E3 2002: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 preshow report

Get the first information on the upcoming Tony Hawk game.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4

Activision has given demonstrations of its upcoming Tony Hawk game leading up to E3, and we were able to get a detailed look at it. It's currently being developed at Neversoft for all three major platforms, and it seems to make a good deal of comparatively minor changes to the series' existing formula. The most substantial changes have been made to the games' level design and objective systems, the results of which the developers are hoping will make for more living, organic worlds.

The game's career mode has been rebuilt from the ground up, and the effects of this are most evident in the way players will acquire and accomplish objectives in the game's career mode. Entry into a level no longer results in a timed "run" to accomplish tasks from a checklist of objectives. Rather, players will be able to travel the environments at their leisure, acquiring objectives as they interact with various personages in the world, all without the burden of a time limit. The environment that was on demo at Activision--called "college" and looking remarkably like the University of California, Berkeley campus--had all manner of people inhabiting it, from screaming winos and strolling couples to gangs of skaters and basketball players. Certain characters were marked as objective bearers, and talking to them is what triggered level goals. Talking to an upright, coherent Ollie the Magic Bum, for instance, allowed the demonstrating producer to show off a goal type that's new to the series. À la the earlier games' objective of spelling the word "skate," this goal required players to collect the letters spelling "combo" while maintaining an uninterrupted chain of tricks. In this particular case, the letters were arranged sequentially along a set of two inclining grind surfaces, which were separated by a gap. Some parts of the objective set will still be three-tiered, though the levels themselves will change subtly as players travel through the ranks. A set of ramps, for instance, will change slightly in placement when you accomplish the amateur goal that's associated with them, their arrangement becoming more suited to subsequent objectives. Furthermore, each level now has an ultimate, purportedly custom-tailored, superchallenging goal for each pro skater, called a "capstone" goal. According to the demoing producer, these goals will somehow make reference to the individual skaters' real-life careers or else somehow incorporate their personalities and histories into their design.

As has every sequel in the series before it, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 incorporates a new game mechanic into its system: the spine transfer. Nowhere near as radical as the manual and the revert brought to the series respectively by its predecessors, the spine transfer simply lets players maintain combos when they ride up the surface of a ramp and back down another that's placed back-to-back with it. Certain objectives will require players to perform spine transfers before they're completed, though it remains to be seen if the mechanic has the potential to expand the game like it predecessors did. Apart from the spine transfer, however, Neversoft is now allowing players to move and perform tricks on moving objects. Things like cars fall into this category, as well as, as our demo made evident, processions of parade floats. Apart from those additions, players can expect some new bail animations and a number of new tricks for each of the pro skaters, as well as the common roster. Also, a set of diversionary minigames will be included, which players can access within the game's environments. By talking to a tennis player in the college level, for instance, players will be able to engage in an impromptu tennis match, using their boards as rackets. Same with basketball players, according to Activision, though we didn't see that, in particular, go down. Finally, the create-a-skater and park-editor features will be upgraded to make them more versatile. As of the time of this writing, there is no word yet regarding the game's online modes, though there was comment that the Xbox version's would be most likely to incorporate it on a large scale, given the nature of the hardware.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 will be playable on the show floor at E3 later this week. Expect hands-on impressions then.

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