Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4

Gamestyle Archive Intro: Tom Knowles takes us back on the skateboard just like it was November 2002 all over again.

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Tony’s Back to show us all the multifarious uses of the skateboard. Stringing tricks and special moves together to outdo ones fellow skaters is the series mainstay but the Hawkster and chums are a community spirited bunch too. The four wheeled plank saves the day countless times across America and beyond. Skitch car thieves, grind pesky tourists and even combo a great white shark back to the depths whence it came. Emergency services the world over are bound to catch on with the metropolitan police being among the first to benefit from compulsory half-pipe training.

Tony 3 was a let down for many. The same magic gameplay was present but little more than an update was on offer meaning Nervesoft’s next installment had to up the ante’ in order to compete with the current crop of extreme sports sims. Happily the fourth in the series has injected much needed vigor into the old dog. First we take in the graphical progress; much improved character models are smoothly and realistically animated around massive, attractive, free roaming skate parks. Despite being visually a little bland by comparison to the Cube and Xbox offerings in terms of a steady frame rate and draw distance the PS2 edition outdoes its cousin on Nintendo’s more powerful machine. Not surprising as the title was obviously planned with Sony’s box of tricks in mind, evident again in the fact that this is the only version with online support.

Shadow, lighting and water effects bring to life the arenas and impart each location with its own atmosphere. Add to this more customisation of your chosen skater, more missions ( 190 to attempt before reaching the pro challenges), all new tricks such as the spine transfer, a nifty skate park editor and more area’s to traverse and you’ve got quite an update. The usual mix of Hip Hop, Metal and Punk by turns chills you out and pumps you up and there should be at least a few tunes on here for everybody. However the size of the game may have you wishing you were sat in front of an xbox so you could rip your own tracks; they will start to annoy eventually. Faithfully recreated is the magical gameplay producing either great satisfaction by pulling of a huge scoring combo or hair tearing frustration as you fail to land that last manual to walk away with first place in a skate compo. If your a fan of the series you’ll know the score, if not then check it out; it is sublime.

Fine so far but it sounds like another update doesn’t it? Well the major difference here is the structure – a small change that makes this the best installment yet. Gone are the timed areas of the previous games and in place are the aforementioned free roaming parks. Missions are available from the various pedestrians / fellow skaters dotted about the levels and these are timed but if you chose you are free to wander and experiment within the level as you please. There is plenty of cash carelessly left floating around for you to collect and you can use this to purchase new levels, skaters, clothing and cheats.( I am still saving up the $100,000 needed to unlock the “skater babe”) What this means in terms of gameplay is a much more relaxed feel (when not engaged in a mission) and a new feeling of freedom, minimising the hair loss and allowing you to skate about to your hearts content without fear of the ticking clock.

Eventually of course you are going to want to progress to the pro tournaments and the challenges are nicely paced on the whole with a good learning curve. They range from the mundane to the inane and feature old favorites such as “collect the combo letters” to new additions like “skitch the stolen car”. The controls as ever are simple and well thought out leaving you to worry about having lightning quick reflexes and remembering a massive repertoire of tricks. Despite enjoying the previous installments I was never an avid fan and it is this installment that has persuaded me to invest some serious time in getting digital scabby knees. It’s the best yet but it ‘aint perfect.

Predictably the voice acting is horrible and incredibly annoying. The many missions can become tasks as they are increasingly repetitive. It is also quite likely long periods of play will consist of “shit!”, start, retry last goal, repeat, repeat, repeat. Of course you have the option to simply skate on and find another goal but eventually your going to come back to it and this can become a bore. Although not as apparent as the Cube version there is still an unfortunate amount of clipping on some levels. Irritations aside this is an enjoyable romp and essential if you are new to the franchise. Veterans may wish to wait and discover what the online capabilities have to offer but still worth a look if you need you Hawk fix.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

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