Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone






How can you improve on perfection? Activision has the answer with the release of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 for the Nintendo Gamecube. This once again exceeds expectations by adding larger levels, non-linear play, new tricks and techniques while retaining the perfect controls and play balance that made the previous titles so addictive. This improves the game flow and makes for a more expansive and deeper experience than anyone could have imagined. Neversoft's latest skating masterpiece is full of innovation and surprised us with how much thought has gone into making a game that improves every element of the original. Join us as we play what is, far and away, the most impressive Tony Hawk title to date.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 is another brilliant installment in the popular skating series and represents a complete overhaul of the structure that stretches the boundaries of the previous titles. You'll immediately notice the most significant change: Instead of having the missions listed before each level, you'll find characters with arrows over their head. You talk to them and then they'll outline you a mission. Ditching the two-minute time-limit for each run, you are allowed to explore each level without a clock. This gives you an unprecedented amount of freedom in the way you play the game, since you're no longer locked into a set progression of goals. Tony Hawk 4's non-linear structure opens the gameplay wide open, allowing for some truly awesome innovation. Tony Hawk 4 is brilliant because it encompasses a truly immersive environment that feels much more alive and offers more interaction than previous titles. These missions can be challenged in any order, but only a few are open until you beat the earlier ones. There's no ticking clock on the levels themselves now, but the Individual challenges are still timed. Unlike last year's game, you don't have to wait around and can restart the challenge immediately following your previous attempt, further helping the flow of the action.

The missions themselves are much more creative this time, and are an impressive extension of the interactive environments from last year's game. What's even cooler is that the levels evolve and change when you complete goals, which makes the game world feel even more alive. Some of the missions are basically the traditional Tony Hawk goals such as achieving a high score, collecting the SKATE letters or performing special moves. However, these are supplemented by cool event missions, which are incredibly inventive and include jumping the gaps between moving parade floats, skitching (grabbing on to) a vehicle that's trying to escape, knocking down a cop, collecting objects, or taking down a bunch of football players with a single combo. As you progress, the missions become even more elaborate and difficult to achieve. There are so many cool mini-games and events, that the game never becomes monotonous, though it gets difficult. These tie are cooler because they're level-specific. This approach extends the interactive elements the premiered in Hawk 3 to their logical conclusion. The missions range in difficulty from deceptively simple to some that seem impossibly complex and the overall challenge grows as you progress. This drives you even further into the technique, challenging you to master every nuance, to explore your characters, while never becoming excessively difficult.

This new mission structure gives Tony Hawk 4 a vastly improved flow, since you no longer have to pause to reload the levels between runs. This changes your expectations dramatically and gives you a lot more options. As usual, you can play the challenges in any order. In all, the game offers an incredible 190 challenges and what's more, once a challenge has been completed with one skater, all the others have completed it as well, which means you don't have to replay the same levels over and over with each character. Like the previous games, when you complete a goal, you earn a stat point which you can add to any skater attribute. Plus you earn cash which can be used in the skate shop to buy hidden items, such as clothing, boards and wacky accessories such as bear heads which are incredibly fun to use when you're creating a custom skater. As usual, you can't unlock additional levels until you earn a set number of stat points. The additional difficulty makes these new levels are much harder to achieve, but the increased size of each level makes this less of an issue. As if all this isn't enough, yet more hidden surprises are in store when you complete the initial nine areas with your skater. Completing these areas unlocks a new Professional Mode where you can get to know more about your skater. This is an individualized competition where you have to recreate the moves that made your skater famous in the first place, which is incredibly difficult and will take all the skills you've built up to that point and push you even further than you thought any game ever would.

In addition to the changes in structure, there are tons of new tricks to perform and these are integrated into the action, and seamlessly fit in with the standard controls. Some of these include Skitching, where you can grab on the back of a car and tail behind it, which isn't as easy as it sounds because you have to balance your skater against an unpredictable enemy. You can also perform wall-rides which allow you to skate sideways, and grind them. Mastering the right angle and timing correct made Wall-Riding one of the hardest moves to master, but one of the most fun to perform once you've got it down. There are also enhanced grabs, which are called Flatf-Land moves, where the skater can do handstands while grinding. This is another move where mastering the balance is very important. Finally, you can perform Spine Transfers. These are performed by hitting the L and R buttons. This allows you to switch when you go over a spine, or two ramps set back to back, allowing you even more versatility. Other changes are more subtle but very important. For example, the skaters can now grind moving objects, which is really awesome and ties in nicely to the improved environments, making them more realistic. As usual, Neversoft has implemented tons of completely new special moves available as well. Ingeniously, Tony Hawk 4 integrates these moves into the challenges, allowing you to learn and master them painlessly during the course of the game.

