Review by Solid Sonic
"Grind like it's '99..."
BEST FEATURES: A return to the classic Pro Skater-style gameplay in a collection of HD-ified classic levels. Includes some classic music from the series. Good animation.
WORST FEATURES: A little light on content. Poor choices for new songs. Physics are a bit strange. Don't like the decision about the Revert.
Back at the turn of the century, we didn't have games like Call of Duty or Guitar Hero. Rather, Activision's main claim to fame was the Tony Hawk series of skateboarding games, developed by Neversoft. Simple, addictive fun, the series challenged players to take on various levels, completing objectives while catching big air and scoring points. This philosophy worked for well over a decade, spawning numerous sequels and increasingly adding new elements to the formula like manuals, reverts, spine transfers, or the ability to get off your board. However, like all things, it reached an idea saturation point, resulting in derailed sequels like Tony Hawk SHRED. After a hiatus, a back-to-the-basics approach was called for and thus we have Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD; a revisit to a simpler time but with a new look and a new engine. Let's see if this can save the once top-tier series.
This game is not a mere HD port of an older Tony Hawk title. Instead developers Robomodo were tasked with building an entirely new game that evokes memories of those classics. The end result is a completely new look with environments built with the Unreal Engine 3. Classic levels are reimagined here in a splendid new level of detail that was impossible on the legacy hardware. The lighting effects on each level are particularly nice and add a lot of color to the environments. In addition, the skaters have a much more organic quality to their movements. The way they move their arms and bodies when coming down from a big jump looks and feels natural and 'right' to me, as do the trick animations (skating is definitely a full-body experience and the character models show that while executing tricks). The only area of animation that I'd like to see some improvement on is the bailing animation. While the on-board animation looks really quality, the bails don't look nearly as fluid with a rigid stiffness to the way the skater flops after missing a trick. However, in all, I do like the design and aesthetic. It's exactly as it says in the title: this is Tony Hawk's Pro Skater in high definition.
As far as sound effects go, the Hawk series has tried to replicate the sound of skating as well as they could. I've heard that to develop authentic sound effects in THPS2, Neversoft strapped a mic to the bottom of the skateboard while it was moving so they could accurately capture what it sounds like when skateboard wheels roll over pavement. To that end, HD is on target. The sound of the board coming down from an ollie or sliding across a metal rail feels just like old times. On the other hand, I feel like bails could have more impact and I wish the skaters had some voice clips but it's not a huge ding against the game. Unfortunately, the music selection this game is another matter. Robomodo was awesome enough to include some music from the first two games (including fan-favorite ear worm "Superman" by Goldfinger from the original THPS) but also chose to pad out the other half of the soundtrack with new songs. The new music is generally dull and can be repetitive. One hallmark of the original THPS games is how appropriate the music chosen was (it was meant to represent the punk and street culture that skateboarding is a part of). Robomodo promised that their new songs would have "[the] potential where, five years from now, people hear the songs and they think of this game." While that might be the case, their selections would cause that for all the wrong reasons, I imagine. What makes it worse is you can't skip any of the music (previous THPS games offered this feature but it is absent here), so you're stuck with whatever the game is playing, be it good or bad, until the next track where you can cross your fingers for more classic music. Luckily, the game does support custom soundtracks (though I have heard only in offline sessions) so you can import your own music to drown out the bad.
THPS, prior to entering the motion-controlled market with RIDE, has emphasized a simple-but-functional system designed to be arcade-like and fun while still allowing for depth. As this is a throwback to the older titles in the series, the classic scheme returns to the series. Flip and grab tricks are as simple as holding a direction and pressing the respective button while you're in the air and grinding is accomplished by jumping at a grindable surface and pressing the grind button. It's not complex stuff and serves the pick-up-and-play gameplay the series was so good at. The DualShock 3 is an ideal choice for this game (as its forerunner was for the original game) with a good d-pad for precise directional input. Control in this game might be stiffer than you remember (due to the new engine) but give it a few sessions and it should click.
