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For some strange reason whenever I’m around at a mates we’ve been playing Tony Hawks 3 on the Playstation 2. Perhaps this is an indication of how bad his games collection is or rather a quick two-minute blast on the skateboard leaves you gagging for more. With that said I’ve never been a big fan of the series, which has failed to evolve since the original game was released several years ago.

Tony Hawks was responsible for kick starting the whole genre of extreme sports games and brands but I won’t hold this against the guy. As with previous games the third incarnation is combo and trick based affair, a Tekken on wheels if you will. Tricks can be linked together with grinds being the preferred option and more tricks means more points. Neversoft know that they have a winning formula and haven’t done much to alter it over the years as there is only a certain amount you can do with a skateboard but has the time come for Tony to retire?

Such is his appeal that each edition appears on every format with even the Dreamcast and Game Boy Advance joining in the fun last time around. With new machines such as the Gamecube and Xbox enjoying their own ports of the third incarnation there is no escape. The Xbox version for the record has an exclusive level (Oilrig), slightly improved graphics, a unique character, less glitches than the Playstation 2 version, Dolby Digital sound and the ability to put your own songs into the game. Certainly this makes the Xbox edition the most complete of the three main formats and should be considered as the best version. Yet as Gamestyle has already reviewed the Playstation 2 version and marked it as a nine out of ten, to reflect this I should go one better but the maximum score is reserved for remarkable games, which rarely come along. Honestly I don’t think Tony Hawks 3 is worthy of even having a nine score for reasons I will outline below but make no mistake, the Xbox version is the best one available.

The structure is identical to previous games, within each level there are a series of tasks and when a certain number are completed the next level is opened up. Points are also scattered around the levels, which allow you to improve your own statistics, again familiar ground. Once all the levels are opened up in the career mode you will have little reason to go back and play this section of the single player game. You can return to improve high scores but the main aim is to free skate the opened levels without the interruption of the clock. As with each edition there are some excellent examples of level design and some that let the side down badly. Included amongst the number of levels are some which exist for competition (Rio, Tokyo) and here you will compete against other famous boarders. It is a welcome change to the way the game plays and is much tougher than achieving goals and ultimately is a benchmark, as you cannot open subsequent levels without achieving success in the competition. To keep you coming back there are a bundle of extra bonus items, which are boards and characters; some well worth acquiring if you can be bothered.

Creation is very much a part of the series and you can create some wonderful characters including my own of Chopper fame and build you own parks. These are more detailed than before but there is no escaping that Tony Hawks 3 is more evolution than revolution, refining what has appeared before. The Xbox version lacks the online play of the Playstation 2 version that a handful at best have experienced in the UK. It does however offer system link play supporting 2-4 players, ideal for those able to move their Xbox’s and with the necessary equipment.

Practice makes perfect and with a game such as this at first you’ll be performing modest tricks before combinations are linked together with dramatic effect. Playing Tony Hawks has an almost hypnotic effect on the player, you become one with the board and the minutes give way to hours before you return to normal. I do find the game an enjoyable way to relax and waste a few minutes just like any arcade classic of a bygone age. Chris in his Playstation 2 review went into more detail about the game and read that for more information.

Whilst I can criticise the game for not developing over the subsequent two sequels it is an understandable trend in game development but the Neversoft have failed to tackle the problems associated with the series. The camera is a total pain and to make matters worse you have no control over it at all. The levels included in TH3 are some of the most complex and varied so far, requiring the player to make jumps and grinds that require precise timing. It does not help matters when the camera can become briefly trapped behind scenery or fails to adjust to a new angle in the time that you would expect. FIFA contains sweet spots for scoring and TH3 contains something similar but in these areas you can expect the precision calculations needed to fail badly. Most players will know what I’m talking about here, that moment when you did everything correctly to perform the trick but for some reason you skater and environment didn’t pull it off. Some have been corrected for the Xbox version but they are still in there and can ruin a sublime experience. The game is also too grind orientated with big air tricks receiving less points than continuous grind tricks thereby upsetting any possible balance.

The music in TH3 is the weakest of the series so far with the exceptions being the offerings from the Ramones and Motorhead. Amped may have snapped up everything available with its huge library of music but the Xbox version solves the problem through its hard drive. Ever fancied playing Tony Hawks to Mozart, Abba or the New Bomb Turks? Well, now its possible and such a subtle thing improves the game, no more skipping of tracks to find the only one you actually like. The presence of Dolby Digital isn’t as well implemented as other games – not surprising given the game consists solely of music and skateboard sounds.

Controlling Tony with the Xbox controller is provokes a mixed reaction especially for those who are accustomed to the Dual Shock controller. The D-Pad does a good job but as with most games requiring combination button presses, the Xbox layout doesn’t feel comfortable. It is workable and at the moment is the only option you have unless you import the controller S or the Dual Shock adapter.

Tony Hawks 3 is a very good game that is beginning to show its age through countless sequels, greater emphasis needs to be put on changing things in the fourth incarnation due at the end of this year. The Xbox version is the best one available and if you are lucky enough to own all three major machines, ignore the others in favour of it.