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Tony Hawk’s Project 8 (Xbox 360)
It seems there’s no better time for a franchise reboot. Simply take an existing series that even the fans have given up on (e.g. Bond or Batman), remove the clutter that messed it up in the last few versions (e.g invisible cars, nipples on the batsuit) take it all back to basics (real stunts, gritty realism) and generally try to find what made the idea so appealing to begin with.
Well, no games series needs a reboot more than Tony Hawks. Fed up with trying too hard grunge and pitiful faux-punk anarchy? Don’t worry, it’s gone. Not in the mood for another tiresome rags-to-riches skater storyline? Ditto. Sick of staring at Bam Magera’s witless mug during endless cut scenes? Well, he’s still in there, but his screen-time is minimal. With Project 8, the series is back on track, doing what it does best – ludicrous tricks and combos in well-designed areas, with plenty to see, do and explore.
It’s not that Project 8 takes things completely back to square one. Like American Wasteland it’s an attempt to take skating into an open world format, but here it’s done much more effectively, with a seamless city of interlinking districts that – once unlocked – you can move in-between without a pause. There’s no attempt to paint this environment as anything but a fantasy, and the game is all the better for it – the districts favour tight-design over empty quantity.
Look around and there are few surfaces that don’t present some sort of grinding or tricking opportunity. The locations vary from grimy parks to grand civic structures and suburban street scenes, and each is bustling with just enough skaters and pedestrians to look interesting, but not so many that you’re permanently dodging and weaving. This isn’t an attempt to replicate the real world, just to create a world in which would-be skaters can have fun.
This slant is reflected in the new Xbox 360-powered visual style. Project 8 is brighter and breezier this time around, it’s streets, parks and gardens bursting with vivid colour and luminous lighting. While the 3D horsepower of Microsoft’s beast is obvious in the detailed textures and realistic character models, not to mention the soft glows and focus-blur effects that pop in from time to time, there’s not too much background clutter or shiny-surface excess.
Meanwhile, the motion-captured animation and rag-doll damage effects are as good as these things get. If Amped 3 made you go “ouch” with its spine-twisting, neck-snapping antics, then Project 8 takes things to a whole new level. If the feel of skin ripping on tarmac was any more tangible, you’d have to play the game wearing pads.