Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 Preview

Tony and his posse are bringing their boards to the PlayStation 2 and they've all learned plenty of new tricks.

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Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3
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Tony Hawk's Pro Skater single-handedly redefined the way ESPN 2-style "extreme" sports made its transition into the video game world. Gone were the pathetic race-with-tricks games, such as 3Xtreme and Street Sk8er. A new legion of Hawk-like games soon flooded the market. But before the clones could catch up to the Tony Hawk revolution, Activision and Neversoft upped the ante with the release of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. The sequel captured everything that made the original a smash hit while gently expanding those concepts and adding a few gameplay tweaks to enhance its replayability. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, currently being developed for the PlayStation 2, looks to raise the bar yet again with tons of new moves, more combo potential, outstanding graphics, and online play via Sony's upcoming network adapter.

At its core, Tony Hawk 3 is pretty much the same as the last two games. The modes from the first two games are intact, including single session, free skate, and the game's main mode, the career mode. This time around, however, the career mode goals are even more varied. While the score-based and collection-style goals of the first two games will remain, some goals will require a little more interaction. Pedestrians and other people in the levels will actually talk to you if you stop near them--some give you small hints, and others are actually part of a level goal. Different skaters will have slightly different goals, depending on their individual strengths. While a vert skater would have to do a special air trick over an item, a street skater might have to, say, manual over an item to complete the same goal. Item placement, like having to spell the word "skate," will also change from skater to skater. The game's roster of pro skaters remains largely unchanged, though Bob Burnquist has jumped ship to Konami's ESPN X Game Skateboarding. Bam Margera, pro skater and featured lunatic on MTV's Jackass, is set to fill the open slot. The create-a-skater and create-a-skate-park options will also be expanded. For instance, you will now be able to create female skaters.

Truckstands are just one of the new flatland tricks in the game.
Truckstands are just one of the new flatland tricks in the game.

In addition to local multiplayer modes, such as old favorites like trick attack, graffiti, and horse, the game will support Sony's network adapter, allowing for online play via a LAN or the Internet. Activision demonstrated the online mode back at the E3 convention, and it seemed to run just as fast as a single-player game. Aside from allowing more than the standard two-player matches of the previous games, the online mode adds a new piece of competition--knocking other players off their boards is just too much fun to ignore.

At first sight, Tony Hawk 3 plays just about identically to Tony Hawk 2. But once you've spent some time with it, you'll begin to uncover some of the game's new gameplay details. The major addition is the revert. This trick, essentially a quick 180 on the ground, is done when you're landing vert tricks. As you come down from a ramp, hitting R2 as you're landing executes the revert, which can then be popped into a manual, continuing your combo. This lets you combo into and out of vert tricks, unlike in Tony Hawk 2, which gives you no way of continuing combos out of vert tricks.

The next large addition to the Tony Hawk trick roster is a series of flatland tricks. These tricks require a full special meter but let you execute a few different cool moves without even leaving the ground. The tricks, all executed by pressing two directions and hitting triangle, include caspers, anticaspers, handstands, truckstands, and reemo slides. Each of them causes a manual-like balance meter to appear. The game also has its fair share of vert trick special moves, some new and some old. We saw the ghetto bird, 1-2-3-4, gazelle underflip, laser flip, Christ air, the 900, kickflip backflip, frontside 540, mctwist, slamma jamma, and what will probably be one of Bam Margera's specials, the jackass. Doing the jackass causes your skater to grab the board, bounce it off his head, and place it back under his feet. Hitting R2 while doing a manual causes your skater to execute a quick 180 G-turn. The addition of flatland tricks definitely adds a new level of depth to the game, as well as making the skating appear a little more authentic.

The revert opens up the game's combo potential a great deal, but there are other new ways to combo in Tony Hawk 3. You can combo lip tricks into one another without jumping. Simply execute a lip trick and then enter another lip trick command, and your skater will transition into a different stall or plant. You'll also be able to do similar things with grinds (even though this feature wasn't in the version we played). The game also has hidden combos that let you customize your tricks a bit. For example, left and square executes a kickflip. But if you hit square twice, you'll do a double kickflip. Three presses will do a triple kickflip. Other tricks, such as heelflips and 360 flips, can also be done differently. Hidden tricks can be done at any time and don't require you to have a full special meter.

Keeping your balance is harder than it looks.
Keeping your balance is harder than it looks.

Graphically, Tony Hawk 3 makes the obvious graphical upgrades. The levels we've seen so far are larger than levels in the previous games, yet the game runs at a pretty solid 60 frames per second. Also, the game seems to move a bit faster than the other two games, and it's definitely easier to gain momentum and start moving at breakneck speeds. The right analog stick can be used as a free look, which is handy for getting a better look at a level. Lots of new animation has been added to the skaters. When you execute a trick in a sloppy fashion, your skater will wobble back and forth for a few seconds after landing. Your skater's balance is better reflected through body movement, as his hips will sway back and forth according to your position on the rail balance meter. Along with the new transitions come new wreck animations. Falling off a rail while moving at high speeds sometimes causes you to fall directly on your bottom and slide for a few feet. Smaller, slower-moving wrecks will sometimes just cause your skater to jump off the board and run for a couple of steps, kick the board back onto its wheels, and continue on. To add a little more realism to the mix, blood left behind by your skater after a wreck now streaks onto the pavement and stays behind for quite some time, reminding you that you need more speed before attempting to pull off a 1080 benihana.

The levels look drastically different--they include everything from a futuristic-looking Tokyo that reminds us a bit of Jet Grind Radio with its elevated walkways and staircases to a house-filled suburbia not entirely unlike Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX for the PlayStation. Other levels on display in the current version are Los Angeles, which allows you to trigger a full-scale earthquake that reforms large sections of the level, as well as Canada, a snow-filled level that lets you bump snow out of trees onto a collection of snowball-throwing bullies below. The levels will follow the same format as that of the other games, with some of them acting as standard goal-based levels while others, such as Tokyo and Skater Island, are judged skate competitions.

From what we've seen so far, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 is at least as big of a jump past THPS2 as THPS2 was to the original game. Between the new tricks, new levels, and online options, fans of the Tony Hawk series should have a lot to be happy about when the PS2 version hits shelves this November.

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