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Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 (PS2) Review

Background Info

Just when you thought it was safe to return to civilization after a yearlong session of Tony Hawk 2, Activision and developer Neversoft unleash Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 (THPS3), the definitive skateboarding game of 2001 and beyond. The tricks are wilder, the levels bigger and more interactive, and the features and options immeasurable. This is everything you could have possibly wanted in a Tony Hawk sequel and then some. It may not be the most realistic skateboarding game available (Thrasher: Skate and Destroy still holds that title), but it is certainly the finest and most enjoyable. So, bid farewell to your friends--don't worry, THPS3 will let you make new ones online--because you won't be seeing them anytime soon, not with your good pal Tony back in your life!

Presentation/Graphics : 98
Fast, smooth, detailed, and colorful--those adjectives immediately pop into your mind as you play THPS3 and wonder at the game's marvelous graphics. Neversoft truly shows off its design skills with THPS3, using the power of the PS2 to deliver stunning environments, complex skater models, and ultra-smooth animation. What's more, very few noticeable faults detract from the glossy visual presentation. THPS3 simply makes the previous games of the series look like battered stepchildren.

Let's begin with the character models, which bear more polygons and sharper textures than ever before. The first thing you will notice is the improved facial texturing. Gone is the blotchy look seen in the original PlayStation versions, replaced with a clearer and more lifelike image. A good example of this improvement is the model of Bam Margera, the only new skater in THPS3, whose devilish grin will look shockingly familiar to anyone who has watched an episode of Jackass. Next is the detailed clothing. Various selections of ruffled pants/shorts and shirts emblazoned with logos help reflect each pro's style and personality. New in THPS3 is the ability to tinker with a pro's look, with a full wardrobe of stylish--and outlandish--shirts, pants, and accessories at your disposal. Skateboards are also a bit fancier than before, complete with crisp deck graphics, decorative griptape (several patterns to choose from), and colored wheels. Unfortunately, the skateboards do not show wear over the course of gameplay, a detail that every current skateboarding game lacks. Likewise, the skaters do not receive bruises or cuts after bails...but they do discharge a liberal amount of blood--far more than in past games, in fact. This one tiny aspect suitably warrants the game's Teen rating.

Okay, the skaters and boards look great, but what about the animation? It's silky smooth, baby! Neversoft has overhauled the animation for THPS3, adding plenty of new animations and tightening pre-existing ones. Transitions between tricks are more natural and blend in better, while a bevy of new bail animations adds much-needed variety to bails. For example, skaters now violently fall on rails, realistically fumble their boards, and rapidly flap their arms and legs when falling from extreme heights. In addition, skaters flare out their arms to maintain balance during grinds, manuals, and flatland tricks, and their legs shake nervously during extended air tricks, like airwalks. And check out those special tricks! As good as the regular tricks look, the specials are just spectacular; most are completely over the top. Make sure to see Bam's signature move, the Jackass, which suits him quite well.

Complementing the improved animation is a smokin' 60fps frame-rate that makes the previous Pro Skater games look like they were running on the old horse and carriage. Actually, the biggest "problem" with THPS3's graphics is they zip by so darn fast, with only minimal slowdown on certain levels. You really need to stop occasionally to catch your breath and admire the surroundings. Nevertheless, once you adjust to the ferocity of THPS3's frame-rate, you will never look back. This is how skateboarding games were meant to move!

Level design is one area where Neversoft's skateboarding games clearly have the edge over the competition. The levels in other skateboarding games are plain boring by comparison. For THPS3, the developer designed all-new levels, filling them with a host of objects, interactive elements, and secret spots. Most of the levels are fantasy based, though the game features an accurate representation of Skater's Island, a popular skatepark in Rhode Island. Some of the skate spots include Canada, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, an airport, and a cruise ship. The levels are intriguing, well modeled, and easy on the eyes, with hardly any major inadequacies (no fog or distracting draw-in). They are not as expansive as the ones in, say, Dave Mirra 2, but they are the perfect size for a skateboarding game. Non-playable characters (pedestrians, workers, skaters, etc.), a first for a Tony Hawk game, bring the environments to life. Further, levels abound in atmospheric lighting effects, ranging from the brightly lit flames of the Foundry level to the groovy neon lights of Tokyo. And beyond the large assortment of ramps and rails, THPS3 has a plethora of destructible and animated background objects.

Although THPS3 features the same third-person view as the previous games, the right analog stick lets you move the camera around freely while you skate. You can lock in the view by pressing the R3 button, creating a new camera angle. (Positioning the camera close to the ground or your skater exposes minor clipping, however.) Plus, you can unlock a first-person view for some absolutely sick skating--literally. It's basically unplayable, but the first-person view definitely adds a new twist to skateboarding games.

