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Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 (PS2) Review

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Another year, another Tony Hawk's Pro Skater! With Neversoft dishing out a new and improved game each fall, the Tony Hawk series has been going strong since debuting on the PlayStation in late 1999. Notable additions and improvements to this year's entry include a revamped Career mode, reappearance of Bob Burnquist, and a healthy dose of new gameplay elements.

Considering Neversoft has yet to produce a bad skateboarding game, it should come as no surprise that THPS4 is a stellar game.

Presentation/Graphics : 90
Although the visuals are smoother, levels are larger, and animation is tighter, the graphics in THPS4 are not a dramatic leap from THPS3.

Nevertheless, the skaters are a bit better modeled--with facial texturing receiving an upgrade--and have new animations, clothes, and boards.

Special tricks are even more outrageous this time, but they still reflect each skater's personality or skating style. Other than the Chicago level from Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX 2 (which, ironically, looks better here), the environments are completely new, and several are based on actual locations and popular skate spots.

Levels range from a college to a zoo and burst with activity. For instance, a tennis match and a basketball game occur on the college level, while various rides operate on the carnival level. Pedestrians and locals fill the levels, each adequately modeled and animated. The frame rate remains smooth and fast, and aside from some noticeable glitches, THPS4 is graphically solid, overall.

Presentation/Audio : 90
THPS4 features Dolby Pro Logic II (previous Tony Hawk games featured standard Dolby Surround), which greatly expands the soundstage. While you need an appropriate setup to take full advantage of this audio format, the results are well worth it. Since the sound effects in THPS3 were already topnotch, Neversoft simply reused most of them, though pedestrians have new dialogue and environments emit unique ambient sounds. In addition, the professional skaters featured in THPS4 provided voice-overs for their virtual counterparts. Neversoft even recruited BMX stars Mat Hoffman and Rick Thorne, as well as adult-film star Jenna Jameson, to supply additional voice work. No, your eyes are not deceiving you; Jenna Jameson is in the game!

Musically, the THPS series has always had an eclectic mix of music, and THPS4 is no different, boasting more than 30 songs from a variety of artists. The soundtrack consists of classic punk (Sex Pistols, Agent Orange, JFA), '70s and '80s rock (AC/DC, Iron Maiden, The Cult), old-school rap (Run-DMC, N.W.A., Public Enemy), and a good assortment of recent stuff (System of a Down, Goldfinger, Flogging Molly), including tracks from some of the skaters themselves. Depending on your taste in music, however, certain songs may annoy, but you can edit the playlist to suit your musical preferences.

Interface/Options : 95
Like its predecessor, THPS4 has a very stylish front end. While navigating the menus, you will see the game's pro skaters tearing up a half-pipe outside a skate shop. When it comes time to set up your board and skater, the game takes you inside the shop.

THPS4 has all the standards options you would expect, plus quick load times. Among other things, you can adjust the controls, tweak the sound, enable 16:9 display, and access network options.

All 13 professional skaters from THPS3 are back, with Bob Burnquist making his glorious return to the series after an unsuccessful run in Konami's ESPN X Games Skateboarding. Each skater specializes in street or vert skating and is rated in 10 categories, including air, hang time, ollie, speed, rail balance, manual balance, and more. You can edit the appearance of the pros to some extent, or create your very own male or female skater with the extensive create-a-skater feature. New clothing and adjustment options are available, and you can purchase extra decks and gear once you earn money in the Career mode. Moreover, various grip-tape patterns are available for your board, and a color slider lets you customize the color of the wheels.

Although THPS4's Career mode eases players into the game and offers a practice option, a tutorial is conspicuously absent. THPS3 featured a thorough tutorial, which did a good job of laying the groundwork and teaching the basics. Since THPS4 is in many ways, the most complex and difficult game in the series, beginners may feel helpless without a tutorial. On the other hand, Tony Hawk veterans should have no problems because the controls and fundamentals remain unchanged.

A vert-recovery move (repositions your skater in midair), skitching, and spine transfers are new to this installment and easy to learn and execute.

Gameplay : 98
As with any Tony Hawk game, the environments in THPS4 are fully interactive and overflowing with skateable objects. New to this version is the ability to enable/disable certain objects in a level, though this function is not available initially.

The trick system is as tight as ever and contains noteworthy improvements, one of which concerns the flatland system. You no longer have to fill the Special meter to do flatland tricks and can now string them together with simple button presses (no directional movements needed), making things smoother and simpler than before. In fact, grinds, airs, lip maneuvers, and flip tricks also benefit from this, allowing you to tweak tricks smoothly and instantly.

