reviews\ Nov 10, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 - PS2 - Review

Before the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (THPS) was released for PSX there were no extreme sports titles on the market, or at least none that were worth playing.  This game set the standards for what an extreme game should be and the successive THPS releases furthered this trend, shaping the newly formed genre.  After getting a little taste of the newest game, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, at this year's E3; it was obvious that this trend would once again continue.  With its nicely designed levels and the new variety of unique challenges, THPS4 offers gameplay that's heads above the rest.

As usual, there are a variety of pro skateboarders to choose from, including: the man himself - Tony Hawk, Kareem Campbell, Bam Margera, Rodney Mullen, Andrew Reynolds, and more.  If one of the pros doesn't tickle your fancy, you can go ahead use the updated create-a-skater function to create a skater from scratch.  Not much has changed in terms of the basics of the game.  Tricks are performed just as they always have been; the special meter is just how it was in THPS3 and the physics of the game don't seem any different, which is fine because they felt great before.  In case you're not aware, the THPS series has never been geared to be a realistic skateboarding simulation.  Instead, much of it is fantasy, since the tricks that can be pulled off and strung together are typically pretty insane. 

So then what's new in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4?  Actually, quite a bit.  To begin with, the way that the challenges are completed in the primary career mode is totally different than it has been in the past.  Instead of having only two minutes to attempt all of the given challenges within a particular level, there is now no overall time limit when entering a level.  Initially, you start out in free skate mode without knowing any of the challenges for the level.  To find out what the goals are you must locate characters stationed throughout the level that have blue arrows over their heads.  Pressing the circle button when near a character allows you to talk to them and learn what one of the challenges is.  At this point you can attempt the challenge or end it via the start menu.  When a challenge is accepted a timer usually starts, but the amount of time for each task does vary.  So, for example, when completing a high score challenge you'll get the standard two minutes, but when collecting a group of objects you might get significantly less time.

Also available through the start menu is a list of the known challenges for the level; so as you talk to the different characters the goals are each added to this list and you can immediately attempt any known challenge by selecting it.  This format results in less downtime since the level does not need to be restarted continuously when playing as before.  Having to initially find all the characters really adds another dimension to the game and often is helpful when learning a level. The characters are all extremely unique and often pretty funny too, especially the winos who slur pretty badly when talking about a challenge.  The challenges themselves are now significantly more diverse and far more plentiful than in THPS3 too.  Some examples are: collecting the S-K-A-T-E letters, collecting the C-O-M-B-O letters in one combo, participating in luge and slalom races on your skateboard, and saving a man from the hungry sea lions in San Francisco.

Completing challenges opens up new levels and awards you with stat points to increase the physical characteristics of your skater.  The nice thing about this game is that if you're not very good at it, you should still be able to open up a majority of the levels without getting stuck.  The total number of goals is now 190 and this also includes the new pro challenges, which are opened up by completing enough regular challenges.  These are different for each skater and are truly challenging.  An example of a pro challenge is being a stuntman in a movie, having to avoid enemy gunfire / explosives and more; all while maintaining a combo and finally landing in a helicopter.  Needless to say, these new pro challenges are pretty cool and they allow for a ton more gameplay than before.

There are nine new levels that are larger, more complex, and far more interactive than before.  In THPS4 you get to skate around environments such as a college campus, downtown San Francisco, Alcatraz island, a zoo, the Chicago level from Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX 2, and more.  The levels are all designed in such a way that trick lines can be extremely long and well planned out.  The amount of grinding that's possible in this game is simply incredible and the result is combo scores that are bigger than ever.

Also new in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 is the opportunity to earn money in career mode, which can be done by completing challenges ($250 each) or collecting $100 bills that can be found in various places within each level.  This cash can be used for a variety of purposes, including opening up cheats, funny outfits, secret skaters, boards, and the last two levels need to be paid for before they can be played ($15,000 each).

In addition to career mode, there's a single session mode, which allows you to set high scores and new level records within two minutes.  Free skate lets you practice without worrying about challenges, time limits or points.  The typical 2-player game modes are also available for trashing with friends.

However, the network/internet game mode is really where it's at.  To take advantage of this sweet feature, all you need is a PS2 network adapter and an internet or LAN connection.  The setup for this mode is quick and simple.  Once a connection is established, up to 8 players can join in on the skating action in unique game modes such as trick attack, score challenge, combo mambo, slap!, king of the hill, graffiti, goal attack, capture the flag, horse, and free skate.  Another cool aspect of the online mode is that it's possible to have teams.  So, for example, you can play 4 vs. 4 score challenge in which your team must attempt to get a certain combined score before the other team does.  When using a broadband connection, the gameplay was responsive and completely lag-free.  However, the game was not tested with dial-up.  My only disappointment with the network play is that you can only run into other skaters in certain game modes as other times you just go through them, which isn't very realistic.

