Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD Review
Posted by Jamie O'Neill
Drop-in, bail on it, or does Tony Hawk slam?
When Tony Hawk's Pro Skater first landed on PlayStation in 1999 it was welcomed with open arms and scabby knees by skateboarders, as the first video game to capture what it felt like to skate. Neversoft embraced skate culture so vehemently that a number of their team became skilled at riding a real seven-ply deck and urethane wheels. A session on THPS felt like going for a skate, in that it recreated the mind-set of a skater in a gamer's head, where they would scan their home environment for ramps, ledges and skate lines, in a similar way to how a Tetris player organises tetrominoes, even when their eyes are shut.
However, in 2007 the simulation feel of Electronic Arts’ Skate incorporated right-stick thumb trickery to beat Activision at their own game, as they reclaimed the 'Top Skate Title' crown previously held by 1988's Skate or Die!. The THPS franchise became lost; additions to the Tony Hawk's Underground series – including getting off the board to run and climb, skitching by holding onto vehicles and a Jackass-inspired story – complicated its core gameplay.
Thirteen years later, Robomodo have astutely rejuvenated the THPS franchise by returning to its roots, with a HD remodelling of seven stages cherry-picked from the first two THPS titles. If arcade and simulation games can roll side-by-side in racing and sports game genres, then the arcade essence of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD can complement the simulation approach of EA's Skate franchise.
The original game's arcade heart beats on in this HD revamp, by mirroring the fundamental gameplay of chaining combos to chase sick scores. You explore the architecture of each environment to collect trinkets including S-K-A-T-E letters, perform trick challenges, or smash things up. Each of the seven stages in career mode has ten objectives and every completed task earns cash to purchase improved stats for your skater, new boards, or special tricks that boost your score. Mastering the controls involves mixing up a combination of flip, grab and grind tricks, with the player being able to assign their own preferred Street Fighter II-style button inputs. Therefore, once the special meter is full you can select your personal choice of commands to perform high-scoring tricks, for example a sonic boom D-pad input could be set to bust out a nosegrind to pivot.
The technique of chaining combos is taken from the introduction of manuals in THPS2, in essence a skateboard back-truck or front-nose wheelie, which links tricks together. The R2 button enables the skater to perform a revert, but this method does not ignite a combination of tricks, although revert combos will be added as an extra feature for three THPS3 levels in a future DLC release. You can also time pressing the X button to avoid your skater slamming after ollieing down a big drop, plus the select button acts as a quick retry option, to restart a stage promptly if you need to correct a crummy run.
The challenge of progressing through career mode is largely dependent upon your knowledge and experience of the first two games’ stage design. If you have already located and mastered tried-and-trusted high-scoring combo lines, you will carve through its career mode quickly. Fresh-faced grommet gamers who are new to the THPS franchise will discover that levels from the earlier games are small in scope, but tightly crafted in design. We advise that they regularly consult the handy in-game map view, which allows you to flick between the location of gaps and hidden target objects, especially as exploring vertical skate lines is hit-and-miss without a controllable camera.
An average gamer will complete the career and unlock the Powell Peralta sponsored Officer Dick within five hours, although you start with ten selectable characters, so if you desire you could boost their stats in a career mode re-tread. Therefore, you can mix-up playing as a vert ramp skater, like Tony Hawk, with a street shredder, such as the new addition of his son, Riley. Veterans of THPS may miss the appearance of their favourite skaters, for example the burly Zero pro, Jamie Thomas and the UK's Flip sponsored Scouse legend, Geoff Rowley, are not available this time. Similarly, the 'Create a Skater' option that featured in games like THPS3 is not included in THPS HD.