Apart from the improved trick system, the biggest difference between THPS4 and previous Tony Hawk titles lies in THPS4's restructured Career mode; un-timed and full of unique challenges, THPS4's Career mode lets you complete goals at your leisure. You can shred the levels for as long as you like, la Free Skate mode, and undertake goals when you spot a local or skater who has a challenge available.

The actual goals remain timed, and some of them will be familiar to fans of the series; however, many goals are completely new and demand mastery of all the essential THPS skills: grinding, manualing, reverting, and transferring.

One recurring goal in THPS4 forces you to collect letters of the word "combo" in a continuous flow. This requires finding the appropriate line to grab all the letters while maintaining proper balance.

Competitions are now incorporated into the goal structure, with each of the main levels having a competition goal that challenges you to place in the top three. You can retry goals as often as desired and clear them in any order, though you must complete certain goals to unlock others.

Originating in THPS2, the monetary element has returned to the Tony Hawk series after a brief hiatus. You need to accumulate money throughout the Career mode to purchase new gear, secret skaters, extra levels, special videos, and assorted cheats. Goals award up to $1,200, and every level is littered with cash icons worth $100 each. Most levels even have a mini-game or two (e.g., tennis, baseball, "dodge ball," etc.) that pays cash upon completion.

Once you complete enough preliminary goals, you will unlock the skaters' pro challenges, as well as harder level-specific goals. Pro challenges (15 in all) are the wildest goals of the bunch, each specific to a skater and reflecting his or her personality or skating accomplishments. For instance, Bam Margera's pro challenge has you riding around Alcatraz in a shopping cart, while Bob Burnquist's challenge lets you re-create his insane loop stunt. Steve Caballero's pro challenge is probably the most interesting, as it involves skating in tandem with a BMX rider.

Upon completing a skater's pro challenge, the game rewards you with an exciting video showing off his or her moves, and most videos even contain skater commentary.

Completing specific goals in the Career mode lets you earn extra stat points and special tricks. You can edit your stats and tricks during gameplay to improve your skills or to suit a particular goal. And you will need extremely sharp skills to clear many of the goals in the game. Remember THPS3's 500,000-point goal on the cruise ship? Well, one goal in THPS4 makes you earn that score in a single combo! If that is not difficult enough for you, a couple of goals challenge you to score 1.5 million points in less than two minutes. Hardcore THPS aficionados should not have too much trouble meeting--or even surpassing--these extraordinary feats, but beginners will need serious practice, especially since maintaining balance for extended periods is crucial.

Surprisingly, unlike previous Career modes in the series, THPS4's Career mode does not force you to replay the game with each skater to earn 100-percent completion. In other words, you need only to clear each goal once, and maximizing one skater's set of stats will boost the stats of all skaters, even the secret ones. This prevents the Career mode from becoming repetitious, but may lessen the sense of accomplishment for the THPS diehards who would enjoy playing through it with each skater.

When you can pull yourself away from THPS4's Career mode, you will discover a wealth of multiplayer options covering both online (up to eight players) and offline (two-player split screen) play. Goal Attack and Capture the Flag--both online only and new to THPS4--join Trick Attack, Horse, Free Skate, Slap!, King of the Hill, Score Challenge, and Combo Mambo (the biggest combo wins), which is also new to THPS4.

Interestingly, the online-only Goal Attack mode lets players take on goals in the Career mode to see who can complete them the quickest. Overall, online play is considerably improved from THPS3, complete with new features and options for a more refined experience.

Replay Value : 100
With 190 goals to complete, 225 cash icons to collect, dozens of gaps to clear (a checklist is available), several mini-games to play, and multiple extras to unlock/purchase, THPS4's Career mode is quite lengthy.

Free Skate and Single Session, as usual, provide additional replay value for the lone player, although THPS4's revised Career mode essentially nullifies the single-player Free Skate mode. Conversely, the slick multiplayer and online components, coupled with an improved park editor and create-a-skater feature, give THPS4 seemingly endless replay. The new gameplay elements and trick features only add further depth and appeal to the game.

Overall : 95
Updated Career mode? Check. New tricks? Check. Online play? Check. Hopelessly addictive gameplay? Check! Yup, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 just about has it all. Newcomers to the series, what few remain, may have trouble adjusting to the difficulty of this version, but longtime fans will appreciate the improvements and changes Neversoft has made.

By: Cliff O'Neill 11/27/02


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