reviews\ Nov 12, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 - GC - Review

There are many skateboarding titles out there that try to reinvent what this game does, but when it comes down to it there is only one extreme sports game that delivers every time without exception.  Of course, I am talking about the Tony Hawk line of skateboarding games that has been taking the console world by storm for well over three years and running.  Every time a new Tony Hawk game is announced I find myself saying “how can it possibly get any better?”, and I am always in denial that it will happen until I actually play the game.  Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 is no exception. 


Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 takes all the best elements from the past three games and polishes them to a blinding shine.  The career mode is chock full of interesting tasks and objectives, none of which repeat regardless of whether you start a new career with a different skater.  The improved combo system will keep gamers trying to get a 1.5 million score combo for hours, and the enhanced visuals will keep on-looker’s jaws in the downright and slacked position.  It all adds up to a skateboarding experience that gives you the impression that it cannot possibly be improved upon, and that is exactly what I would think if I didn’t already know better by now.


While the myriad improvements made to THPS4 may not be initially apparent, you’ll soon realize that the seemingly minor tweaks it has received in the gameplay department add up to a incredibly improved overall experience.  The most obvious modification in this game is the absence of timed runs in career mode.  Rather, you’ll be able to skate around each super-detailed locale without the added stress of having to watch the clock.  Every stage still has unique objectives that, once a certain amount is completed, will unlock a new stage, but this time around you’ll need to talk to various people through the stage in order to attempt an objective.  You’ll be able to recognize people or objects that you can interact with by the easily-observable arrow floating above their head.  Just skate up to one of these people and tap the X-button to start a dialogue and attempt an objective.  If at any time during the attempt you feel like you have no hope of completing it, you can simply hit the start button and choose “retry last objective” to immediately start over. 


The lack of time restrictions really gave the developers more freedom to create objectives that are unlike anything seen in a Tony Hawk game.  Take the tennis mini-game objective for example: you’ll be able to play a round of tennis, using your skateboard as a racket, with a snobby French guy, winning will “net” you some cash, a skill point, and bring you one step closer to unlocking a new stage.  Other objectives include such things as laying with your back against the board in a slalom-esque competition, shopping cart racing, and baseball – yes, baseball.  Each level will have around 16 unique objectives to keep you busy, and there are 190 in total.  Needless to say, You’ll be getting your money’s worth.


The levels in THPS4 are certainly worth mentioning as they are larger, more intelligently laid out, and offer way more opportunity to rack up sky-high scores.  The more you skate around in them, the more it becomes surprisingly evident that the developers paid an excruciating amount of attention to detail.  What’s more, unlike in previous games where there was only really one way to get to that just-out-of-reach cash-spot, THPS4 offers multiple methods of approach.  Your overall score is not accumulated when not in objective mode but you’ll undoubtedly spend a lot of time just skating around and attempting big-score combos thanks to the clever level design.


While the play-control system feels tighter and more cohesive than even THPS3, it also introduces a spine-transfer maneuver that allows you to transfer between two back-to-back ramps with ease.  This is performed simply by holding the L and R trigger buttons while in the air.  But the new spine-transfer maneuver can also be used to land safely from misplaced vert-tricks since it essentially levels out your board.  It is not a revolutionary change in the system but it certainly enhances an already awesome set-up.


Visually, you can expect larger environments, sharper textures, more transition animations, and an almost-constant 60 frames per second.  Every skater looks exceptionally detailed and resembles their real-life counterparts with eerie precision.  The crash animations have also been noticeably improved, depending on the severity of the crash your skater will react accordingly.  While this was achieved to an extent in the previous games, it has never looked this good – or bad.  Neversoft has opted to use a completely new graphics engine for this game, and while the results are undeniably similar, they are also undeniably better.  It is easy to just wander around each level peeping the various detailed sights, like a two-on-two basketball game for example that sports physics so realistic you’ll stare, mouth agape, for at least a few minutes wondering how much time exactly Neversoft spent constructing it. 


Hawk fans have come to expect a diverse line up of music in THPS games and they will not be disappointed.  Some gamers may complain that the musical line up in THPS4 is a little too diverse, with old-school being the order of the day, but you can be assured that you won’t have to listen to any mainstream corporate-funded BS tunes, as is the case with other, less respectable, extreme sport franchises.  Sound effects are fully believable though, understandably, rehashed from the past THPS games.  Grinding, reverting, crashing, it all sounds great.  Voice acting, and there is a lot since talking to people will be your main task, is a little over-the-top but borders more on humorous than it does cheesiness. 


Basically, what we’ve got here is a Tony Hawk game that refines and polishes nearly every conceivable aspect of the franchise and then goes the extra mile.  Some of the stuff you’ll run across in this game, especially the mini-games, are downright surprising with their off-kilter approach and sometimes hilarious payload.  The possibility of pulling off that impossible score is one step closer thanks to the new spine-transfer move and while a bit more innovation might have enhanced this already stellar production, I am hardly inclined to complain.  As is always the case with a new Tony Hawk game: get it, it rocks like you won’t believe and you will not be disappointed. 



Gameplay: 9.2
As always, the THPS franchise outplays any competition in the genre.  I mean, this is why we play the game, is it not?  For its spot-on gameplay and intricate yet simple trick system.  The tiny d-pad or over-inflated L-stick don’t seem ideal for the game but after a hour or so you’ll feel right at home.

Graphics: 8.7
Better, definitely better.  Revolutionary?  No.  Expect around the same improvement in visuals as the bump from THPS2 to THPS3.  There are numerous new animations for things like transitioning between moves, bailing, and being idle, and the improved texturing and broader landscape really put this game at the head of its class.

Sound: 8.5
With over 35 musical tracks to rock out to while jamming THPS4 you definitely won’t want to hit mute.  The sound effects are all rock-solid though rehashed.  Voice acting is respectable, though a tad over-the-top at times.

Difficulty: Medium
As you progress through the game the objectives that you’ll be required to perform get increasingly difficult, so much so that unless you’ve been practicing non-stop for three days straight you’ll have a heck of a time completing them on the latter levels of the game.  But really, this game is only as hard as you want it to be, it all depends on how badly you want that top-score or that new level. 

Concept: 7.4 
I’d venture to say that by now THPS isn’t the most innovative concept on the planet, but that would be judging a book by its cover.  While skateboarding games are nothing new, you need only step foot into the THPS4 universe to realize just how innovative this game is, even compared to the previous Tony Hawk games. 

Multiplayer: 8.1

All the multiplayer modes from Tony Hawk 3 are back for your gaming pleasure, with score attack and combo mambo being the new additions.  Though it should be noted that the Gamecube version lacks goal attack and capture the flag, both of which the PS2 and Xbox ports do have.


Overall: 9.3

Some gamers may think that an occasional rental will be enough for them to get their “Hawk” on, but they’d be mistaken.  The sheer amount of objectives and various other things to do in THPS4 makes it a game that can be played for far longer than a normal person will have time for, and still not be completely tapped.  Yes, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 is a gift that keeps on giving.


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