Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 Review

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 strikes a perfect balance between new and old and renders the two previous entries in the series almost completely obsolete in the process.

Making a great sequel to an already successful product is a tricky endeavor, especially when you're talking about a game series that is moving from one platform to another. It would be extremely easy for a developer to stick way too close to the previous title, using the new console's power to give the game a nice graphical overhaul and pumping up the difficulty so that hard-core fans have something new to play with. On the other hand, too many changes could potentially alienate the original game's fan base by getting away from what made the previous games in the series stick out. The Neversoft and Activision team has already proved that it can do sequels right with the September 2000 release of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. Now, the team is releasing a new game in the series on a new console, the PlayStation 2. Thankfully, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 strikes a perfect balance between new and old and renders the two previous entries in the series almost completely obsolete in the process.

For those of you new to the series, the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games put you on a skateboard and in a level with goals to accomplish. As you accomplish these goals, which range from simple score targets to more difficult skateboard trickery of the "how the heck am I supposed to get all the way up there" variety, more levels are opened up. The game isn't exactly the most accurate simulation of skateboarding in the world, as it has some pretty outrageous physics and lets you get away with things that make Tony Hawk's much lauded 900-degree spin look commonplace by comparison. As the series has progressed, it has gotten more and more combo-friendly, conceivably allowing you to continually do one string of tricks around the entire level, lasting the entire length of your two-minute run.

Like the previous Tony Hawk game, THPS3 features a collection of professional skaters. The roster hasn't changed much this time around--still on board are Steve Caballero, Kareen Campbell, Rune Glifberg, Eric Koston, Bucky Lasek, Rodney Mullen, Chad Muska, Andrew Reynolds, Geoff Rowley, Elissa Steamer, Jamie Thomas, and of course, Tony Hawk. Bob Burnquist, who was in the first two games, is not in Tony Hawk 3, as he has jumped ship over to Konami's ESPN skateboarding game. Replacing Bob is Bam Margera, perhaps most famous for his dad-beating antics on MTV's "Jackass" and his self-produced CKY videos. The create-a-skater and create-a-skate park have also been expanded quite a bit this time around. In create-a-skater, you can select different faces, skin tones, hairstyles, heights, and weights. Once you've got the base down, you can decorate your skater with different shirts, pants, shorts, shoes, socks, helmets, pads, glasses, hats, tattoos, watches, bracelets, and more. The pro skaters can be edited to a certain extent, so you can add hats and remove or change shirts if you so desire. You can also create female skaters. Rounding out the skater lineup is a collection of wild and, in some cases, completely unexpected hidden skaters, each of whom has a few new special tricks. While the skaters may look different and start with different stats and tricks, you can configure their tricks (both normal and special) and stat points in any way you see fit. The level editor is more varied and lets you be far more productive--the only thing missing is the ability to use your created parks while playing online.

In Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, you could combine grinds and other street-style tricks by manualing (in essence, popping a wheelie on your board) just as you touched ground. But there was no way to work vert ramps into the middle of a combo, only the end. As a result, the game became a little one-dimensional, as everyone simply looked for the longest grind lines and ignored ramps almost entirely. Tony Hawk 3 remedies this imbalance by adding a trick called the revert. The revert is a quick 180 spin that is done just as your skateboard touches the ramp when you're coming down from vert or lip tricks. Doing the revert lets you pop up into a manual, after which you can roll over to something else to do more tricks. Just as the manual revolutionized the Tony Hawk world back in Tony Hawk 2, the revert does the same here in Tony Hawk 3. The combo potential of other moves has also been increased. You can now move from one grind to another without actually leaving the rail. Lip tricks also work the same way. Some kick tricks can be doubled or tripled by quickly doing the trick two or three times--holding left and tapping square three times, for example, does a triple kickflip. Other less-noticeable combos are also included. Doing a kickflip and immediately doing an indy afterward gives you--in the eyes of scoring, anyway--a new trick called "kickflip to indy."

