American BeautyOne of the things that has made the THPS series so great is the creative level design. Continuing the tradition, THPS4 takes that creativity and applies it to several real world locations. The previously mentioned College level is reportedly modeled after UC Berkeley, and several locations from San Francisco, including Pier 39 and Alcatraz, are also included.
When they say real world locations, they mean it too. Being a Bay Area resident, I've been to Alcatraz a few times, and I can readily confirm that the Alcatraz level in THPS4 very closely matches the layout of the real deal. From the pier at the bottom to the watchtowers at the top, the general layout and prominent features of the island of Alcatraz have been faithfully reproduced in digital format, making skating around the island an almost surreal experience.
Not content to simply make their levels wide this time around, the folks at Neversoft have also made some of the levels tall as well. Some of the levels will have up to several floors of skateable areas for players that can find them, and it is possible to jump from the highest level to the bottom floor if one is daring enough.
As before, enterprising players will find that each level has a high degree of interactive potential. Alcatraz boasts warp gates of sorts - dark tunnels and stairways will transport skaters to other areas on the island. Other levels boast breakable windows, innocent bystanders, and destructible objects. When a particular task is driving you nuts, there's nothing like sending people standing on the pier into the cold, shark-infested water by sideswiping them to take the edge off of frustration.
The Usual SuspectsThe usual slew of famous skating personalities is intact, along with some new additions. Names like Tony Hawk, Chad Muska, Elissa Steamer, and Kareem Campbell can be found in the roster, along with some less conventional skaters that must be unlocked in order to be used. Those not content with the pre-made roster can elect to create their own skater in the Create-A-Skater mode, which allows for a pretty good range of flexibility in creation, allowing for body tattoos, various accessories, and the tweaking of various body part sizes.
The old trick library is also intact, including the revert and the manual added from THPS3. New to the mix is the previously mentioned skitching ability as well as a spine transfer. It's a little tricky to describe, but imagine two ramps back to back. The spine transfer allows players to skate up one ramp, nose down in mid-air, and skate down the other ramp. Turn those ramps into back-to-back halfpipes, and you can imagine the trick possibilities with this one.
For those that prefer the company of other humans, network play is a part of the package. The game types this time around include Trick Attack, Score Challenge, Combo Mambo, Slap!, King of the Hill, Graffiti, Goal Attack, and Capture the Flag. Slap! gets the award for craziest - imagine multiple skaters cruising around a level trying to slap each other silly and you have a pretty good idea of the game. For those without net connections, a two player mode is also available, and players can choose from either a horizontally or vertically split screen.
The park editor is also available for those that prefer skating on levels of their own creation. As with previous editors, creation is as simple as pick and drop an object, meaning that a basic park could be created in as little as several minutes. Levels can also be edited for multiplayer use, with customizable locations for flag drops and what not.
The list of unlockables is also in place, including hidden skaters, options, and movies. The movies themselves have also received a bit of an update. Rather than simply display a series of jaw-dropping tricks by a featured skater, the movies are now more of a series of documentaries, with each one being narrated by the featured skater. Tony Hawk's movie, for example, features Tony discussing the development of a trick where he spans a fairly large gap between two halfpipes, all the while showing footage of the man himself performing the trick.