Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 Impressions

We get a hands-on look at Aspyr's PC conversion of the latest in the popular skating series.

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At a recent press event, longtime Mac publisher Aspyr Media was showing off its first PC products, including Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4. Although Activision published the previous two PC games in the series after contracting out the conversions to external developers--notably Gearbox Software for Tony Hawk 3--this time around, the publisher handed over the job of publishing the PC version to the company that has handled a number of Mac ports of Activision games. Aspyr is working with Canada-based studio Beenox to produce a faithful port of the Xbox version of the game, but with high-resolution graphics and full online multiplayer support.

Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 improves on the previous version with a number of minor gameplay tweaks that, taken together, add up to a noticeable enhancement on the series' established formula. This time around, Neversoft did away with the two-minute time limit and reworked the goal system to allow for much larger levels. You don't have to achieve all the tricks and objectives in one two-minute run, but instead come across characters who will provide you with a specific goal, such as reaching a certain score in a given time period, performing certain tricks, breaking mission-specific items, or collecting letters scattered around the level. The game's nine levels are much larger, and more goals are packed into each one. By completing goals, you earn cash, new trick slots, or stat points.

The game includes just about every real skating trick imaginable, plus plenty of exaggerated, off-the-wall stunts. The main addition to the trick system is the spine transfer, which allows you to change orientation in midair and go up one side of a quarter-pipe and down the other. It also works for getting out of half-pipes and pools, or passing over obstacles such as walls that have ramps at their base. Experienced Tony Hawk players will find that most tricks are handled similarly, but there are some small tweaks, including the ability to perform not only double- and triple-kick tricks, but also grab tricks. Some of the wilder stunts are based on the skater you're playing as, and we watched as the unlockable Jango Fett character executed the Jango jump jet trick, flying high into the air. Unfortunately, the game wasn't being demoed with a gamepad, and we didn't get a good sense of how responsively it controlled by using a keyboard.

The PC version is a direct port of the Xbox game in the interest of getting it out relatively quickly, but that doesn't mean it's completely barren of any original content. In addition to the full soundtrack that accompanied the console versions, Aspyr included two new music tracks from a local Austin punk band called Lunch Box Avenue. The PC version will also include online multiplayer support, something the PlayStation 2 version had but the Xbox version didn't. The eight-player online support will have built-in player-matching support that will let PC players play against others with the PC version. It will also be possible for those with the PC version to exchange skateparks they've created.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 for the PC is currently in beta, and the game is due out in the middle of the year. Aspyr won't have a booth at E3, but the PC version of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 is expected to make an appearance at Nvidia's booth.

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