See no Evil, Hear no EvilGraphically, THPS4 is the best looking of the lot. Player models are even more well-detailed, sporting distinctive faces, signature outfits, and distinctive body types. The animation also seems to have gotten an overhaul, with believable fidgeting, tricking, and the most painful looking bails imaginable. NPCs will also react, snapping pictures, clapping, or simply getting the heck out of the way as you go careening into them. Specific NPCs will also perform various actions. Drunks will stagger around, helpless bystanders will cower in fear, and zoo mascots will run around waving their arms.
And yes, there seems to be even more blood than before. Injuries in particular are more noticeable, and a skater who bails repeatedly will soon start to display bloody scrapes on elbows and knees. Probably nothing more than a public service message from Neversoft to wear safety equipment. After all, what gamer really wants more blood in his game?
The various levels also sport richer textures and modeling. Compared to previous titles, the levels in THPS4 seem to boast even more colors and animations. It makes a nice series of contrasts when one skates across a concrete fountain spraying blue water, slides on the rail of a stairway with transparent glass, and ends up in the middle of a crowd of distinctive-looking people.
One thing that I did find annoying was the draw-in distance. Simply put, the horizon of every level I played has a fairly short draw-in distance, which made every area look like it had a serious case of fog. Many games of a 3D nature have an option to control the distance, and I'm hoping that the final version of THPS4 will have this option.
As for sound, every NPC is fully voiced. Ask a character for a task, and they'll speak it out to you, meaning that those of you that hate to read won't have to do so in the game as long as you have the sound turned on. All the asphalt grinding, rail sliding sound effects common to the THPS series are also in place, and are even useful when trying to avoid the slapping hands of a rival player during net play.
A host of musical tracks from notable artists are also available, ranging from AC/DC to Public Enemy. While the playlist is customizable, I was personally hoping for the ability to add my own mp3s to the collection. While this looks doubtful, given that the included music tracks are in some .smo format, maybe the final version will surprise me.
Control at this point was a bit of a sticky issue for me. Though I don't recommend that anyone play with this game with a keyboard, that's exactly what I had to do, given the fact that I could not for the life of me get my (admittedly cheap) Gravis Gamepad Pro to work right. THPS4 certainly recognized it in its gamepad configuration screen, but I was unable to get it to respond to the controller itself in game, let alone configure the buttons. Even assigning keystrokes to the buttons via USB Overdrive had no effect, and I was relegated to the awkward keyboard controls in order to play. Again, this is a beta copy I'm previewing here, so hopefully control support will be more robust in the final version.
As for performance, THPS4 ran very smoothly on my setup for the most part. I'm currently running a G4/1.33Ghz with a GeForce4 Ti, and running at 1024x768 with all the details on yielded smooth animation with just the occasional slowdown when things on the screen got a little too hairy. There is a selectable option for FSAA in the startup configuration as well, so those with higher-end video cards will be able to smooth out the jaggies.
As for network play, judging from what I saw at the Aspyr event, networking with Macs and PCs alike should still yield smooth animation and gameplay. I say this mainly to squash a comment made in a PC preview of THPS4 that the Mac version "chugged along" while the PC version ran "smoothly." I was there when the game was being demoed, and I saw no real difference between the Mac and PC versions, except maybe for the fact that it looked a lot better on Apple's LCD display. Not that I'm bitter about the subjective comment. Really.
The Shipping NewsTHPS4 is currently in Final Candidate mode, which means that it'll be shipping sooner rather than later. I suspect, given the tone at Aspyr, that the crew over there has their fingers and toes firmly crossed on this one being a big seller, especially given the fact that it'll be their first high-profile Mac/PC simultaneous launch (yes, I know about Spy Hunter - note I said "high profile"). To that end, it seems as Beenox has pulled the stops out on this one, putting forth versions that, at first glance, seem quite comparable when looked at side by side.
THPS4, even in the beta that I previewed, truly seems to be the successor it should be. The gameplay has been tweaked as to be even more enjoyable, the game itself looks and feels even more polished, and the networking that allows for Macs and PCs to compete against each other assures a host of human opponents for both platforms. Heck, the Mac/PC networking feature alone will probably pull in sales, even excluding the fact that the fun factor of this game continues to soar higher than even Tony Hawk himself.
When this title finally ships, I really don't think Aspyr has anything to worry about. But it's nice to see that they care.