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Tony Hawk's Project 8

What has four wheels, two legs, a pair of bloody elbows and one hell of a good time?

We should be bored of Tony Hawk games by now. Like, really bored. So bored, in fact, that we can't even be bothered to do a rubbish joke about skate-bored-ing. But, with Project 8 making for one of the best comebacks since Rocky, there's no need for us to go there.

It's exactly how an annual sequel should be - a game that builds on the foundation of the series, instead of adding stupid, annoying things that feel about as welcome as toothache in a driving test. The Tony Hawk licence may have chewed its way through a staggering number of games in the past few years - this is the second one for 360, already - but the world's best extreme sports series has really done it this time... by giving itself an irresistibly brilliant makeover.

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Despite it being a game about linking together huge arrays of skateboarding tricks for gigantic scores, there's still a story, and it's basically a variation on all those that have gone before. Tony Hawk is your God, and only by appeasing him with your incredible man-on-plank abilities will you be allowed to join the heavenly ranks of Project 8, Tony's bid to find and recruit the creamiest of the amateur boarder crop. You begin at rank 200, and everything you do, from beating challenges to finding 'gaps' (by performing tricks in the right places), will gradually up that status, unlocking new areas and goals within the game's freeroaming city. Your final destination (you hope) is the funfair, where you get to rub scabs with Hawk himself.

HARD SCORE
The thing is, once you've entered the top eight, you've effectively finished the game - well done, Tony loves you, sponsors are waving all kinds of blank cheques in your face etc - but it's only the beginning of something far, far more challenging. In previous Tony Hawk games, you'd choose your difficulty setting before starting the game; in Project 8, all of its three difficulties - Am, Pro and Sick - are merged into the challenges, meaning you just keep going at it until you've reached the best grade you can. What this means is that finishing most of the goals with an Am rank will get you into the top eight - but to get to the top spot, you'll have to ace the Sick ratings. So, if you ever fancy a challenge, you don't have to start the game all over again, just go back to your last save and get better at it. And be warned: Sick-level challenges are trickier than trying to tackle a forest fire with a small tub of ice-cream - and are just about as hard to resist. They'll push you to the limits of human thumb endurance, but that's okay. Project 8 is one of those rare games where you can actually feel your skill increasing with each hour of play that whizzes past your eyes.

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What makes that happen, and what's always been so great about this franchise, is its utterly fantastic trickset, a collection of skateboarding skills that can be used on pretty much anything you see, and linked together so well that you'll be improvising impressive combos in no time, starting and ending pretty much anywhere you want.

Your skater can do so much that it can be intimidating for newcomers, but keeping at it is plenty worth it - not least because Project 8 brings with it a great new trick system. It's known as 'Nail the Trick', a slow-mo mode you can activate whenever you're in the air. It looks brilliant - all zoomed-in and snazzily blurred - and successfully landing some extensive Nail the Trick action is a hugely satisfying feeling. Any returning Hawk pros will also notice the improved sense of solidity and weight about the skaters, as well as such details as the noise your board wheels make as they trundle over every crack or gap in the pavements.

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