Its intuitive controls have always been Tony Hawk's claim to fame and this installment is no exception. Once again, the controller feels like an extension of your hand, with tight and responsive actions that feel almost natural. Players familiar with the previous installments will feel right at home this time. While the Gamecube controller isn't perfect, it does a good job for the most part. Even though some players will prefer to use the standard + style control pad, we think that the analog controller is actually better than the mushy pad and feels more responsive to your inputs. As noted elsewhere, the standard moves are all exactly as you remember them, but new moves have been added and these integrate well into the standard controls. The learning curve on the new moves isn't too terrible, and veterans of the older game should be able to jump right in with no problem. One change in the controls is subtle at first, but more important later on. Performing many of the simpler moves has been made a bit easier this time, allowing the focus to shift to the role-playing elements.

In addition to Hawk himself, 13 other skaters are included in the game. All of these are the real pro-skaters complete with their own clothes, boards and style. There are the usual hidden characters and players can once again select Bob Burnquist who returns to the series. Each of these characters has their own style, which isn't evident initially, but comes into play later on. Tony Hawk 4 also has an extensive custom skater mode, which allows you to build your own character and play them in any level, including parks you can design and save yourself. Both of the customization modes have been enhanced significantly. For example, each body part of the edited character can be scaled now to make for a more realistic appearance while the custom-park building mode gives you more flexibility to add restart points, set score goals, place tapes, combos and more cool features, making the customization a truly useful feature.

We found only two real major disappointments in this installment, though these are minor in relation to the otherwise stellar design job. While the graphics look good as they always have, there really hasn't been much of an upgrade and Hawk 4 is on par with the look and feel of last year's installment. However, the vastly larger levels, increased number of objects and characters makes up for this. The other main problem with the game probably isn't Activision's fault, but lies at Nintendo's door: while the PS2 edition of Hawk 4 features online play, the Gamecube version does not, despite the fact that Nintendo has released adaptors that would have theoretically allowed for this to be featured. This means that while Tony Hawk 4 is a great game no matter where you play it, owners of both consoles would probably be better off with the PS2 edition.

Tony Hawk 4 once again sets the standards by which all other action-sports titles are judged. It sounds like a broken record at this point, but TH4 takes what was an already incredible game that radically changes some elements to give players even more freedom. It's much harder to unlock the later levels but each one is much longer. Once you get all the initial levels complete, the Pro Challenge mode will bring even the best Hawk players an entirely new kind challenge. As usual, Neversoft doesn't take the approach of fixing what's broken, but instead builds new elements on what made the previous games so great. Instead, the new non-linear approach is a vast improvement that makes Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 seem like an entirely new game. Finding all the hidden secrets and mastering the moves makes it endlessly addictive and challenging. The expansive levels and mission variety keep the formula surprisingly fresh and original, despite the legions of imitators. While the Gamecube edition lacks the online play that some of the other versions have, this is still an incredibly deep and challenging game. If you want to see everything, the potential of hundreds of hours of gameplay is there. Obviously, this will preoccupy your time for hours on end if you have the stamina. Like the first three titles, Hawk 4 is incredibly addictive and entertaining and should keep your interest for months. The changes are masterful, extending the formula to new heights of brilliance and proves once again why this durable series remains so popular.

> Review: The BradyGames Guide

For a game as massive and intensive as Tony Hawk 4, you'll probably need a good strategy guide, and we have a recommendation. BradyGames has published a comprehensive book, which lives up to the high-quality found in their other "Signature Series" releases and is printed on heavy stock paper, making for a excellent presentation, overall. The book shows you all the moves including special moves that will be found later on in the game, plus there are cool icons showing which lines to use, where gaps are located and the best method of jumping them. Each Pro Skater Challenge in the game is extensively detailed which makes it much easier to get the hang of the nerw techniques in the game. Brady's guide also has some behind the scenes info including an interview with Neversoft and a retrospective on the series past installments. The layout is clean and makes it easy to find specific information when you need it. There are loads of tips covering all the missions, plus hints on the career mode and where to spend the money that you earn. Even expert players will find a lot to like, since there's loads of information that even vets will find surprising and will help you get even more out of the game. This  is another high-quality guide from BradyGames and is a solid purchase for any Hawk fan.

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