I’m going to come straight out and admit it. I am a Tony Hawk: Pro Skater (THPS) addict. The first game was excellent and I anxiously awaited the sequel, wondering what could possibly be added to make the best better. THPS 2 arrived and blew me out of the water with crisp graphics, more levels, more characters, and the ability to combo for monster tricks. Tony Hawk 3 is now upon us with even more levels, even more characters, a new goal system, PS2 graphics and much more. Is it worthy to sit in the same family as the first two titles without being repetitive? This author thinks so.
For those that aren’t THPS fans, THPS 3 is a skateboarding game that allows you to take one of thirteen skaters out and rip up locations that were never meant for skating. THPS is all about big air, big tricks and monstrous combos. THPS reminds me of gaming of old, when practice made perfect and there was an art to button mashing.
The programmers at Neversoft have updated the graphics for PS2 and have done an excellent job. The words that first came to mind were “smooth” and “clean”. Models are very realistic and lack the “jaggies” that were found in the original PlayStation versions. While the models are much smoother, the biggest advance has been in the size and complexity of the levels. THPS 3 levels are immense, holding an impossible number of rails, kickers, and lips. THPS 2 used fogging extensively as a way of limiting the amount of the level viewable at any one time. THPS 3 uses no fogging and is able to maintain a very smooth frame rate even when the screen is fully populated with characters and architecture.
Beyond the obvious picture of characters and models, the details are what make the graphics and Neversoft has gone to a painstaking amount of effort to make their levels as appealing as possible. The textures are well drawn and not overused. I enjoyed being able to read window signs while skateboarding by and little touches like that made the game much more enjoyable. When you fall, which is often, you will leave a nice blood trail on the surrounding pavement. Perhaps this was a little bit too much as people were walking into my office and noticeably grimacing. The menu system has also been redone and looks significantly cleaner. Menus are easy to read and very aesthetically pleasing. I especially enjoyed the effort that got put into the staging skateshop where you select your character, level, board, etc. Cutscene movies are well encoded and the DVD goes far to do them justice. There is little negative to say about the graphics, they are more functional than flashy and I believe that allows the player to focus on the game play, which is what the THPS series is about.
The soundtrack in the THPS series has always been a strong point and with every iteration, the play list gets longer and the bands included get bigger. The soundtrack in THPS 3 is the best yet, and goes along perfect with the skating mayhem that the player creates. Tracks such as Redman’s “Let’s Get Dirty” mesh perfectly with The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” and many other artists. Somehow something from every genre has found its way onto the playlist and it works incredibly well.
The soundtrack is the high point of the audio in THPS3. The ambient sounds in the game, while plentiful and well recorded, are skateboard sounds and add little to the gameplay. It is nice to hear pedestrian’s scream at you as you skate by, but I didn’t feel it added a significant amount to my experience and after a while it seemed that it was a little bit of overkill. This is one of my only complaints with the game and I will be honest, it’s a small one.
THPS 3 is one of the first games to include the ability to play over a LAN or the Internet using an Ethernet adapter. I, unfortunately, did not have said adapter and was not able to experience THPS 3 with international competition. I have heard the gameplay is relatively lag free and I feel that this is a huge and exciting step forward.
Multiplayer is also supported through split-screen play and is one of my favorite parts of the game. There are few feelings equal to that of pulling bigger and better tricks then your buddies. There are several different modes of multiplayer play and I find all of them to be enjoyable. My favorite is Horse which allows competition at the same points in a level, this leads to fierce competition about how to execute bigger tricks on the same set of obstacles. Overall, multiplayer is addictive and I can’t wait to try out network play.
With most modern games, gameplay seems to come secondary to graphics and special effects. The THPS series has broken that convention and is all about gameplay. You can trick off of everything in this game and you can create combos that maybe were never imagined by the level designer or anyone else. THPS 3 contains many welcome additions to the gameplay aspect and I feel that it is worthy of being called a member of the THPS series. Most importantly has been the change in the goal and power-up system that has been a staple of single-player THPS. Goals are now much more varied in complexity and are even different between skaters. This helps to keep the game much more interesting and greatly increases the single-player career replay value. While the goals in the other THPS games were easily achieved, the goals in THPS 3 are much more difficult and I feel much more fun. Stat points, which could be bought in previous THPS games, are now available through the collection of stat “tokens”. The location of these tokens depends on which skater you are skating with and some are quite hard to obtain. Beyond the simple goals, there has also been an increase in the number of secrets that it is possible for a player to obtain. As of last check on GameFAQs, there are approximately 60 some secret characters that the player can obtain. Neversoft has done an excellent job improving an already excellent single-player game.
The goals, however, are secondary to the skating, and the skating has been further refined for this new version. There has been an addition of a significant number of tricks and thankfully existing tricks have become a little more complex with the addition of hidden combos, reverts, and expanded lip-trick abilities. Lip-tricking is now an actual part of the game and is necessary if you want to get huge points. The revert allows the continuation of tricks even after vertical ramps and this aids the quest for bigger combos significantly. My only issue with THPS 3 gameplay is that it is a little fast. I was quite good at the first two Hawks and I feel that this one is so fast that it simply falls into a frantic fury of button mashing at times. I’m sure that practice will make perfect and I won’t be able to play any other way in a few days.
THPS 3 is a very worthy addition to the series and to any gamer’s game collection. I was very impressed with what was added and what was changed. Congratulations to Neversoft for maintaining the reputation of an already excellent series.