Presentation/Audio : 95
THPS3 features Dolby Surround sound, making the music and sound effects more full and spacious. Granted, it cannot top the Dolby Digital-encoded THPS2x on the Xbox, but it holds its own and sounds great through a Pro Logic-capable receiver. While THPS3 is easily the best-looking skateboarding game ever made, solid sound effects and an energetic soundtrack containing upward of 20 songs make it one of the best sounding ones as well.

Sound effects are crisper and more varied, although Neversoft did reuse certain sounds. Carving, grinding, and powersliding all sound realistic, and ollies trigger a familiar click. Different surfaces--and there are many--produce different sounds, while levels have unique environmental effects (e.g., lowriders emit boomy bass on the Los Angeles level). When you get tired of the music, simply disable it and enjoy the rich background sounds. Pedestrians are chatty, as they talk among themselves, praise and criticize your performance, and even threaten you after you crash into them. The Neversoft girls and the Canadian skaters, whom you must impress with your skating moves, dish out harsh criticism whenever you bail near them. Fortunately, they offer praise when you bust sick moves. Accordingly, during competitions, the crowds react to your performance: Skate well, and the spectators reward you with cheers; foul up, and you must brave the loud boos, taunts, and laughs. So goes the life of a professional skateboarder.

Skateboarding and punk rock--the two go together like peanut butter and jelly. The first two Pro Skater games each had a classic punk-rock song headlining its soundtrack: THPS had the Dead Kennedy's "Police Truck," and THPS2 had Bad Religion's "You." Well, THPS3 features two classic punk-rock tunes on its soundtrack--the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" and the Adolescents' "Amoeba"--and it even has a little Motörhead, whose classic song "Ace of Spades" backs the game's opening movie. The remaining tracks offer a good range of musical styles, from rap to rock, with some old-school funk rock from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Other groups on the soundtrack include Rollins Band, Alien Ant Farm, House of Pain, and CKY. As with any game soundtrack, the music eventually becomes repetitive. Still, this is the best and most varied selection of tracks in a Pro Skater game yet.

Interface/Options : 100
THPS3's front end is set inside a skate shop. Amazingly, this is the first skateboarding game to base its menu system entirely around a skate shop. As you peruse the game's menus, the owner of the shop goes about his business in the background. Character and board selection/modification are done in the skate shop, with the skaters situated inside the shop and the boards mounted on the wall (just like in a real shop). Details like these really help set the mood of the game and draw you further into the virtual skate world.

The basic control and audio options are here, along with a cheat menu to enter cheats and a movie section to view unlocked videos. Also, an assortment of network options is available for online play, and the instruction manual does a good job guiding you through the steps needed to get online as quickly and painlessly as possible. Load times are rather short; the longest loads occur before entering new levels.

All the professional skaters from THPS2--save for Bob Burnquist, who moved to ESPN X Games Skateboarding--are in THPS3, accompanied by the Jackass himself, Bam Margera. Each professional skater in the game specializes in a skating style (street or vert) and has unique stat levels that reflect his or her real-life abilities. The pros are rated in the following nine statistical categories: Air, Hangtime, Ollie, Speed, Spin, Switch, Rail Balance, Lip Balance, and Manual Balance; the Landing stat from THPS2 has been removed. You can edit each pro's trick set, changing button assignments of tricks and adding/replacing tricks in his or her repertoire. Moreover, you can choose among available decks, change the color of wheels, and select a griptape pattern. Strangely, you can no longer adjust the flexibility of the trucks. This is a small omission but an omission nonetheless.

Besides the 13 professional skaters, THPS3 features an extensive create-a-skater option that lets you create your own male or female skateboarder. That's right--you can now create female skaters. Beyond filling in the background info (name, age, height, weight, stance, trick style, etc.) and tweaking the stats and tricks of your custom skater, you can modify the appearance of his or her head and body. The amount of options and accessories at your disposal exceeds the scope of this review. Let's just say THPS3's create-a-skater feature lets you--no, encourages you--to break every conceivable rule of fashion! You can also completely re-dress most of the pros, unlike in the first two Pro Skater games.

The real-time skatepark editor from THPS2 has returned with improvements and new features. Choosing among three themes, you can fill the park with a variety of ramps, rails, boxes, walls, pools, and more. Further, you can create and name your own gaps and even add some greenery to your park. Neversoft included several choice pre-made parks to inspire you. Overall, the improved editor and the power of the PS2 afford you more creativity in designing your masterpiece.

THPS3 contains an in-depth trick tutorial, instructed by the Hawkman himself. The tutorial teaches you just about everything you need to know about THPS3. Pressing the Start button calls up a list of instructions, enabling you to jump quickly to a new section. Those new to the Pro Skater series should immediately enter the tutorial, but even veterans should take a quick look to learn the new moves and features of THPS3.

