Tony Hawk's Project 8 PSP Review
The PSP seems like it'd be a great portable platform for some Tony Hawk action, and this year, Activision seems to agree - they've really put a lot of effort into their newest skateboarding game, Tony Hawk's Project 8. They've scaled down the next-gen game seen on the Xbox 360 and PS3 and even reworked a ton of the game's goals to deliver a game that at first glance may look like a direct down-sized port of the home version, but after a few minutes you'll start to realize this is actually a pretty different game with tons of different things to do. The question is this - can the PSP deliver a full-on Tony Hawk experience with no compromises?
The answer is no, but you'll find out quickly that it's at least pretty damn close. Activision has taken the large, seamless world of Project 8 and have been forced to cut it back up into levels, like past games in the series, but most of the real estate in the home versions has made it here onto the PSP. Your skater creation options are pretty limited, but you will get to perform a ton of new goals and skating moves, many of which didn't even make it onto the 360 or PS3.
The last few Tony Hawk games had an over-arcing story that wound up usually getting pretty boring; luckily, that has been thrown away for this year's version in favor of a trimmed-down plot. Tony Hawk's looking for some great skaters in your hometown, and he's got a list ranking everyone. Those who make it into the top 8 will get all kinds of fame and glory, and you of course are ready and willing to rocket your way to the top. Unfortunately, there isn't really much actual competition for the top of the list, as your "opponents" don't have any real name, nor are they actually fighting to improve their own rank. The rank is simply a measure of your own achievements, and you can't ever go down in rank.
That's not to say there isn't some in-game competition. You'll find that many of the game's activities have you going up against someone to beat a set score in a certain amount of time, or skating along with others in races or in trick competitions. You might also find that the PSP version of Project 8 is a bit easier overall than the other versions, mostly because many of the totally re-done goals aren't nearly as tough. Most of the goals can each be beaten at three separate difficulties (Am, Pro, and Sick), and veterans of the series will be able to finish with the Sick rating after only a few tries.
For some reason, the developers also decided to make reverts and manuals much easier to do. The Square button now sends you into a manual, but even then, you can actually continue a combo even if you didn't bother to do a manual when coming down from a big set of air tricks. You'll get a little clock on the side of the screen telling you how long you've got to start a new trick and keep the combo up. I'm not sure why they did this, as I found that mastering the controls is one of my favorite things about the Tony Hawk games in the first place. Now, even I can easily rack up million-point combos if I've got a couple of quarter-pipes opposite each other.
One issue I've found is that Activision seems to have just smashed the functionality of the left and right buttons and triggers all into the two shoulder buttons on the PSP. I understand there was a lack of buttons to work with, but it's frustrating trying to do a front-flip along with a Spine Transfer (which uses each of the shoulder buttons separately) and accidentally jumping off my board and landing on my feet (which is supposed to be done with both shoulder buttons at once). You'll need to get down the nuances of the shoulder buttons' functions to really pull out some smooth combos.
And then there's the analog control and Nail the Trick mode. While the home versions of Project 8 have been pushing people away from the D-pad and towards the analog stick for control, the PSP version is still firmly rooted in the D-pad days. Flicking the analog stick down will send you into Nail the Trick mode, while flicking it up goes into slow-motion Focus mode. Nail the Trick itself is a new move this year which zooms in on your skater's feet and skateboard, and you can combo up some custom board flips. On the home versions, each analog stick controls one foot, allowing you to send the board in the direction you want. Here, you'll be using the D-pad and face buttons to do roughly the same thing, and it kind of takes away some of the challenge on the home versions. You see, on the 360 or PS3, the more "inaccurate" you are in moving the stick to true up, down, left, and right, the more drift your board will have and the more likely you are to land on your face rather than the board. Here, the analog element is gone so Nail the Trick mode becomes much more simplistic.
I had some other control issues while playing the PSP version of Project 8. A couple of the Spine transfer challenges were really frustrating as the R button must be pressed with impeccable timing; I got stuck on one simple challenge for almost an hour because I could only do the Spine the game wanted maybe one in 30 tries. Otherwise, complex combos with front- or backflips are a little tougher this time around since once you start a flip, you can't "correct" in mid-air and must either finish the flip all the way around or simply crash.
Some of the stuff that made the home versions of Project 8 stand out this year haven't made it in. Sure, the classic mode goals and some of the goofy characters have made it in, but the radgoll physics for bails isn't in, nor are the highly touted motion-captured animations from the world's top pro skaters. The mechanics are instead much more like older games, including the last one for the PSP, THUG2.
Wireless multiplayer battles are included this time, mostly with well-known modes that have been around for a while. Unfortunately, and like most PSP games, the wireless gameplay only works locally and not over the internet, and I really wish that more developers would start taking advantage of this feature. At least we get a new multiplayer mode that's unique to the PSP - it's called Obstacle Course and it has players racing through checkpoints while doing moves in order to gain both position and overall points.
Despite my issues with the controls, I do commend Activision for making a version of Project 8 that's not a direct port of the home versions. The graphics are about as good as we'll likely get anytime soon on the PSP, and a pretty nice set of songs and the full range of levels are here. With its mostly unique set of challenges and tons of moves and combo lines to discover, the problems I find with Tony Hawk's Project 8 still aren't enough to stop me from recommending it.