by Marty Demarest & r & & r & TONY HAWK's PROJECT 8 & r & For eight years, designers at the videogame company Neversoft have been trying to come up with something more interesting for me to do in a Tony Hawk skateboard game than skateboard. They've devised fiendish button combos -- thumb-manglingly complex sequences for me to tap out on the original PlayStation's controller. They've designed digital designer clothes for skaters to wear. They've licensed every notable skater in the world, crudely modeling them in polygons. And in a hideous misuse of the PlayStation 2's Internet connectivity, they even invited me to stick my own face on a skater in the game.
Now, as a seventh excuse for remaking a perfect game (aside from $), Neversoft has decided it would be fun to trap me in the suburbs and force me to escape. In order to transcend my humble starter home and limited wardrobe, I must become the stokin'est skate punk that Tony Hawk has ever seen (with his new super-scary digital eye-orbs). If I can rail-grind over enough shrubbery and let scroungey dudes take pictures of me while they out-skate me all over town, then I can catch the Hawk's eye and win the game or something.
Tony Hawk's Project 8 uses this set-up to force me into a ludicrous world. Everything has been designed not for skateboarding, but for skateboarding tasks. Leaps, tricks and sprints are not just things to do while virtually skateboarding. They've now been transformed into mini-games in which a few exact skateboarding techniques must be executed for points. Hundreds of opportunities to gain a reputation crowd the street, and there are plenty for every taste, but they take the free-flowing fun of skating and chop it into pieces.
The tricks themselves happen when I perform button-pressing sequences similar to the ones in fighting games. Arcane combinations of taps across the controller's buttons result, if timed right and correctly tapped, in the performance of super-cool maneuvers. But where the first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater achieved a tight alliance of real-world button-grabbing and game-world skate trickery, Project 8 separates the button presses from the trick. The secret sequences must be entered correctly before I have any sense of whether or not the trick is working. I simply must twitch, and hope I twitched well.
THE GOOD: There is one elegant aspect to Project 8 that makes skating in a videogame feel fun again. I can, at the press of a few buttons, slip into a slow-motion close-up of my feet, giving me precise control of how I flip the board and land the trick. It allows me to incorporate an extreme amount of style into an otherwise unyielding system.
THE BAD: I hate the world. Tony Hawk's Project 8 is an enormous skatepark of a suburbia that is cluttered and doesn't allow me any space -- mentally or virtuaphysically. I'm continually asked to dedicate myself to flurries of button presses instead of the urban escapes I want to find on my four wheels and slab of wood.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Tony Hawk's Project 8 robs skateboarding of its imaginative dexterity and replaces it with rapid precision.