In addition to all the new trick enhancements, the game's levels have improved. Some of the levels are based on actual locations, like Skater Island, an indoor skate park in Rhode Island, which serves as the game's second competition level. Most of the levels are rather large and significantly more interactive. The most dramatic example is in the Los Angeles level, where you'll start an earthquake that rattles a freeway apart, giving you new places to skate. The game is packed with tiny cutscenes that play with the completion of some goals, showing you dumping snow onto a bully, making a car fall off a freeway onto the surface streets below, causing a cruise ship to deploy its safety nets, or activating a satellite dish by clearing away branches from its power lines. The goal structure in the game remains largely the same, with each noncompetition level containing nine goals. Three of those goals are score based, one involves finding a hidden videotape stashed somewhere on the level, and the rest involve collecting items, breaking items, and doing specific tasks. For example, in the Canada level, you have to "Get Chuck Unstuck." Poor Chuck has his tongue stuck to a frozen pole, and skating into him is the only way to rip his tongue off the pole. Some goals have two parts: In the airport, you have to deliver plane tickets from the counter to the gate. So first you have to grab the tickets; then you have to make it all the way down to the gate to deliver the tickets. Two goals change depending on your chosen skater. Each level has a trick-specific goal. So with a vert skater, you might have to do a cannonball over a half-pipe, but a street skater will have to find a specific rail and do a 50-50 grind on it. The letters that spell the word "skate" also must be collected in each level, and there are a handful of different configurations for these letters in each level, which change depending on the skater you're currently using. In addition to the standard goal-based levels, Tony Hawk 3 has three competition levels that score you based on how well you can do on a one-minute run. Doing well here gives you a gold medal and opens up the next level. Every level has a few optional items in it as well. Five stat points and a new deck are in every level, and their placement changes from skater to skater. Earning stat points is crucial, because certain level goals later in the game will be significantly more difficult if you haven't become powerful enough. Stat points can be placed in any category and can be rearranged at any time. Stat categories include rail, lip, and manual balance, as well as ratings for your ollie, air, hang time, spin, switch-skating ability, and speed.

Each time you complete the game, you're given some new things to play with. Earning three gold medals gives you a new video to watch. Most of the videos are standard biographical stuff for the pro skaters, combined with footage of them skating. Like in the previous games, the hidden and created skaters unlock other videos, such as footage of the pros bailing and lots and lots of footage of the Neversoft team goofing around. Needless to say, the increased storage capacity of the DVD format doesn't go to waste here. Aside from the main career mode, you can skate around any level with no time limit or skate a single two-minute session on any level in an attempt to set one of the many records that the game keeps track of for every course. The nicest mode addition is a brief tutorial that shows you the basics of the game--something that Tony Hawk 2 definitely could have used. The tutorial takes you through a step-by-step guide to the game, narrated by Tony himself. Here, you'll learn how to manual, how to revert properly, how to determine what makes good combos, and how to wall-ride effectively. It's brief, but it goes a long way toward making the game friendlier to first-time players.

Completing every goal in the game with one skater unlocks something else, like a hidden skater, hidden level, or cheat mode. Once you've gotten the hang of the game and figured out all the goals a few times, beating the game should take around an hour, but the lure of hidden stuff combined with the varied placement of certain level items from skater to skater makes the game very replayable. But single-player replayability isn't the only thing Tony Hawk 3 has going for it.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 has the unique distinction of being the very first online game available for the PlayStation 2. As of this writing, Sony's own online adapter isn't available, but Neversoft has included support for USB modems and USB Ethernet adapters. The game features a pretty intuitive network setup screen, allowing you to enter IP, gateway, and DNS information if you need it or dial-up settings if you're using a narrowband connection. If you're on a network that uses DHCP, you should be able to just plug your Ethernet cable into a supported USB Ethernet adapter, hit network from the main menu, and start playing. The game uses the standard PC model for online games, meaning one of the players in the game will be acting as the server. Being the server means you call the shots when it comes to game and level selection, as well as banning unruly players. Joining a game is also simple. When you are connected to the lobby, you're given a choice of three West Coast and three East Coast master servers. After selecting a master, you'll see a list of games running, and you can sort them by ping, number of players, game type, level, and so on. Pick a game, wait for it to load, and you're skating with up to three other people. You can skate freely around a level with other players, chatting with either a slow onscreen keyboard or by plugging a USB keyboard into the PS2.

