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More Tony Hawk's on the PS2 as Downhill Jam hops over to Sony's high-achieving system from the Nintendo consoles...
- Fun simplistic gameplay.
- Insane airs and combos.
- Funny characters.
- Not for hardcore skating fans.
- Unchallenging gameplay.
- Yet another Tony Hawk's game.
Activision's Tony Hawk series of skateboarding games has become so huge that they now have multiple developers working on the various series. For example, the original developers Neversoft are responsible for the big projects (e.g. the next-gen Project 8s), Shaba have been developing conversions for PSP, PS2 and Xbox over the years, while Vicarious Visions have been working on the Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam titles on the DS and GBA, with Toys for Bob in charge of the version on the Wii. In the case of this PS2 release, SuperVillain Studios have been given the honour. In short, Activision's franchise has more developers working on various releases than you can shake a very large stick at.
THDJ originally came out on the Nintendo machines (Wii, DS and GBA) earlier this year when every other system was fiddling about with Project 8. Not content with just having Project 8 on the PS2 (a console that is still more than proving itself in sales figures regardless of the next-gen invasion), Activision have decided to release THDJ for the system as well in order to eek out yet another Tony Hawk's game on the PS2 (it will be the sixth Hawk incarnation on the console - more than any other system).
The first impressions are that, while it's clearly still a Tony Hawk game at heart, it hasn't half become more arcade styled in nature. This makes the game more accessible to the casual gamer and doesn't attempt to please the hardcore Tony Hawk fan-base for a second. That's not to say that seasoned Hawk veterans won't enjoy THDJ, just that it won't be what they're used to.
Your average Tony Hawk game sees you moving around various levels (schools, airports, city centres etc.), taking on a number of challenges (e.g. competitions) and grinding... a lot. THDJ, on the other hand, is much more like Burnout on a skateboard. It still has the basic Tony Hawk's feel, but there are a few critical changes.
Firstly, you now skate on downhill racecourses rather than levels spattered with trick opportunities. Secondly, the events are very different. Many simply rely on speed, such as slaloms and races. Thirdly, where tricks are concerned, the gameplay is more like SSX tricky than it is Amped (i.e. it's more about ridiculous air and insane tricks than it is technique and accuracy).
So, while you might easily stack it on THDJ because you have skated into a car, you're much less liable to eat tarmac because you haven't nailed a trick properly (this will merely slow you down). There is less stress on huge grinds and manuals for absurd scores, and more on getting multiplier and slow-mo pickups during massive aerial combos.
Additionally, combat has been brought into the fray. A swift tap of R1 or L1 sends a kick or punch the way of your incline descending adversaries. This is integrated nicely into a boost system, where bigger tricks and more rival take-outs mean more fuel for boosting. The combat isn't particularly advanced and feels a little bit like the classic biker game Road Rash, but there's still fun to be had.
The little touches that simply yell out Burnout are features such as the rank-up system. More gold, silver or bronze medals mean more points that eventually increase your character's rank (ascending from rookie, to barnstormer, to skater, and so on...). Speaking of characters, THDJ has many comical incarnations that are actually interesting rather than irritating, and before each race you'll get a short skit of one of them talking which is usually quite entertaining.
While slaloms and races do constitute a lot of the game, there are other event types. Special events, for example, see you taking on more obscure jobs such as destroying objects, picking up coins and attacking as many bystanders as possible. Trick events, on the other hand, see you careering down a hill collecting pickups and pulling off moves that the laws of physics don't usually allow. This does allow for some variation in the game, but for the most part it only plasters over the fact that you're ploughing down the same downhill course in a slightly different way.
THDJ has cartoon-like visuals that just about hold their own in an increasingly impressive line of 2007 PS2 games (it's very similar visually to its Wii counterpart). The sound is good too with a track list that continues a long line of well-chosen scores for Tony Hawk games. Additionally, the voice acting for the various characters during pre-event banter is both convincing (with the exception of MacKenzie's English accent) and even humorous at times.
It is a Hawk game, that's for sure, but perhaps more of a cousin to the main Tony Hawk's series than a brother. It's simpler, yes, but that doesn't mean it's tamer and more boring. On the contrary, in fact, as its arcade style makes it more action packed and adrenaline fuelled than other Hawk titles. In fact, it almost makes Project 8 look like a skating simulation, which is far from the truth.
I'm sure that many hardcore Tony Hawk's fans will look at Downhill Jam and scoff. That's understandable for a fan-base who're interested in greater realism and grinds so huge they make the trans-Siberian railroad look like a hand-rail, but THDJ will have its market as well. Anybody looking for short-term simplistic thrills in a skating game should look no further, THDJ has got you covered.
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