(Activision; Xbox 360, PlayStation2)
GAMER The latest incarnation of the greatest skateboard video game series ever is here, and it's a mixed bag. Wait, have any skateboard video games besides this one made it past part one? Anyway, the Xbox 360 version will both please and infuriate fans of the series, just like life. Players who are new to the game will be better off picking up an old copy of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 or 4, because that's when this franchise peaked.
One of the major differences between the early Tony Hawk games and the newer ones is that there's an involved story now. The early versions were more focused on digital shredding, while the new versions have a bunch of silly dialogue and some variation of a rags-to-riches story. The story this time: Tony Hawk is assembling a skate team that will be eight skaters deep. He's searching for the top skaters to fill the spots. You start out ranked 200th and have to skate hard to make the top eight. When you get there, a skateboard shoots out of the Xbox 360 disc drive. It's incredible and dangerous.
The controls, as always with this franchise, are consistent and responsive. Fans of the Hawk games will feel right at home and will be ripping immediately. Players new to the game won't have trouble figuring out which button makes you ollie and which makes you grind. There is, however, one glaring update to the control scheme, and that is how a manual is performed. Ever since the manual was introduced in THPS2, players have had to quickly tap down-up or up-down to get into a wheelie position. Now all you have to do is press a button, and voilà — you're manualing. The old up-down still works, but the automatic manual button takes the fun out of the combo game. Manuals, reverts, and spine transfers link tricks together for huge points and enjoyable challenges. Now you don't even have to revert out of a transition to initiate or continue a combo. Curses. This single development in the game will make THPS fans want to break the disk in two, and you should too. But if you decide not to break it, you'll be rewarded with some amusing junk.
Progression through the game is achieved by the completion of challenges. All the usual suspects are present — grind hella far, launch hella high, do hella tough tricks — but there's one new sexy challenge: Nail the Trick. To do this you must click the analog sticks, at which point the camera zooms in on your board and time slows way down. Each stick controls a foot, and you have to do lots of incredible tricks. It's kinda neat. It looks similar to the intro of Girl skate video Yeah Right.
As you'd expect on a next-generation system, the graphics are solid. But who cares — graphics have looked amazing since the Dreamcast came out in 1999. Until we're controlling what appear to be real humans, games all have about the same level of niceness when it comes to looks. New bail animations and sound effects do make a great update.
Lots of guests are incorporated, such as skaters Bob Burnquist, Paul Rodriguez Jr., Ryan Sheckler, and leading man Jason Lee. Lee, of My Name Is Earl fame, was once a pro skateboarder and a great one at that. If you don't believe me, go buy Spike Jonze's 1991 short, Video Days, and buckle up for brain-exploding skating. The guests love talking about tricks and sometimes pass along tips to help you progress though the game. They are pretty nice guys.
The Xbox Live online experience is hella amazing. You play online with people, which is nice when you don't feel like playing against computers or when you don't feel like actually going outside and skating. But just go outside and skate, for goodness’ sake. (Nate Denver)