Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD is a throwback to classic gaming, and a test case for the franchise
Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD
The first Tony Hawk Pro Skater title was released for the PlayStation back in 1999, and it quickly became the game that captured what most of us imagined it would be like to skate like the man himself. The combination of D-pad maneuvers and button presses used to perform tricks combined the ability to choose between real-life skaters while exploring skate parks that felt both realistic and designed for video game skating was addictive. The first two games may have looked simple but it was easy to lose an afternoon, and sometimes an entire weekend, practicing your moves. A number of sequels and spin-offs followed, but unfortunately the highs of the first few games turned into a nasty crash as we moved into the current generation of consoles.
Tony Hawk has lost its way as a gaming franchise in the past few years; the series jumped the proverbial shark the moment your character was able to get off the skate board and walk around the levels. The first few games in the iconic series felt like classic arcade titles; you had two minutes to explore each skate park while fulfilling objectives and finding secrets. The game wasn’t a realistic look at skateboarding, it was skateboarding the way we wished it could be: characters flew across the levels, linking a seemingly unlimited number of tricks and skating across increasingly fantastic locations. The newly released downloadable title Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD is an updated remix of the first few games, and could operate as something of a reboot for the franchise.
It’s telling that the craziest level included in Pro Skater HD is the Downhill Jam, a vertical run down a dam that allows for some amazing air and unbelievable tricks. The rest of the locations, from the classic Warehouse to Marseilles, are rooted firmly in a sort of skateboarding utopian reality. These are areas that make sense and and would be fun to skate in real life, but they’re designed with plenty of ramps, rails to grind, and no pedestrians or cops to get in your way. They’re all designed to be welcoming for skaters, with every inch designed to offer many opportunities for tricks, jumps, or manuals.
Yes, you can now use the manual move in these levels to keep combos going longer, and that may be the biggest addition to the game outside of the updated graphics and music. It’s easier to get higher scores on these levels, although thankfully nothing seems to be broken by the addition of manuals. Each level also has a few subtle changes when it comes to objectives or item placement, just enough to keep you on your toes and reward further exploration. If you get frustrated, you can pull up a map that shows you where to find everything if you just want to run through the objectives. It may seem like cheating, but don’t worry, the game continues to offer challenges even after you’ve found every item and finished every objective in each level.
In fact, one of the game’s strengths is how much there is to do across the seven included levels. Once you find everything there is to find, you begin to compete against other skaters for high scores via the online leaderboards. That should keep competitive play fun for a long time. There are also “PROjectives” that unlock once you’ve completed every level with 100% of the money found and objectives completed. The PROjectives will provide enough challenge for even hardcore players, and should breathe new life into the game for fans of the original. Just in case that’s not enough, there are a variety of multiplayer modes for up to four players, including a unique mode that forces you to land tricks to decrease the size of your continually expanding head. Miss a trick or two, and your head pops. It’s a good time.
The devil may be in the details, but it’s also the details that make the game. Pay attention to how the music continues to play the same song after you wipe out and restart your run. It doesn’t feel like you stopped playing and restarted, it feels like one cohesive run; a way to practice to make your play better.
Why this game is special
The game is now running on Unreal Engine 3, using the geometry from the original levels. It looks authentic, although play seems a little different than how I remember in terms of landing tricks and wiping out. In under an hour, I felt just as confident as I did back when Tony Hawk 2 launched in 2000. There is a weird gravity glitch that causes your character to float upwards instead of crashing to the ground when you bail on a vertical trick, but it’s easily ignored. I called bullshit on a few tricks that caused me to wipe out instead of ending an extensive combo, but it’s hard to tell if that’s pride or game issues. When you’re in the groove, however, everything clicks, and suddenly the world makes sense.
This is the version of Tony Hawk that made me fall in love with the series. It’s easy to begin a game, enjoy the nostalgia of the soundtrack, and zone out with combos, tricks, and trying to perfect the best possible run. It’s zen in a way that we’re used to seeing in shooters or rhythm games, and that’s the feeling that was lost in the modern Tony Hawk titles, not to mention the ill-fated turns with that silly plastic skateboard.
Last night I jumped online with a buddy of mine who had his own review copy of the game, and we stayed up until the wee hours of the night on free skate, just talking and trying to land the best combo. We weren’t spending time with the game as much as we were spending time with each other, and suddenly I was back in high school, playing the original game in the basement of my friend’s parents’ house, the smell of crappy beer and worse weed floating around the air. The first two Tony Hawk games could suck away a week’s worth of time in two minute increments, and there was always a hidden area to find, a new trick to master, or the perfect run to practice. Content from Tony Hawk 3 is coming soon as DLC, and I can’t wait. My only hope is that this version of the game sells millions of copies and Robomodo has the money and consumer interest needed to create new content and levels in the classical style.
We don’t need an open world, and we don’t need silly peripherals. Tony Hawk lives and dies by giving the players two minutes to do the best they can in interesting places, while listening to one of the most idiosyncratic soundtracks in the industry. This may be a test to see if we want more of the same and, if it continues to be this good, my vote is to keep it coming.
The game is available now on Xbox 360, and is coming soon on the PS3 and PC.