Previews

Tony Hawk's Project 8

Break tiny bones to win big prizes in this back-to-basics style return for the Hawkster

Just why Tony Hawk is so desperate to find eight top amateur skaters is a mystery, but that's the premise behind his latest rail-grinding and knee-grazing epic. It could be because Tony Hawk's Project 8 is the eighth title in the ridiculously popular skating series, but then again it could be because 'eight' rhymes with 'skate'. Clever, that.

Whatever the reason, Hawk has left the usual confines of cities like New York and LA, where previous Tony Hawk's titles have been set, and travelled out into the American Mid-west to hunt down these eight skaters, of which you, unsurprisingly, are one. Not that you can expect any similarity to the frankly cack story-driven gameplay of the last few games. Project 8 has been built totally from scratch, see, and will focus purely on the skating.

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From the start, you kick off at the wrong end of a 200-strong leaderboard and only by impressing the ancient boardbasher himself will you be able to improve your ranking. Sheer determination and a range of fancy tricks is what's needed to achieve the goals and haul yourself up the board.

MISSED THE BUS
The enormous sprawling game world is completely devoid of any loading times. The old American
Wasteland trick of having interconnecting areas linked by tunnels to disguise a lengthy load-up of the next part of the level is no more, as are the buses which used to transport you around a map. Now the whole of Project 8 is really just one massive level, with different bits of it opening up as you progress. Getting from place to place is a bit of a trek due to the amount of ground there is to cover, but as a free-roaming skating paradise it's easily the best yet.

To solve the problem of players getting hopelessly lost in the game, a new marker system has been designed so that important places can be designated on the map, after which a floating arrow guides you to wherever you want to be. You don't have to use it, but it'll save a lot of sight-seeing between the heel flips.

Another great touch, part of Project 8's return to the simpler pleasures of pure skating, is the addition of Chalk Challenges. These are easily stumbled upon as you thunder through each of the districts, and are nothing more than lines of chalk scrawled onto pavements, railings or walls to signify another skater's record at grinding or tricks. Beat them, and not only do you get to scribble your own new best effort over the old one, but you help your rise up the rankings too.

Whenever you see a challenge, you'll be presented with three levels of difficulty. Rather than selecting an overriding difficulty level for the whole game, you'll be able to decide how hard to push yourself as you go. Project 8 is 'won' when you reach eighth position on the leaderboard, and this can be achieved by being selective in what challenges you undertake and how hard you take them. So if you don't like using ramps you can choose to practically ignore those goals and focus instead on using the streets as your stage.

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As well as the environmentbased tests there are also Classic-style challenges too. Here you'll find yourself in a closed-off area with familiar goals, like collecting the letters S-K-A-T-E (surprise!) or racking up a high trick score; again it's another means of boosting your rating, but will remind you of earlier games.

BODY ROCKIN'
Perhaps the biggest step forward for the game - apart from the simply stunning visuals on offer - is the way your skater moves, and how his or her body shape affects the way they skate. You'll see them wobbling about like a bloater's belly on a trampoline as they struggle to keep their balance - it's strictly for show though, and it won't cause crashes, but it's important because it helps to make Project 8 feel more natural. Momentum will be a big factor too; screaming down a hill to get some speed up before hitting a ramp will help you achieve those all-important high scores.

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