In THPS2 manuals were introduced and THPS3 brought us the revert.  New for THPS4 is the ability to skitch cars and other moving objects (like elephants), amazing flatland tricks, and now spine transfers can easily be executed with the press of a button.  Skitching cars allows you to build up a lot of speed and it often must be used for challenges in career mode.  Once you grab onto a car, you must balance just as you do with a grind or else you'll take a spill pretty quickly.  Flatland tricks, which look very cool, are done by pressing combinations of the circle, square, and triangle buttons after a manual is started.  Tricks such as a handstand, pogo, or a half cab impossible can be seamlessly added into combos for some big scores.  The great thing about the new spine transfer button (R2 or L2) is that it's possible to smoothly transition from ramp to ramp and it can also be used in other situations, making it much easier to control the skaters overall.

THPS4 offers more dimensions than any other game of its kind and the new format makes it significantly more enjoyable to play.  Having no overall time limit for the levels results in more fluid and enjoyable gameplay.  Since there is a lot more to keep track of in THPS4, there is now a game progress section, which tells you how many of the challenges have been completed in each level, how much cash has been collected, etc.  Once small disappointment that I have with this game is the lack of AI skateboarders within in the levels in single player mode (similar to Dave Mirra BMX 2).  This addition would make the game a lot more realistic as it isn't often that skate parks, for example, are completely empty.  However, this really doesn't make the game any less fun to play.

The popularity of the THPS games has been quite astounding, since diehard skateboarders as well as people who have never even stepped onto a skateboard have been able to enjoy the excitement of the sport.  To no one's surprise, Activision O2 and Neversoft have yet again released a game that's intrinsically fun and that's sure to draw even more people into the extreme sports genre.  If you've been itching for a new game or decided to skip THPS3 then I would highly recommend checking out this game.  With the holidays just around the corner, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 is a great item to add to your wish list.  When paired up with the PS2 network adapter, it will definitely keep you busy and out of the cold for quite a while.

Gameplay: 9.5
In addition to having more dimensions than any other game of its kind, not surprisingly, at the pure skateboarding level Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 delivers just what we'd expect from the pioneers of the genre -- extreme sports action.  This game is fast and incredibly fluid, since the perfectly designed levels give skaters optimal stages to pull off trick combos never before possible.  The challenges are now more plentiful, innovative and complex than ever before.  While THPS4 is even further from being a skating simulation game than the past games have been; the fun factor has increased so much that playing a simulation game just wouldn't be any fun.

Graphics: 9
In THPS4 the graphical quality has been noticeably upped and the shadows as well as the lighting look much better than before.  The realistic environments are filled with equally realistic characters and objects to interact with.  The level of detail is incredible and the animations are smooth as well as lifelike.  The skaters themselves have been modeled beautifully and are more impressive than ever.  Each skater looks just like we'd expect them to and the flexibility of the create-a-skater allows for even more unique skaters to be created.  There are now a variety of different camera modes to choose from and some of these make it much easier to see where your skater is headed.

Sound: 8.5
A great mix of music keeps the energy level high when skating.  Tracks from groups such as: Hot Water Music, De La Soul, Goldfinger, AC/DC, and the Sex Pistols have been included.  The sound effects are well done, but they're nothing out of the ordinary.  When skaters wipe out there are a variety of noises they make, depending on what type of spill they take.  As the board rolls over different surfaces, the sound changes appropriately and move objects within the level that can be interacted with have a unique sound.

Difficulty: Medium
THPS4 is a game that just about anyone can pick up and thoroughly least to begin with.  The challenges within the earlier levels are fairly easy, but they get progressively harder as new levels are opened up.  Even though the last two levels contain challenges that seem almost impossible at first; they are certainly all doable and the extreme difficulty level realistically allows for a ton more gameplay (even for those who have experience with past THPS games) as they all take a fair amount of practice.  The pro challenges add yet another tier of difficulty to the game and contain some of the most innovative tasks found in an extreme sports game.

Concept: 9
This game is not just THPS3 with new levels and challenges as its gameplay is actually setup quite differently.  Instead of having only two minutes to attempt a level's challenges as before, there are now no time limits for each level as a whole.  Instead, the levels allow you to free skate with no time constraints until you actually begin a challenge.  This setup is far more enjoyable, since it allows you to retry single challenges rather than the level itself.

Multiplayer: 9
Taking full advantage of the PS2's networking capabilities, THPS4 can be played online with up to eight total players, which effectively adds another dimension to the already impressive game.  When playing with a broadband connection, the gameplay is smooth and lag free, even when the maximum number of players are connected.  There is now an even larger variety of multiplayer game modes to choose from, some of which are only available in the online mode.  Playing trick attack, score challenge, combo mambo, or any of the other modes online is extremely fun and having the ability to create teams makes them even more enjoyable.  Also, just as before, it can be played with two players in the typical split-screen and other multiplayer modes.

Overall: 9


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