Aside from free skate, there are a handful of games you can play online. Trick attack is a simple score-based battle. Graffiti was in previous Tony Hawk games and challenges you to mark more territory than your opponents by doing tricks on them. The pieces of the level you use for your trick are changed to your color. Anyone doing a higher-scoring trick on that object can steal the piece from you. King of the hill is a slight reworking of tag from THPS2, and it forces players to fight for a crown that changes hands whenever the king is bumped by another player. Whoever can hold the crown for two minutes (or more if the server operator decides to choose a longer time period) first wins. Slap! is the game's answer to Quake-style deathmatch. When two skaters collide, the faster skater knocks the other one down and earns one point. Whoever has the most points at the end wins. All these modes can also be played in a split-screen two-player mode. Horse, a multiplayer game that has been in all of the Tony Hawk games, can be played only in this offline two-player mode. Needless to say, the multiplayer element of the game gives it a nearly infinite amount of replay value.

In addition to playing amazingly well, Tony Hawk 3 looks terrific. The game is designed to run at 60 frames per second, and with a few hardly noticeable exceptions, it does just that. The huge levels look great up close or at a distance, with nice-looking, colorful textures and a nicely controlled draw distance. While some rails and other edges do have that jaggy, aliased look that the PlayStation 2 has become infamous for, it doesn't stand out as much as it does in some other PS2 products. Plus, the skaters all look nice and smooth. While some of the standard trick animations from the previous games in the series seem to be reused here, the tricks transition very well from one to the next, and the animation is both smooth and full of little nuances. For instance, spinning in the air while doing tricks looks way more realistic now, as the skaters' torsos actually twist separately from their legs. Even grinding and lip tricks look better now, as the skaters get a little twitchy as they try to keep their balance. A ton of new wreck animations have been added as well. These situational animations make bailing look a lot more realistic--and a lot more painful. Blood that streaks the sides of walls and ramps when you wipe out and remain in that spot for quite some time afterward definitely adds to the painful effect. Another nice feature is the ability to look around at will by moving the right analog stick. You can even lock the camera in any position you wish, though it's obviously pretty difficult to skate while you're staring directly at the front side of your skater.

The soundtrack is a perfect mix of old and new material that crosses many genres. Bands on the soundtrack include CKY, Motorhead, AFI, Alien Ant Farm, Xzibit, KRS-One, Rollins Band, Redman, Del the Funky Homosapien, Ozomatli, and more. A playlist function lets you turn off tracks that don't fit your tastes, but the long soundtrack will almost certainly contain something you can skate to. Like the previous Tony Hawk games, Tony 3 gets the sounds of skating down perfectly. You can hear the cracks in the sidewalk as you skate over them, different surfaces make different noises when you skate on them, and there is a seemingly unlimited number of cool little voice clips and other minor sound effects that really make the game come alive. Pedestrians throughout the levels will talk, some of them having funny conversations amongst themselves, while others will call out to you, telling you to "bust something out" and proclaiming that your tricks are "dope" when you do something nice right in front of them. The voicework is also absolutely hilarious. The kids in the Canada level talk with a Canadian accent, and their dialogue is peppered with the word "eh." Security guards in the airport level and some of the people in the Los Angeles level tend to talk with a funny sort of "Eddie Murphy doing an impression of an uptight white guy" flavor, speaking very deliberately when they proclaim your tricks to be "sick."

The Tony Hawk series has always had style. The first game reinvented a genre and set off a series of clones and pretenders that still flood the market today. The second game refined the formula, but its higher level of difficulty and steeper learning curve turned off casual players. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 brings it all together in one package that makes everything before it almost unplayable by comparison. The game has a lower level of difficulty at the beginning and some basic tutoring to appeal to new players but has enough hidden items and harder optional goals later on to keep the Tony Hawk experts interested as well. Add to that the greatly expanded and very balanced trick system and a heavy dose of sleep-stealingly addictive online play and you've got a game that you'll be playing right up until the day that Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 is released, if not longer. We highly recommend that you cancel whatever plans you had for Halloween and buy a copy as soon as possible.

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About the Author

Jeff Gerstmann has been professionally covering the video game industry since 1994.