As the Tony Hawk series progressed through its first three games, the gameplay was tweaked in some pretty major ways. The original game offered no real way to link very many tricks together, leaving multiple grinds as the only serious option for gigantic points. Tony Hawk 2 introduced the manual, which let players maintain their trick combos while on flat ground--but it also meant that you couldn't really work any serious vertical tricks into your combos. Tony Hawk 3 added the revert, which made vertical tricks useful again by letting you use them in midcombo. It also refined the trick system by adding more grind combos and flatland tricks. From the looks of the E3 build of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, the new game is going to be less about refining the trick system and more about refining the world in which you skate.
The major upgrade to Tony Hawk 4 is its level size. The levels have grown in both size and complexity, and they seem like the equivalent of two or three Tony Hawk 3 levels all in one. The two levels shown to us--zoo and college--both have multiple areas, including more traditional skateparklike sections, as well as, in the case of the zoo, various animal cages and other, smaller areas. The level size also makes the two-minute timer used throughout the rest of the series obsolete. Instead, the game acts a bit more like Acclaim's recently released Aggressive Inline--there's no running timer in the level until you skate up to a goal start point and hit the grab button. Goal start points are, more often than not, people, such as photographers, other skaters, Ollie the magic bum, and other scattered pedestrians. The goal briefing is spoken as well as printed on the screen, and the pro skaters did at least some of their own voice work for the game.
The goals are pretty well structured. Photographers will give you specific trick goals, just as they did in Tony Hawk 3. Other skaters will ask you to perform various skill- or score-based tasks. Random pedestrians will hit you up with other unspecific goals, such as collecting the letters of the word "skate," grinding banners off a wall, scaring away 25 birds in one combo, and executing the new "combo" goal. This goal works like the "skate" goal, only you must spell the word "combo" and get all the letters during one trick combination. The two combo lines in the two levels we played were fairly easy and took only one or two tries to figure out. Failing goals doesn't set you back very much; a pause menu option lets you hop right back to the beginning of any goal you've previously tried without skating around and talking to the same people over again. The other new goal addition is a collection of weird minigames. These play completely differently than the rest of the game and make for an interesting and strange diversion. You'll play tennis, using your board as a racket, for instance. In a Kaboom-like twist, you'll catch eggs laid by birds on a rail high above. You'll also be able to play basketball, though we didn't see how that one actually worked. Completing goals gives you different things, such as stat points, new special move slots, and even cash. Yup, cold, hard cash makes its return after sitting out of Tony Hawk 3 and will be used to buy things like new decks.
Putting the "Pro" in Pro Skater
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 will contain every pro skater who has ever been featured in any of the other Tony Hawk games. Or, to put it another way, it has the entire Tony Hawk 3 roster with the re-addition of Bob Burnquist, who appeared in the first two games and then starred in Konami's ESPN-licensed skateboarding game. However, no word yet on any new skaters or if Activision and Neversoft are planning to add any.
A lot of the new game's graphical improvements shown thus far seem to be in the skater animation and texture department. The skaters look a lot more like their real-life counterparts, especially around the face. Skaters' looks have been updated, so Bam Margera now has longer, bigger hair and HIM heart-a-grams on his pants by default. The animation looks to be nearly exactly the same as that of the previous games, but there are a few little things--like the way the skaters quickly wobble to regain their balance when coming down from a ramp--that seem more realistic. The three versions of the game all look slightly different. The Xbox version is sharper than the PlayStation 2 version. The GameCube version shown at E3 appeared to be a bit earlier than both its Xbox and PlayStation 2 cousins, as it didn't look nearly as sharp as the other two versions on display.
While the trick system doesn't seem to be the focus for updates in this year's game, it's still been altered a bit. The new functionality is the ability to do spine transfers from one side of a ramp to another. The build we saw currently allowed only for air-based transfers, but the game will eventually let you do transfers with lip tricks as well. The spine transfer function also seems to be convenient for easily getting out over the lips of half-pipes and bowls. The flatland trick system has also been updated. In Tony Hawk 3, you could transfer from one special manual to another, but you had to have at least one special manual in your trick repertoire for this to work. Now, moves such as caspers, pogos, and handstands are no longer special tricks. In addition, transitioning from one trick to the next didn't add to your scoring multiplier in the build we saw--no word yet on if that's intentional or not. Casper flips and other similar tricks done from the manual position, however, still added to your trick multiplier as before. You can also skitch rides by pressing up when you're near the rear end of a moving car. Cars also act as full-on objects in the world now, so you'll be able to grind them or even ride around in the back of a pickup truck, rather than just using the standard car plant, which is what was done in previous games in the series.
The PlayStation 2 version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 was running online at E3, but network plans for the Xbox and GameCube versions of the game have yet to be revealed. All three versions of the game are scheduled to ship in November. Stay tuned for more on Tony Hawk 4 as it becomes available.