Review by THayes

"The new style of extreme sport games"

Taking on a similar approach to Aggressive Inline, the goal based 2-minute system of the original has been abandoned. Instead, players can skate through levels free of a time limit, exploring the level to find people along the way that have glowing signs above them. These people give out the challenges, which are then put on the goal list as in previous games. There are usually about twenty goals per level, and though most of the goals range from the usual point scoring and collection of items, there are also a number of well created original goals scattered throughout the levels.

The levels here are of a different style to previous games. Less emphasis is put on realistic design, and more on huge jumps and massive grinds. Some levels like Kona which are based on real skate parks are well designed here, but the lack of these realistic type of levels is disappointingly lacking here. Instead, we have levels like the Shipyard which consists mainly of ships, and the zoo with its hippo pools, lion dens and elephants. Though there's nothing wrong with this, there is a much more arcade-type feeling to the whole thing, which may not suit people used to the style of the previous three games. The levels can get boring to play pretty quickly, though they are made more interesting by the goals.

One of the things lacking from THPS 3 was the addiction of a gap list. Gaps are special bonuses that are awarded for clearing a gap between two objects, such as rails or ramps. The bonus is then displayed on screen in the form of a point value and a set name. Although gaps are not the most vital aspect to an extreme sports game, gaps provide an incredible replay value for when the game has been completed. The gaps have once again returned to THPS 4, and although there are only 358 gaps over the 603 gaps in THPS 3, it will still take many days of searching to find them all. Happily, the gap list has returned to THPS 4, which can be accessed via the start menu.

The difficulty in the game has had a noticeable increase. Whereas the original games focused mainly on the skating and less on the goals, THPS 4 is focused mainly on the goals. There are 190 of them in all, spread across nine huge levels. The goals are divided into three categories: simple, pro and pro challenges. The first category is the most numerous, and usually involves simple goals like collecting a certain amount of objects, or reaching a high point score. The second category is less numerous but more difficult, and it's here that the difference in difficulty is shown. Some challenges in this category involve scoring over a million points, usually within a two minute time limit! By far the most original and fun category though is the pro challenges. These include goals like jumping from a quarter pipe to another quarter pipe with a massive drop below, or jumping a gap while riding a full loop.

Control hasn't changed much from previous games. It still feels the most natural setup out of any extreme sports game I've played, and the quick responsive controls provide a very realistic experience. Again, the square button is used for flip tricks where the skater flips the board in different directions under his feet. Circle is used for grabs, while triangle is used for grinds along rails and ledges. A nice improvement upon THPS 3 is the ability for skaters to be able to switch between grinds without jumping. This new improvement provides yet more combinations for the massive database of moves available in the game.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the game is the Park Editor. There is such a huge potential available for people to create huge and complex parks on multiple levels, but what we have in THPS 4 is a park editor that is in most ways worse than the one in THPS 2. There are only two level themes as opposed to THPS 2 which had four. There do seem to be a few more pieces to use in the park, but most unfortunate of all is the lack of pre-made parks. These are fun to play and very useful in learning how the designers of the main levels also create park editor levels. There are 25 pre-made parks in total, but these are nowhere near the quality and fun of THPS 2's 50 pre-made parks.

Graphically the game is superb, far surpassing any previous extreme sports game on the PlayStation 2. The levels have lots of detail, although there are slight graphical glitches. Most of these consist of skaters dropping through random objects and falling down to the blankness below the level. Trick animations are as usual outstanding and flawless, from the simple kickflip all the way up to the 900. Extreme sports games can only continue to improve.

The sound effects which were once spectacular are quite standard now. Music is once again a mixture of rap and rock, but seems to be leaning away from the balance of the previous three games into a more rock background. The songs generally do fit the style of the game, but the similarities between the tracks can soon become tiresome. More genres of music would have been welcomed, but for what it is, THPS 4's soundtrack is good enough to listen to while playing. Overall, the fourth installment of this superb series is not so much an improvement, but more a change of style. Moving into a more goal orientated background may please some people, but others looking for a more realistic skating game may be disappointed.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 07/18/03, Updated 07/18/03

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