You know a game has its hooks in you when, as you drift off to sleep, you’re still thinking about the game’s button combinations you’ll need to pull off. Then, you leap out of bed to try them. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 (THPS3) is that type of game. I have not been this addicted to a console game – much less a sports game – since the old Tecmo Bowl for the NES. With THPS3 for the PS2, Mr. Hawk and the Neversoft development team have created a game that chisels Tony’s face in the Mt. Rushmore of video gaming thanks to a deep but easy-to-pick-up control system, layer after layer of features, and exciting, vibrant environments to trick through.
In THPS3, players can play as one of the 13 pro skaters included, or let any Dr. Frankenstein tendencies loose with a robust create-a-skater mode (this time including female skaters, and reintroducing the mullet). A free skate mode allows players to trick to their hearts’ content across a stage, but the main mode of play is in career mode.
Career mode challenges the player to perform a variety of trick-related tasks throughout one of the 8 vast stages. The stages, ranging from a steel foundry to Los Angeles, are jam packed with plenty of things to trick on/over/through/above. Different objects in a level often add to a combination of tricks, making the environments far more than just settings for the career mode tasks.
These career mode tasks range from accruing a high enough score, impressing other skaters, picking up items (usually found in places where skaters were not meant to go), or getting a kid’s tongue unstuck from a frozen flagpole (proving once again that a skateboard is so much more than just a piece of sports equipment). As a skater succeeds at the tasks, different stages, boards, and movies can be unlocked. Certain levels involve a skate competition where players compete against other skaters for a score that could yield a medal. Since each skater will have slightly different goals on a level, attempting to beat the career mode with each of them gives THPS3 a huge measure of replayability.
New to the THPS repertoire in THPS3 is the revert move, enabling skaters to continue their combos after an aerial move with a quick press of the R2 button. This addition makes it possible for some incredible (absurd?) combos yielding almost pinball-like scores.
In the current state of console games, which are often so complex it takes a long frustrating while to just learn how to control everything, THPS3’s control system stands out for being exceptionally easy to just pick-up and play (even my 4-year-old cousin can do it). Whether a player is a Dual Shock zen master or a certified button masher, they quickly find their chosen skater pulling off some nice tricks while they’re still pondering and then trying the combos achievable with one or two more pushes of the buttons. Even when your skater has a particularly ugly bail, the quick pick-up (even after losing a lot of blood) keeps the game from being frustrating.
The graphics are excellent throughout, continually running at a smooth 60 FPS. Loading times are negligible. The skating sound effects are solid and true to form, while the musical selections – consisting of the usual skater mix of hip-hop, punk, and alterna-rock – are a nice fit (it’s about time a game was graced by Lemmy). The play list can be edited should a song not strike a chord.
As if the overwhelming wealth of features wasn’t enough, THPS3 is also the first PS2 game to allow online multiplayer play. Up to 4 players can compete in 4 different games set on 1 of 8 levels over the Internet. A network adaptor is required to access the games through a matchmaking service. THPS3’s official Web site (www.thps3.com) provides an excellent walkthrough of setting up for online play, complete with visual aids and a list of the current network adaptors available for the PS2.
There’s still more (except any indication of stuff saved for a sequel). The Park Editor allows players to create the skate park/death trap they always wanted, using a strong, easy-to-understand interface and a number of interesting items to stock the park. Although the park cannot be shared online, it’s available to play alongside friends in THPS3’s versatile split-screen 2-player mode.
Not being a big fan of sports games, and even less inclined to give a game a perfect Gaming Illustrated score, I have to find some fault in THPS3. Looking, looking, looking – nope, can’t do it; it’s perfect. Until Solid Snake can pull a 360 Benihana + FS Revert + BS Manual + Invert + FS Revert combo to unlock a secret stage, this is the game to buy for the PS2. Fans of the series are sure to enjoy the new stages, revert combo, and online play while those wondering what all the fuss is over the Tony Hawk video game phenomenon are likely to understand that it’s all about how the good control, depth, and customization equals great console gaming fun.
Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 is so close to perfection – an amazing score of 4.95 out of 5 for an overall score of 99%! This is one PS2 game you can’t afford not to have!