Written By Shaun McCracken

By now most gamers should be fairly familiar with the Tony Hawk franchise. Unless you've been living under a rock since 1999, you should know that this series is about playing as one of many selectable professional skateboarders, completing certain objectives and racking up high scores by coming up with a large string of tricks. While the franchise has really never changed from day one (including this installment), each installment of the series has improved the engine and design of the game, and has included new ways to keep the combos going such as manuals, reverts, and now, flatland tricks. THPS 4 may possibly be the best game in the series yet, because it finally does something that it should have done a long time ago that really improves the game play.

For a long time, this series (as well as other extreme sports titles) has always been held back by one thing: a clock. It's one of the most frustrating things in extreme sports games, because you're given a list of objectives, and you need to decide which ones you want to accomplish within two or three minutes. On top of that, it really breaks up the fluidity of the game when you can only play in 2 or 3 minute bursts at a time. It really wasn't until Z-Axis's Aggressive Inline that a change was forced upon the extreme sports genre. In that game, the stage timer was ditched, and each objective that needed to be completed could be done by going to a character in the stage. Of course, not all time limits were banned forever, as the objectives did have time limits. But with the omission of a timer for the whole stage, you could spend more time exploring an area, find the best combo lines, and practice completing objectives. The idea/concept was so good, that the team at Neversoft finally decided to ditch the clock, and pretty much base the course design that is similar to Aggressive Inline's. The difference is, though, is you have more tricks, better ways to create combos, less frustrating objectives and more familiar extreme sport personalities.

THPS 4 is pretty much an overhauled installment when compared to THPS 3. Like I mentioned, the timer is gone. You can now explore the stages, find the best lines, practice trying to complete objectives and not break up the action by looking at a menu every three minutes. But the stages are actually now bigger than before. Actually, it makes perfect sense on having to do so, because if you offered unlimited time in small settings, it would be kind of a disappointing game. So the whole scope of the game feels bigger, you have a lot more time to enjoy the stages and have a lot more space to explore.

The trick system hasn't seen much of a change other than the addition of skitching (riding behind cars) and spine transfers. I though the flatland tricks were new, but maybe they were in THPS 3. But just because the overall system hasn't changed much doesn't mean it's a bad thing, as it's just been tightened even more to be even more accessible and fun. You have your assortment of air tricks, grinds, lip tricks, manuals, flatland tricks, transfers, reverts and probably a few other things I haven't touched on. There's a lot of variety on what you can "pull off" in the game, which can lead to big combos which equals big scores. Although you spend the whole time skating, there's enough variety to keep the game from being stale.

The visuals are an improvement over THPS 3's, which is probably due to Neversoft ditching the Renderware middleware format. I think only Criterion Studios can really tap into the full potential of Renderware, so maybe it's best that Neversoft did something themselves. The character models look less like action figures, but the texturing kind of makes them look beaten up. Of course, they're skateboarders, so it's understandable. The course designs are clean and functional, and the environmental textures are good. They aren't as blurry as what you would see on the PS2, but not as sharp as I've seen in other Gamecube titles. There are some problems with the framerate, which seems to have hitches when there are more "pedestrians" in the stage. If you actually play the game on Single Session (which removes most NPCs), the frame rate is smoother. But in the actual career mode, there's more character models on screen, which seems to make the frame rate jumpy. Overall, it's not a bad looking game, but it still isn't as smooth as it should be.

The audio disappoints me a bit. The sound effects are fine, where everything pretty much sounds as they should. The voice acting is good, and even humorous, but we really aren't expecting Oscar-worthy performances here. I do have issues with the soundtrack. I have heard many critics and even people gush over the soundtrack, and how great and diverse it is. I don't like it. I really can't find one song out of the whole thing I like, and a lot of the tracks sound the same to me. It's not like SSX Tricky, or even Aggressive Inline, where I can find some songs I like and ones I actually DO want to hear. Another audio offense cones from the FMV, which is the result of the despised Bink Video format. Bink works fine on the Xbox, since there's more memory on the discs. But every time I have seen games that have used Bink Video on the Gamecube, the audio sounds like crap. It's tinny and compressed. Isn't there something better the developers could use?

Final Thought

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 really doesn't change a whole lot in the genre, but instead offers more freedom to do more in the game, and that works well in it's favor. It's a lot more fun to play without time limits holding you back, and you're allowed to do more because of it. This is a game you really can't go wrong on, since it's easy to get into, and offers a lot for you to do. Even if you don't like skateboarding, or can't skateboard (like me), THPS is a great game in it's own right.






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If you're looking for a great skateboarding game, the THPS series is still the mot solid franchise around.

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2003-2006 SPM

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