The crux of gameplay in the Tony Hawk series has always been to emphasize the skater culture in every aspect. The environment is designed to allow you to trick off of anything and everything (normally innocuous surfaces are transformed into kickers and quarterpipes to make it possible to score off them). Objectives can involve performing specific tricks over a particular gap, flaunting the law by smashing objects and causing various vandalism, or simply trying to score high to meet set point totals. Later games explored different ways to deliver these objectives to the player but ultimately the game always revolved around objectives like these. THPS HD's approach returns to the goal list format from the second game where you are presented with a list of goals, each attached to a certain dollar value, and set loose into the level with two minutes to finish as many as you can in a single run. The game is comprised of seven stages, three from the original THPS (Warehouse, The Mall, and Downhill Jam) and four from the sequel (The Hangar, Venice Beach, Marseilles, and School II). For the THPS2 stages (minus Marseilles, as it was a competition level in the original game), the goal list is literally the same as it was in the original. For the levels from the original Pro Skater, the original goals remain intact but adds new objectives to pad out the goal list as the original game only gave each stage five objectives. It's a rather straightforward approach but one that makes sense given this game is building heavily on nostalgia. The gameplay itself of the game is heavier than the original THPS games, due to the ability to calculate more complex physics than was possible on the original PlayStation. This also leads to some unusual physics situations with the game, particularly when approaching rails at an odd angle (sometimes the game will generate momentum out of nothing if you approach a rail and try to grind it at an angle that wouldn't allow for a good slide). Landing tricks also seems a little more dicey in this game than it did in the classic games but this all is part of HD's learning curve and doesn't hamper the overall experience. The trick set is derived from THPS2, which means the game includes the Manual move (popping your board up onto the front or back two wheels in order to link combos between rails or kickers). Robomodo has also said they will add the Revert (a move from THPS3 that causes your skater to switch their stance as they touch down from a vert ramp, meaning vert tricks can also be added to a combo instead of being purely street) in a future DLC package that includes select stages from THPS3. However, I am perturbed by the fact that this move will be EXCLUSIVE to these stages. While claims of game balance often come up as the reason for not offering the Revert in the pre-3 stages, I personally thought the Revert made the game a lot more fun. Being able to use vert tricks in combos allowed you to combo specials and otherwise expand your trick options. If Robomodo offered the Revert as a downloadable move, I'd REALLY have preferred if they offered it as a switchable feature in the older levels as well.
Replay Value: 6
It has been my experience that replay value is most often found in Tony Hawk based around its level variety. With good level variety, you're always finding new combo lines and trick strategies that really stretch out the game's worth. HD is a bit slim on level choice, with only the seven THPS/THPS2 levels that come bundled with the game. None of them are particularly bad choices, mind you, but even so the experience is cut a bit brief because of it. I think the game could have used another three stages, as the original THPS games featured competition levels to break up the objective-based levels. This game skips out on that. Unfortunately the game also lacks some of the features of the second game (despite the heavy inspiration), such as park and skater creators. Luckily, the game is playable online which means you get to tear it up with the rest of the online world. New to THPS HD is the "Big Head" mode wherein your noggin grows as the game progresses and you have to use tricks to bring it back down to size, last surviving player wins. However, one crucial game mode that Robomodo passed on is HORSE (trying to outdo each other's combos in a round-robin style game), which is fondly missed. I'm not here to harp on the game's lack of replay value due to how affordable the game was but a little more content in general would not have hurt. At least there is some DLC promised down the line so the game will be expanded somewhat in the future.
After taking a dive into the "motion control abyss" and subsequently being cast aside, many thought the classic experience of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was lost for good. It's good to know Activision still has an eye out for this series and attempted to revive interest in it. While the game is probably not the most complete Tony Hawk experience, I certainly can appreciate the return to the series' roots as a sign that maybe better days are to come. Even though the soundtrack is a letdown and I think the game is slim on content, the gameplay shows Robomodo is talented enough to make the series shine again. I would definitely prefer if the Revert, upon its release, could be switched on or off in the game's stock levels but they did give their reasons for restricting it (even if I disagree with the methodology all the same). If there is still hope for THPS with this game, I gladly await the next step. For now, I'll be here...pretending I'm a Superman...
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/12/12, Updated 09/13/12
Game Release: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD (US, 08/28/12)
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