Experienced Hawksters will revel in THPS HD's sky-high nostalgia factor and relish the added graphical detail lavished over these fondly remembered stages. The fluidity of the skater animations reflects the progression of the visuals from PSone to PS2 and current generation improvements enhance the flow of the game. However, considering that PS2 gamers took pride in their system outperforming the inconsistent frame-rate in the GameCube conversion of THPS3, it is disappointing to witness jerky incidences where the HD update's engine chugs and judders. This happens more in levels set in enclosed spaces, although it can induce a slight feeling of motion sickness in the fast-paced slope stages like Downhill Jam, especially when a glitch in the engine sends your skater reeling off into an empty black void. However, ultimately the flow of the gameplay is still tight and it remains satisfying to navigate your way to the secret DVD in that level, once you adjust to minor timing changes in the physics. The fluency of the movement can be attested to by the humongous scores achieved on the online leaderboards and in smoother levels, like the newly golden sun-blanketed Venice Beach that has had a glorious makeover.
Skateboarding has long enjoyed a close association with punk rock music and THPS HD's soundtrack embraces this, especially in regard to songs taken from THPS2. Retro gamers will instantly recognise returning punk tracks, ranging from eighties Bad Religion, to later releases by Lagwagon, Millencolin and the UK's Consumed. The energy of these songs fit the game perfectly and while the seven new additions do not have as much impact, there are still quality tunes provided by indie rockers, like Apex Manor. One standout song out of the fresh tracks is 'Marathon Mansion!' by Pegasuses-XL, which combines a keyboard driven riff, with a strong vocal mix of hip-hop and rock.
The sound effects add atmosphere, including grinding trucks on steel ramp coping, plus the clitter-clatter of the wheels on wooden and concrete surfaces, to create an authentic skate sound. There are also pleasing touches like the crackling of thunder in Marseilles. Robomodo's president, Josh Tsui, has demonstrated a passion for the original THPS game, so the possibility of revisiting the first ever level in a Tony Hawk's game, set to a mid-nineties ska punk resurgence song like Goldfinger's 'Superman', may result in your nostalgia levels blowing through the Warehouse roof.
If you stick to the single-player career mode the £11.99 PSN price tag seems lavish, but there are hidden game modes to unlock and with the absence of split-screen local multiplayer, you will miss out if you do not drop-in to an online session. There are four online modes, but considering that Free Skate is a practice arena, you may prefer a more competitive option. Trick Attack and Graffiti return from the first game, with Trick Attack being a showdown in which the highest score wins and Graffiti tasking players to bust out top-scoring tricks that tag ramps or rails with your own unique graffiti colour. Both of these modes are set within a two minute time limit, however in Big Head Elimination the timer counts upwards and it is particularly fun. This is a new multiplayer addition that forces you to be consistent with combos, as landing a decent trick combination shrinks your head, but with repeated bails and slams it continuously grows, until it bursts.
Big Head Elimination almost atones for the perplexing omission of multiplayer 'Horse' and is beneficial for anyone who is derisive about the first game's downhill stages, as continuously sloping levels like the Mall work brilliantly in this mode. Robomodo have thoughtfully adapted both downhill levels, so now when you reach the bottom you are automatically transported back to the stage's summit. To complete the THPS HD package, success in career mode unlocks cheats, skateboard decks and new game modes, with Big Head Survival and Hawkman encouraging single-players to adapt their approach to levels to complete fresh challenges. Unfortunately, there is no hidden video footage of the pro skaters as a reward, like in the classic games. To increase the longevity there are seventeen diverse trophies available, including a platinum, which are well structured to test a variety of your trick skills.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD does not fail or slam; the ride may become a little sketchy when its game engine jolts or stutters, but its core arcade gameplay is as fun and fluid today as it was in 1999. It satisfies your pangs of nostalgia by feeling like a Tony Hawk's game, from chaining a combination of tricks to chasing scores, as you re-explore your classic stage knowledge of optimum skate lines and rock out to hyperactive punk. Returning to the core mechanics of the first two titles is a reminder of the purity of the original gameplay, before additions from the Tony Hawk's Underground series convoluted its design. Hopefully Activision will build upon Robomodo's achievement, by re-establishing the arcade roots of THPS through PSN, to coexist side-by-side with the realism of EA's Skate.