Tony Hawk's Project 8 - hands-on

Here are the three words that defined our hands-on time with Tony Hawk's Project 8: Nail the Trick. While Tony Hawk's American Wasteland was a quickie port for last year's Xbox 360 launch, THP8 already looks, feels and plays like the next-generation potential star it is - and a good part of that is due to this new control scheme.

Nail the Trick is a much-talked about new game goal and control mechanic for pulling off precision kickflips and board rotations in real time. It's simple:Ollie off a steep wall, a set of stairs or some other deadly drop (and there are many throughout THP8's sprawling city) and click down on both analog sticks. Suddenly, the world slows down and the camera zooms in on your board. Flick the left stick and your left foot rotates the board lengthwise; the right foot spins the board on the other axis. Precise timing will let you change the flip and spin directions in the air, but if you don't get your feet aligned on grip tape in time for landing,it's broken ankles for you.

Nail the Trick took us about ten or fifteen minutes to really understand, but after that brief (and amusingly painful) learning curve, it made total sense. You'll find Nail the Trick goals around the world, but you can also throw them into any combo - start with a grind, ollie off a drop, nail a few tricks, land with a manual, pop over the stairs and nail more tricks, then land it for a killer sense of accomplishment. Nail the Trick feels great in every sense of the phrase.

Of course, not landing it can be just as much fun. A new bail goal takes your most frustrating, painful moments and spins them into pure comedy goal. How far can you fly without a board? How many bones can you break on impact? Twisting your skater's body into a pretzel of pain doesn't come as easily as you might think. But if you've been polishing your Burnout skills, this gameplay goal will make perfect, sadistic sense.

Another thing that struck us from our hands-on time was the sense of freedom. There's truly no loading times; the world is always loaded into memory, and you unlock more parts of it as you bust tricks and achieve goals. You can totally pick and choose what you want to do, at what pace, and in what order.