A Familiar Face
Ah yes, our old friend Tony. It hasn't been long since the last time we paid a visit to the realm of the King of Skating, yet Neversoft seem perfectly able to knock these things out in cookie-cutter fashion now. With Tony Hawk's third title in the immensely popular Pro Skater series, his PS2 debut feels like the license was custom-made for the platform. While the Tony Hawk's games are easily the most addictive, playable skating games available to date, you'd be forgiven for noting that the more recent releases have been fairly devoid of innovation and rarely strayed from the formula established in the first game. THPS3 is such an example of wheel re-invention, with eight new levels (plus hidden bonuses) and obviously improved graphics being the only immediately obvious differences. The main portion of the game is, of course, the career mode. This takes place across the aforementioned eight levels spanning some bizarre locales, including a steel works and a cruise liner. The aim remains the same; complete as many tasks on the checklist as possible in order to advance and unlock more levels. It's a simple concept that has remained unchanged since the original, yet Neversoft seem confident they can milk the idea to great effect.
Mmm, Spectating Girls
The variety of locations and the wonderfully imaginative level design is what sets the Tony Hawk's series apart from all the other pretenders to the crown, and the massive increase in power offered by the PS2 has resulted in far larger and more intricately detailed environments than ever before. The areas you find yourself skating in are far more densely populated now, as well, making each level feel more real. The player is also occasionally forced into a skating competition. These come very early on and can bring utter frustration as you struggle to finish third just to continue the game. The judges seem to demand that you master a deeper level of control which you just don't get the chance to develop at such an early stage. The same skaters from the previous games appear here again and each character has their own set of special skills, moves and personal statistics. By the time you've played through much of the game, it's entirely possible that the character will be practically unrecognisable from their original skill set. This is thanks to a decent level of character development; as you gain points through level and goal completion, you're able to spend stat points on any skill area you choose. You must rely on building and developing your skills throughout the game to complete tasks such as impressing spectating girls or other skaters, and gaining access to previously unreachable areas by improving your character's statistics on other levels. This lends the game a nice seamless feel, as opposed to a linear progression, as you hop from level to level to complete the checklists.
A lot of effort has gone into creating a good deal of replayability within THPS3, and once the career mode is done and dusted (which admittedly won't take series veterans long), the level of customisation features are impressive for a console game. First of all we have the Create-A-Skater function, which offers a stupid level of input into exactly how you would like your skater to look. Dressing Tony up in an almost Barbie-like fashion sent me back to my perhaps disturbed but joyful childhood. There's also a massive collection of different deck designs scattered throughout the game for your to find and unlock in the "skate shop" front-end. But the coup de grace of the game's customising utilities has to be the skate park designer. This made a debut appearance in THPS2, but the sheer scale of the possibilities available to the player here is astounding. The canvas is absolutely enormous and the construction of your dream park couldn't be simpler. The more ludicrous the better - loop-the-loop anyone? When you really dig deep though, there isn't a great deal new here. It's certainly going to be an absolutely stunning play for newcomers, but players used to what the series has to offer may feel slightly cheated. The cosmetic changes, such as streaking blood across the floor when your skater bails and vastly improved level design possibilities are all very well and good, but you can't help but wish for something more.
Is That It?
A reminder of how little effort there has been in expanding the playing modes is obvious in the multiplayer options. The exact same split-screen action is on offer here as in THPS2, with the same playing modes. Of course, it could be argued that the inclusion of network play into the package is the excuse for the lack of innovation here, yet anything on offer here is less than enticing. There are two network-exclusive modes, neither of which are particularly inspiring. Slap! is a simplistic version of chicken, where each skater hurtles towards each other and the fastest skater wins by knocking the other over. King of the Hill sets the players fighting over a crown, and then seeing how long they can keep hold of it. While Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 is a super game in its own right, I can't help but feel it isn't a significant enough step forward for the series. It's definitely unrivalled in speed, scale and sheer excitement, but there's a lack of innovation that taints the experience from start to finish. Don't rest on your laurels, Neversoft.