Anything EA can do Activision can do better. Much like SSX3, the latest title in the Tony Hawk's series is all about freedom and sprawling levels. A launch that has been slightly muted for such an established gaming franchise, you may be forgiven for not even knowing it is sitting on the shelves waiting for your attention. Of course it would have to be worthy of your money, and just as the Hawkster is loosing his touch, his computerised goldmine is also getting creaky in the hips.
In an attempt to once again expand the Tony Hawks range, Neversoft have taken out the vast majority of the old and bought in a whole lot of new. Career mode is now the ever so swanky Story mode, providing a more structured feeling to the single-player section of the game. To begin things you have to create a skater, and as always we find this sort of an option slightly perverse. Creating your perfect image of a person, or for the more deranged trying to make a new image of themselves, or a celebrity, or perhaps even a total freak. Worryingly, the tweaks and alterations are even more precise than before. When we finished creating our first creature we had the strange urge to start cackling evilly, god knows why...
So, this new-fangled Story mode then, well as the name blatantly there is a story, not a good one, but it is included. Just like any attempt at literacy by a five-year-old this 'adventure' starts at home, rather oddly with the visit of a skating legend to your street corner; best go off and have a look then? This is basically a very canny way of disguising the standard 'tutorial mode'. Here you are told that a simple tap of the Z-Button enables you to get down off your skateboard and start roaming the 'harsh streets' of the city. Due to its new free roaming style THUG there are various callings for Platforming, if you can call it that. Hit A and you jump about like a pogo-stick with rigor mortis, and hit a shoulder button and you will grab onto ledges and start to climb things.
As you move about the town various people will set you tasks if you go and talk with them. Things such as beating their trick scores and pulling off some new tricks. It all leads you into the game nicely and gets you into the way this is to be played. The skating star that is still meandering about waiting for something to happen sees that you have some 'wicked skillz'; this is the start of your cataclysmic rise to fame. Even after this much the plot still betters that in Matrix Revolutions, so not much of an achievement then.
You improve you characters points by practice and perfection, which can only be done by exploring your environments. The freedom is not hinted at in this game, it is forced upon you, which is a bit of an oxymoron really, forcing freedom. The environments in the game have loads of hidden bits and pieces, and being able to run, jump and skate about them lets you find things out that you would never noticed had your feet been bostick-ed to a skateboard. The people you find will set you challenges, to complete them you have to do various different things, and it is this variation that keeps the game fresh and, essentially, fun. There are various special little sections to be found where some truly stunning special tricks can be found. THUG is an individual experience; different people will find different things and go about the game in a different way. You can't ask a mate how far they have got, as the game does not work like that. You can just potter about the expansive levels doing a few challenges, discovering new things; until something hits you. It's becoming incredibly dull!
Whilst the game environment is huge, it is also totally dull and lifeless. THPS4 was a very impressive game visually; it is something the series is known for, but not in this case. A lack of colour, a framerate with a severe case of Parkinson's. It just isn't pretty to watch. Rather stupidly, in trying to innovate things and spice it all up a bit Neversoft have totally ballsed up the entire game and what we loved about the previous versions. Many of the challenges set can be done on foot, meaning that rather than a full-on skating masterpiece THUG feels like a mixed up below par platformer. Oh, and did we mention there are driving sections! Well guess what, they feel tagged on and play badly too, its like driving a car on icy sponges, we despair.
The multiplayer is quite good fun, as we'd expect it to be and you can guarantee that many an hour will be spent pulling off various tricks and suchlike. Just as the graphics show this is from the good ol' PS2, the distinct lack of a four-player is once again a hindrance.
Yes it is trying to be all new and shiny, but THUG fails to get our praise. We were initially very excited by the prospects and early information showed all was going well, but the final product is far from healthy. That aside, people who have enjoyed Tony Hawk's titles in the past need not be put off, this it still a game to consider buying. Whilst innovation might be the key to better gaming, if you snap the key in the lock, you are stuffed.
The skateboarding is fine; the 'platforming' sections however, are not. In trying to innovate Neversoft have made numerous mistakes that just make THUG feel mixed up and poorly put together.
Disappointingly dull. Tony Hawks always used to be a very solid game visually, but THUG is just bland and slightly boring. Nasty textures, muddy colours, nothing to get excited about.
Very good really. Lots of good and quite varied tunes accompany you as you zip about the streets. Perhaps the games best aspect, but considering you could just go and buy some good music for a quarter of the price...
Creating a skater that is the exact image of you and everyone you have ever met will take an age, and its great fun. If you can get into the game there is quite a lot to be 'enjoyed' but we doubt that many will stick with it for the distance.
It's a bit of a mixed bag. The skateboarding sections that we know and love are still here and as good as ever, and the storyline gives the game some structure and purpose but we can't help but feel that it didn't need to be changed quite this much. The dull platforming that dogs this game throughout makes it feel like a chore at times. Hawk-maniacs will go mad for it, the rest of us should kick-flip well clear.