It's difficult to write about the upcoming Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 without sounding redundant. To say that each successive iteration of the series has been more of the same would be an understatement. However, the strength of the THPS game engine has managed to carry it through four separate titles, and the robustness of the gameplay is so complete that it seems few of us mind playing what is essentially the same game over and over, albeit with new touches added along the way.
Thanks to the efforts of Beenox and Asypr, THPS4, the latest incarnation of the saga, is currently in development for both the Mac and PC. Bringing a host of new skaters, a couple of new tricks, and some redeveloped gameplay, Tony's latest seems to provide enough original twists to bring even jaded fans back for one more trick run.
Due to the popularity of the series, I'm going to spend less time talking about the overall game itself and more on the new touches. The .1% of you that have no idea what THPS is about are encouraged to read past reviews on any of the previous titles, after which the following will no doubt make more sense to you.
A Time to KillOne of the most drastic changes to THPS4 is the revamped Career Mode. In previous titles, players were force to tackle a level's various challenges while sweating it out under a time limit. This time around, the developers at Neversoft saw fit to trash the timer, meaning that players can now skate around each level to their heart's content. The change is significant in that Career Mode now feels much more relaxed and open, making for a less stressful gaming experience.
Goals are now activated by interacting with various people scattered across each level. The people, which range from photographers to any of the playable skaters, are easily located by the bright arrows hovering over their heads. Once a specific person is spoken to, he or she will describe the task they need completed. If the player accepts the task, a timer will start counting down, and the player must complete the task in the time allotted. To save players from getting too frustrated, tasks can be ended early or restarted at any time by accessing the pause menu.
There are many tasks per level, and the range of tasks is extremely inventive. While the usual point challenges and C-O-M-B-O letter collection jobs from previous titles are still in place, tasks specific to each level are also in place to keep things from getting too stale. Players may find security guards searching for lost keys, delivery boys who ended up dropping some packages, or a photographer looking for a shot of a certain trick. The College level sports two of my favorite tasks to date, with one of the tasks being to jump the gaps between floats in a parade marching through the streets. The second task, which currently takes the cake for presentation, involves a professor, whose car has just been stolen. The task itself involves skitching the car (i.e. hanging on to the rear bumper for dear life), but the accompanying helicopter camera view and news reporter dialogue is priceless, as the reporter starts commenting on the crime in progress, only to break into a startled update as he spots a brave skater hanging onto the bumper as the car careens around the city.
The completion of a task will award anything from money, stat points, and pro points. Money is used to purchase various items, such as new boards and cosmetic player customizations. Stat points, as the name suggests, are used to upgrade a skater's stats, while pro points determine the advancement to the next level.
In addition to goals, there are also hidden mini-games to be found in each level. In the Alcatraz level, for example, stopping near the baseball diamond and listening to the sound of a disembodied voice will start a small game of skateboard baseball, where a ghostly pitcher lobs pitches for the skaters to swing their boards at. While hardly the most challenging tasks, these distractions allow for some light-hearted fun as well as the change to earn a little bit of pocket money.
For players that prefer the older ways, both the Single and Free Skate modes are still available for play. The Single mode gives players a specific time limit in which to rack up as many points and combo tricks as possible on a given level, while the Free Skate mode simply allows one to skate freely around any unlocked level. To be honest, however, given Career Mode's new open-endedness, there no longer seems to be much of a discernible difference between the two modes, though of course I could be missing something.