Version tested: Xbox 360
Why would they call the very prettiest thing to have appeared in games for over five hundred years, "Nail The Trick Mode"? It should be called, "Glistening Dew On A Spring Morning Mode", or "Kari Off Of Mythbusters Mode". Not Nail The Trick. The idiots.
It's just sublime. It's breathtaking. You're riding your skateboard through the huge city, and then at any moment, you click both analogue sticks, and you're in. It's bullet time, it's slo-mo, it's the high-def filming of a kingfisher diving into a pond. It makes you just stare and stare, and then inevitably crash into a railing, bail, and smear your face halfway down the street. But all so beautifully. Glistening Dew Mode, as we'll be calling it, is one of the most rewarding and enthralling devices I've ever seen, and I'm in love with it. And so is everyone else who's walked past while I've been playing.
He was a boy
In case you fell out of love with the Tony Hawk games around about the time they went shit, it's time to come back in now. After Pro Skater 4, things went somewhat downhill... down market. Infected with the Jackass crew, the series woefully lost its way, and despite a valiant effort by last year's American Wasteland to rid itself of the cash-in nonsense, it made more mistakes than it fixed. The future of Tony Hawk games was bleak.
No more. Project 8 is a remarkable balance of what made the original Pro Skater games so compulsive, and what the open, sprawling city of Wasteland should have been. It manages to implement one of its silly stories, but without it ever getting in the way. It's bone-deep visceral skating simulation. It... it... oh, it just gets it so right.
She was a girl
Rather than the painful hand-holding story of last year, and the excruciating Mindy, this time it's a nice simple concept. Tony's in your home town, looking to recruit skaters for his new team, named Project 8. With him are other skater pros, acting as what might be considered 'talent scouts' but are more realistically 'mission givers'. The only way you'll make it is to ascend through the rankings by constantly completing missions and spot tricks, and winning competitions. Along the way you'll pick up new sponsors increasing your recognition, and opening new areas of the city. Simple. As it should be.
And this time, despite the lies of last year, there really are no load points. The entire town, vast as it is, appears uninterrupted. No ridiculous loading tunnels, but outdoor smoothness, from Fun Park to Slums, School to Capital Building. It's an idyllic skater town, every building featuring at least one quarter-pipe-shaped wall, and conveniently ramp-shaped edifices on their roofs. The streets are lined with grindable curbs, railings, fences, wires, trams, and anything else with a flat edge. The grass is peculiarly skateable, and even ponds won't slow your wheels too badly. It's a giant skaters' playground.
Can I make it any more obvious?
After choosing a character type, you then tweak them in a (surprisingly poor) character creator, before plunging them into the game. You begin in your rural cul-de-sac, where sensibly crafted starter missions can be picked up from the locals, each subtly teaching you an essential beginner's trick. There is a separate training area, but it's actually rather hard, the basics much better learned in-game. The training is best saved for when wanting to study a particular move more carefully, requiring some moves that will likely put a new player off.
There's still the trademark daft Tony Hawk tasks to do here, like catching your dad's golf balls as he thwacks them over some vert ramps. Of course, it's simply teaching you to spine transfer (jump from one quarter pipe to another behind it, uncool people). But there's also the spot tricks, where markings on the sidewalk or street furniture will indicate local records in various skills. The pavement might say "Manual", and then further on other graffiti will show the Bronze, Silver and Gold distances you'll have to reach. Manual (ride on two wheels) over the line, and it automatically starts. The town is plastered with such challenges, most unachievable until you've ranked up a bit.
As well as the pros, there are innumerable other folk about town, wanting to give you tasks. For instance, from the start the local school mascot needs you to help him plaster posters around town (wall-ride on certain spots), then earn some money by publicly performing some freestyle tricks for a crowd. A guy with a camcorder offers to film you performing a complex series of flip and grab tricks, cramming as many as you can into the time limit. Some are silly, some very skate-worthy, and all are splendidly entertaining. Then as if that weren't enough, there are some locals whose tasks reveal the old-skool Hawk's Classic Mode. Pleasingly in context, these are the two-minute modes of yore, with the list of challenges, including the favourites: high scores, collecting SKATE and COMBO, and finding the hidden... disc! Yes, at long last the series has noticed that VHS tapes are a tad dated, replacing them with a hidden DVD. Each of these sections is set in a cordoned off region of the city, revealing the cunning design as each zone becomes an improvised skate park.
Only two more mission types - bear with me. There are the Pro Challenges, where the pros give you significantly harder tasks to complete. These do wonders for your ranking, as well as unlocking video footage of the best skaters in the world. And finally, there are the competitions. First you must qualify in the short starter round, and then it's time to wow the judges with your sick skillz. Rather than the idiotic system of previous games, this time you need only score over a certain amount from the judges, rather than compete against the random AI.