Gameplay : 98
By now, you should know the drill: If you see it, you can probably skate it. Environments are fully interactive, containing an abundance of lines and numerous skateable objects, such as ramps, rails, bowls, and more. Controls are similar to THPS2, though some new functions exist. You can trigger the all-important revert (i.e., a 180-degree turn) with the L2 or R2 button upon landing tricks off ramps, and you can pivot with the R2 button while riding a manual. Both of these new moves add points and length to combos. However, the revert is especially important because it lets you link vert tricks and add them into your combos. In other words, the revert does for THPS3 what the manual did for THPS2.

Unlike in THPS2, you must balance lip tricks, but you can also combine them and mix in tricks off the lip. Nollies, wallrides, and switch-stance tricks are back, as are the boneless and no comply--both of which add extra height and points to combos. (You can now do a fastplant and a beanplant, too.) New flatland tricks, like truckstands and caspers, add even more depth to the trick system, letting you do some of the crowd-pleasing maneuvers for which Pro Skater star Rodney Mullen became famous. As with grinds, slides, and lip tricks, you must carefully balance flatland tricks to avoid bailing. Luckily, an improved balance meter makes balancing a bit easier. THPS3 has gaps aplenty, which not only add points to your score but are also fun to uncover. Whenever a blue-text message appears on the screen, you know you have found a gap. You can also reveal hidden combos by experimenting with different trick combinations and button presses.

The Pro Skater games have always been about exaggerating the most exciting parts of skateboarding rather than simulating them. THPS3 is no different, but it contains action that is even more insane. Thanks to the new revert, you can create bigger multipliers than ever imagined. Skilled gamers can stretch combos around entire levels and rack up million-point scores. Special tricks are crazier, with moves like handstand grinds and the "human dart" being as fun to watch as they are to do. The only real limits in THPS3 are those that your imagination and creativity dictate. Thus, like the previous Pro Skaters, THPS3 is a game everyone can enjoy, not just fans of skateboarding.

Single-player modes include the now-familiar Career, Single Session, and Free Skate. Single Session and Free Skate need no explanation, because they have not changed since the first game. The Career mode, however, changes slightly with each new installment of THPS. This year's Career mode removes the monetary element of THPS2 and includes new mission-like elements (e.g., you must stop robbers on the Los Angeles level and catch pickpockets on the airport level). Each non-competition level in Career mode features nine goals. These include meeting three preset scores (high, pro, and sick), collecting letters of the word skate, finding a hidden tape, performing a specialized stunt, and completing three mission-like objectives. Depending on the skater you choose, certain goals and locations of objects will differ, making each new game in Career mode feel fresh. For instance, the location of the skate letters vary among the 13 pros, and the game assigns one stunt objective on every level that is unique to vert and street skating.

Apart from the six goal-based levels, THPS3 has three competition levels, in which you must win a bronze, silver, or gold medal to advance. During comps, you have three one-minute runs to impress the strict panel of judges, with your two best runs counting toward your final score. Whatever you do, make sure to stay on the board, since bails detract from your score. (Because the new bail animations are quite lengthy, rapidly mashing the buttons speeds up the animation, letting you recover more quickly.) All stages in the Career mode house one hidden deck and five hidden stat points. Find the stat points to improve your skating abilities and uncover the hidden deck to add it to your allotment of boards. Before beginning any level in Career mode, you can rearrange your stats to suit the layout of a level or to accomplish a particular goal. Plus, as you advance, you can add additional special moves to your trick list. And you will surely need them to meet some of the scores on the latter levels. The scores you must clear in THPS3's Career mode are much higher than before, reflecting the game's deeper trick system, which lets the advanced player score upward of a million points through one huge combo. If you want some bonus points, nail an impressive trick near a spectator to earn a "spectator bonus." THPS3 has several two-player modes, and it is the first PS2 game to support online play. Multiplayer modes include Graffiti, Trick Attack, Horse, Slap, and King of the Hill. Slap and King of the Hill are new to THPS3, but all the multiplayer games are an entirely new experience online, save for Horse, which is only playable offline. Online play creates a virtual skatepark community, wherein you can meet other skaters, chat, and compete. THPS3 would have been a stellar skateboarding game without online play, but with it, it's simply heavenly.

Replay Value : 99
With an unreal amount of options and features, THPS3 will keep you occupied until, well, THPS4 arrives--and maybe even after that. The Career mode forces you to play through with every pro skater, completing every goal and earning all gold medals, to unlock everything hidden within the game. There are 8 hidden skaters, roughly 60 hidden created skaters, several secret levels (including a few from the first THPS), numerous cheat codes, and many entertaining videos to unearth. The extensive create-a-skater and park editor features, coupled with online play, give THPS3 the most replay value of any action-sports game available. But beyond all this, of course, the game is just plain fun, owing largely to a deep and flexible trick system. If you are not a THPS addict yet, THPS3 will make you one.

Overall : 98
To paraphrase the immortal words of KISS: You wanted the best and you got the best--the hottest skateboarding game in the world, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3! 'Nough said.

By: Cliff O'Neill 12/3/01

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