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

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 enjoy…at 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

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

Overall: 9