basically one huge world divided into themed areas like "school" and "slums." Free-roaming is no gimmick here, as you'll journey unhampered by the awkward loading transitions (and goofy story) of American Wasteland. In essence, you bound here and also here, and anything you find highlighted in orange is a goal.
There are three skill levels for everything, meaning both novices and masters can freak, but the lack of quick travel can sour the merriment - when a desired goal lies on the opposite side of the Earth, prepare for a long push-mission towards it. Still, being able to voyage liberally is welcome.
The photo challenges and pro challenges are the best new-fangled goals. For photo snaps, you do a particular trick on or over a specific rail or gap. And the pro tasks are relevant to what the pros are actually known for, so with Daewon Song you'll get creative and move obstacles around, but with Paul Rodriguez you'll be gliding hot shiz-nite down handrails.
Nail the trick is also a fun diversion, switching to slow motion while the camera zooms to your legs. The left and right analog sticks become your left and right feet, so you can fashion your own madness, flicking and reflicking the board in all directions till you're spent.
Also fresh is crowd reaction and rag-doll falls. When you pull tricks near humans, they'll cheer and give you coins painfully referred to as "stokens," which you'll use to buy new tricks and clothes and whatnot. And when a trick fails and you fall, you can make your avatar bounce off the ground and shatter all bones to earn senseless hospital bills. There's even a money-counter that instantly calculates how many tens of thousands of dollars your life was worth.
Multiplayer is fundamentally the same, but eight player Live wars over who can hit the most objects are still entertaining. Also notable is the fact that the PS3 version lacks any online play at all, so if you're into the next-gen thing, this is your choice.
Some features simply haven't changed much since 1999, but others are deliberate throwbacks. For example, Classic mode. Since the series' inception, we've been tenderizing thumbs to smash five whatevers, find the secret whatever, and achieve the "sick" score. Some gamers love it, others (like us) are tired of it. But it's cool that it's here. Also still breathing are the goofy goals, which range from amusing to annoying. You'll skydive (totally Mountain Dew extreme, bro!), fetch golf balls, and help bears get dancing lessons.
The heritage continues with a music selection that varies wildly in quality. While there are some tracks here that match perfectly with skating, like a banger from underground hip hoppers Living Legends and Slug, they're unfortunately balanced with dubious lazy punk anthems about hood-rats that must have focus tested well.
Though a slowness to change and evolve hinders Tony Hawk Project 8's greatness, the developers sank a gargantuan lump of time into making the skating feel genuine, and it's enough to revitalize what is broadly the same game with a few newborn adoptions. You'll be satiated just wandering from spot to spot, executing arthritis-inducing mayhem that looks real without the real risk of death. And while you may ponder why the developers built a new engine and then mostly squandered the potential for originality, their staggering devotion to a piece of wood with four wheels will still daze you.