Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD – Review
While Tony Hawk Pro Skater was far from being the first ever skateboarding game, you could say that Neversoft’s original 1999 effort redefined the genre so much that it practically reinvented it. All those extreme sports games that came after that used Y/Triangle/whatever to grind rails, they all got it from Tony. Skateboarding, snowboard and BMX titles for a good decade stuck religiously to the template and with good reason. Tony Hawk Pro Skater was absolutely unfuckwittable. Anyone who invested any meaningful time into the game or its early sequels will recall it with the same fondness that you might recall your favourite dead relative, Maverick chocolate bars or, you know, Thundercats.
With hardware-punishing graphics, a stellar soundtrack and absolutely dialed-in gameplay, it was truly a ten out of ten game and is probably the reason why you even know who Tony Hawk is. Of course with great games comes great responsibility and Neversoft’s sequel (Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2, of course) refined things to absolute perfection, with bigger levels, more objectives and some additional moves that really helped you to build combos and nail the big scores.
Of course, Activision aren’t one for letting a good series stay perfectly frozen in time and after the impressive PS2 debut title, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3, things started to get stale. Before long the series added that gurning abortion Bam Margera in an effort to inject some comedy into the series, and when Tony Hawk Project 8 hit the Xbox with its game-ruining bullet-time mechanic and horribly judged difficulty the series effectively died. A terribly received skateboard peripheral and two associated games were the equivalent of burying the digital Tony Hawk in sealed concrete coffin. In an unmarked grave. On an island guarded by crocodiles. Robot crocodiles with guns that fire actual crocodiles. On the moon. Of Jupiter.
That left a void, which was filled expertly by EA with their take on the genre, SKATE, which had no trace of Bam Margera or fucking BMX bikes and was a back to basics, semi-realistic skateboarding simulator that reminded old-school Tony Hawk players what a skating game should be like. Of course, two identical sequels and a heap of piss-poor DLC didn’t help and for a while now the skateboarding genre has remained effectively killed off.
Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD isn’t a port of the original game but rather a remix of the first two games, taking levels from both as well as letting you pull off THPS2 moves in the first game’s levels. The stingey one minute demo may not ensnare too many new fans but it does succinctly prove to lapsed fans that the original gameplay is back, and once you’ve invested and are taking out objectives on the Warehouse level (the first level of the first game), you’ll be glad you did.
The gameplay is on point. What you have is the move-set from the second game, so that means no reverts (due soon via DLC) and thankfully no ‘focus’ mode (the bullshit game-ruining bullet time mode from the later games). This is Tony Hawk gaming at its purest and, if you were ever a fan of the series, will remind you why you loved the games in the first place. The controls are the same as the original releases (although you can switch between digital and analog movement), which is a relief, although you may struggle with your 360 joypad given that the D-pad on those things is about as useful as ITV. Even my super-deluxe twisty D-pad special pad still protests whenever I try to do anything, and trying to stop your skater with the D-pad can see you spinning around, so it’s best to navigate with the analog stick and pull tricks with the pad. Or send a shit, daily, to Microsoft R&D until they make a decent joypad. Or a PS1 pad adaptor.
The skating is a mixture of big vert tricks – getting big air and flipping or grabbing the board before landing – and street skating – grinding rails and edges and manualling (pulling wheelies) on flat areas. Combining these two disciplines without letting all four wheels touch the ground is the key to big combos and, therefore, big points. Every level has score targets to hit as well as specific gaps to cross and objects to collect but the tight level design (admittedly a product of the limitations of the original PlayStation) and newly-introduced map means that you won’t be resorting to sullying your browser with GameFAQs every five minutes.
Rolling through the selection of levels is a joy, even if the THPS1 levels have objectives from when they were recycled later on in the series, and feels completely comfortable if you’re a veteran of the previous games. Perhaps more importantly, the gameplay is timeless enough that newcomers will also enjoy the tight levels, challenging objectives and pure gameplay, unfettered by the trappings of the later games and the labyrinthine menu options of the EA SKATE titles. That said, some very subtle timing changes will mean that you may have to make slight adjustments, especially when trying to wall-ride near grind areas and when landing big vert tricks. This shouldn’t be a problem though as I was able to rinse through most of the game in one sitting.
The high definition graphics are absolutely razor-sharp and a few subtle updates to the user interface really do make the difference. Everything is still familiar but if you directly compare this to the original PlayStation games, it looks fantastic. Equally, the soundtrack sounds so much sharper now that I was hearing things in the songs that reappear from the original soundtrack that I’d never heard before, even though I’ve listened to them hundreds of times before. Fans of the series will pleased to note that several songs have survived, so fans of late 90s ska punk are well-catered for. A selection of new songs have been added, none of which are particularly suited to the game, but after a while the repetition of the music will see you either muting it or playing your own instead.
Trick Attack and Graffiti online modes make a return, along with a bizarre Big Head Survival mode that sees your skater’s head inflating dangerously unless you start landing tricks. Shockingly though, the much-loved HORSE mode is missing, presumably being held back for a future DLC update… and therein lies the problem with this package. Seven levels seems a tad miserly given that the game uses much of Neversoft’s original code, and so, presumably, much of the content of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 and 2 is going to be drip-fed to us. DLC that adds Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 levels (and the revert move that was introduced for that game) has already been confirmed.
But why the fuck am I moaning? I’d happily pay a lot more than a tenner and change for hi-def Tony Hawk so, slightly exploitative pricing aside, I’m still very content with this game and excited to see what they’ll be adding later on (as long as they don’t go beyond the first three games). For now, at least, I’m just happy to be rolling back into these classic levels and learning to master them once again. I just kind of wish the fucking game hadn’t kept me up until 3am last night. You addictive motherfucker, Tony. You may look like the fruit-cellar demon from Evil Dead 2 but I still love you. I just love Rodney Mullen more.Pros
- Great skating gameplay with all of the unnecessary bullshit from the later games surgically removed and thrown in a bucket labelled 'SHIT'
- Sharp visuals are huge improvement on the original games
- Downhill levels (Mall and Downhill Jam) are the best thing ever
- No Bam Margera
- D-pad users may struggle to land the big combos
- Maybe a little skinny on content
- No HORSE mode - fucking sort it out, Activision!
- No split screen modes either. Twats
- New songs are a bit shit. I blame modern culture for that though
Given that the Tony Hawk brand has been a byword for absolutely fucking shit games in recent years, this package is a very welcome return to form and effortlessly brings all us lost fans back into the fold. The sparkling presentation and time-tested gameplay make up for some of the omissions that will eventually be nickel and dimed to us. Gameplay so good I can't even remain cynical about Activision... what's that all about?
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