Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 includes larger, more expansive levels and in-depth goals integrated into a revamped Career Mode that eliminates the time meter. Each of the 14 available professional skaters has been remodeled from 3,000 to 4,000 polygons, allowing for more realistic looking characters.
Worlds are also designed to be more realistic than in versions past, with interconnected areas like college campuses and zoos featuring pedestrians and pro skaters to converse with. Speaking to characters is important, since the goals and objectives needed to earn money are revealed, such as destroying kegs at a frat party, jumping across moving parade floats, knocking over football players, or racing to catch friends before being caught by security.
All of the pro skaters found wandering around the worlds speak to players using the voices of their real-life counterparts. After completing a pro's goal, players can access a separate option to add bonus items to the courses like ramps, rails, and quarter-pipes, while cash earned from other goals is used to purchase new threads and skateboards. Players can also save their hard-earned money to unlock a hidden skater or bonus level.
Also new is a technique called the spine transfer, used to lengthen the combo strings. By performing this move at the right time, the skater can jump atop a lip or surface like a balcony before transitioning to another trick. In addition to the Create-A-Skater and Park Editor features, a number of mini-games are available, including a variant on tennis (using skateboards as rackets), a basketball shootout, and more. Multiplayer action includes competition for up to eight players in such activities as Capture the Flag, Combo Mambo, and Score Attack.
Like each Tony Hawk game before it, Tony Hawk 4 nimbly treads the fine line between innovation and faithfulness to the original concept. The basics are all back: You step into the shoes of a number of real-world pro skateboarders and then skate through clever, colorful levels. You bust out tricks based on real skateboarding, but the physics are exaggerated to where you can easily pull off insane stunts that no pro could ever manage in the real world. It's the perfect blend of reality and fantasy.
The career mode has always been the heart of the series, and Tony Hawk 4 makes some of the boldest and most effective tweaks to it yet. Gone are the fixed, two-minute runs for completing level goals. Now you begin each level in the equivalent of free skate mode, where you can get a feel for each level. As you skate, you'll notice various characters with arrows over their heads; skate up to them, press the appropriate button, and they'll offer you a particular challenge. If you accept, only then will a timer begin ticking. Completing goals and collecting cash icons scattered about each level let you unlock new levels, boost stats, obtain funny mystery skaters, and more.
In Tony Hawk 4, the goals are a welcome blend of the old and the new, the mundane and the outrageous. As in every Tony Hawk game, you'll find yourself hunting around to collect the letters S-K-A-T-E that are scattered across each level, but now you'll also have to collect C-O-M-B-O while performing a single, uninterrupted combo as you pick them up. (A new "spine transfer" trick lets you build up bigger combos than ever as you switch between adjacent ramps.) A goal might have you do something straightforward like performing a series of tricks that another skater calls out to you. But then you might find yourself desperately hanging onto a London police motorcycle as it races around the city while the driver and sidecar passenger try to swat you off. Overall, the goals are diverse, witty, and the most challenging yet.
The goals also take great advantage of each level's setting and architecture. With Tony Hawk 4, Neversoft has again proven its mastery of level design. Not only are the game's nine levels among the largest yet seen in the series, but they're often the most intricate and colorful, too. You start out on a college campus dotted with academic buildings and tennis and basketball courts filled with players. As always, with a little cleverness you can access the rooftops for some truly death-defying skating as you grind across wires suspended above the streets. Later levels include a replica of Florida's sprawling Kona skate park and a zoo filled with humorous touches. The highlight is the massive, multilevel Alcatraz level, with its dilapidated cell block, rickety water tower, winding switchback roads, and rows of tourists just waiting to be knocked into the water by a delinquent skater.
To get the most from Tony Hawk 4 on the PC, you'll ideally want to have a gamepad with a minimum of eight buttons and an analog stick. Keyboard play is an option, but it's extremely awkward since the Tony Hawk games just weren't designed for it. Another control drawback is that if you want to switch button assignments, you need to use an external utility installed with the game; it would have been nice to be able to switch them from within the game.
All the levels and other content of this PC version are apparently the same as the PS2 version; for example, but just about everything looks better now, with clearer, more detailed textures, particularly if you crank the resolution up to the maximum 1280 x 1024 and turn on anti-aliasing. The differences aren't astonishing and don't change the gameplay, but they're easily noticeable and welcome. One minor downside is that the menus merely look like ugly, low-res copies right out of one of the console versions.
As with all the Tony Hawk games, the sound effects are again spot-on. The soundtrack is also the best yet in the series, with the usual blend of metal, hard rock, punk, and rap tunes. There are a few truly lame songs, but many of the tunes are classics by groups like Iron Maiden, AC/DC, the Sex Pistols, Run-DMC, and N.W.A.
In addition to the usual single-player and split-screen two-player modes, the PC version of Tony Hawk 4 offers Internet play, which can be a blast as you and your friends try to outdo each other with ever-wilder tricks.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 is huge, humorous, exciting, and addictive -- exactly what we've come to expect from the series.
People who downloaded Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 have also downloaded:
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, Tony Hawk's Underground 2, Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX, Road Rash, Links 2003, Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer
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