Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 contains just about every real skating trick you'd want to see in a game and, as usual, contains a huge array of insanely exaggerated tricks as well. Most of Tony Hawk 4's new specials take after the ghetto blaster grind that Chad Muska had, or Bam Margera's Jackass move, in that they try to convey a little personality. Now there are special grinds like ferret fight, where a small rodent crawls around your body as you grind. Another has your skater dribbling a basketball. Others include a manual that involves fireworks and grinds with guitars, samplers, an American flag, and even a laser blaster. These new grinds are in direct opposition of the game's level design, which strives for more realism than the series has ever seen in its levels. The design succeeds nicely, and the levels look really great. The Kona skate park, based on a real park based in Florida, looks almost identical to the pictures of the park shown on Kona's Web site. Other areas, such as some of San Francisco's classic skate spots, are also rendered with a nice amount of realism. The game still does have a few more fantastical levels, such as Alcatraz and a carnival level, which comes complete with a good number of intoxicated hicks.
Graphically, Tony Hawk 4 is an improvement over Tony Hawk 3, which was the first version designed with the current generation of consoles in mind. The texture quality really serves to drive the realistic look of the level design home, and the animation--most of it reused from Tony Hawk 3--still looks fantastic. The levels are large, but have a decent draw distance, and the game runs at a solid frame rate throughout the career mode. There are a few ugly bits to the graphics--the pedestrian models that are shown up close whenever you finish a goal look really, really bad, and most of them share the same looping congratulatory animation. Also, the animation used in the minigames is incredibly poor. Thankfully, these moments are very few and far between, and most of the time, the game looks outstanding.
The game sports nine big, realistic-looking levels.
Many of the game's sound effects are identical to the ones used in Tony Hawk 3. A few have been added here and there, and the sounds of skating are still really solid. With the expanded career mode, a whole lot of voice work has been recorded to go with every goal. Since you'll get a lot of your goals from the skaters themselves, each pro skater has been recorded for the game. Skaters also have skater-specific screams when you wreck. Most of the voice work is pretty solid, though there are a few bits in there that probably could have been done a little cleaner if some more time had been taken in the vocal booth.
The soundtracks of the Tony Hawk series have always been an eclectic mix that is as varied as skateboarding style itself. Tony Hawk 4 is no exception, from the AC/DC title track to the inclusion of NWA's classic radio hit, Express Yourself. Most of the soundtrack is pretty good, and there are over 30 tracks featured, but there are a few songs that could have probably stood to be left out. Specifically, four tracks came from two of the game's skaters. They aren't awful, but come across as perhaps a bit too self-indulgent. Still, the stock playlist can be edited on a track-by-track basis, so you can turn off, say, System of a Down or Delinquent Habits if they don't fit your idea of skate-friendly music. Or you can look to the Xbox hard drive for any music you may have ripped.
It's not a dramatic departure from the series, but why mess with success?
Unlike the PlayStation 2 version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, the Xbox version doesn't have any online support. With the Xbox Live launch right around the corner and Xbox Live-enabled games already on shelves, this is a real shame, because online play definitely adds a lot of replay value to the game. In an attempt to make up for this, the Xbox version of the game has system link play, so if you happen to be on a LAN with a lot of other Xbox owners, you can enjoy most of the features found in the PlayStation 2 release. The player limit has been raised from four to eight, which is handy considering that it'd be easy to lose three other players in such large levels. All the modes from Tony Hawk 3 return, including capture the flag, which previously was only in the PC version of Tony Hawk 3. There are some new modes, such as score attack, which ends when a player reaches a certain score, combo mambo, which keeps track of which player has done the largest combo within a certain time limit, and goal attack, which lets you enable any of the career mode goals, giving victory to the player that can complete all the goals first. The game is also set up for team play. You can set up multiple teams in all of the game's online modes, which lets you set up some pretty cool variations. Sure, you can win a combo mambo game by yourself, but what if you're playing against the best combos of three other players? The team options are a nice touch. The game also features decent two-player splitscreen support, for players not able to play system link games.
While fans of the previous games will find the redesigned career mode a little foreign at first, it definitely makes for a longer game with a lot less repetition than you saw in previous installments, which asked you to play the game over and over again with each skater to unlock their secrets. The deeper single-player and improved multiplayer modes makes Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 the most tightly-packed installment in the series to date, and the slightly refined gameplay is still unmatched in the action sports arena. In short, anyone with even a remote interest in either the genre or the real-life sport should purchase this game as soon as possible.
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