Review by 1yoshi23123

"A good step in the right direction, but not perfect."

The Tony Hawk franchise has an enormous legacy in the extreme sports genre of gaming. In 1999 (2000 in some parts of the world) it brought a complex real life activity to the televisions of gamers. It made things less complex by a simple but ingenious control set up, and even those who were not interested in real life skateboarding could find something to enjoy in the original ‘Tony Hawk's Pro Skater', or ‘Tony Hawk's Skateboarding' as it was known outside of the U.S. Then its sequel, ‘Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2' came along and improved the experience with the introduction of manuals, and the franchise was set in stone. It was simple to control, yet deep and enjoyable with its combo system. As the series went on, it kept introducing new things, but ultimately it started making the games too complex. When peripherals were eventually introduced, it seemed to many fans as though the franchise was far gone.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD is a return to the series roots, borrowing its mechanics from the original two games. This sounds like a perfect way to reinvigorate the series, and this game may very well do that. However, it isn't a perfect revival. There are some things which hold it back.

-Graphics-

The game looks fantastic, especially compared to the titles that it borrows so heavily from. The character models are clean, and the levels look new despite feeling instantly familiar. There are also times where the attention to detail can be truly felt while playing. Characters clothes ruffle in the wind with the movement of the skateboard. Their hair blows more noticeably at faster speeds, and little things like necklaces or hoods move about, even while falling off the skateboard.

The levels have been given a wonderful facelift. Some surfaces look almost real, such as marble in the Mall, or the concrete in School II. And the distance fog that covered a poor draw distance in the original games isn't present anymore, offering a farther scope of the level. The levels have had some interesting changes as well. The Hangar now has a control room behind you at the start and Venice Beach now has a sunset lighting. The Downhill Jam level is now set at night, with impressive lighting in the background.

The HUD of the game also deserves a mention. It is easy to see and easy to understand. Balance metres are on a red to green scale as well as having markers that move to indicate balance, although the red to green scale is hard to see for those with certain kinds of colour blindness. Being in a Switch, Nollie or Fakie stance is also easily seen in the top corner. Collectable items are also well presented. They are big, spinning flat sprites that generally stand out well from the level.

However, it isn't all good news. The sunset lighting in Venice Beach makes it seem less colourful, and the Warehouse is set in many shades of brown where colour could have been added. When a skater falls off, or bails, the ragdoll physics only sometimes look painful. They only tend to look really painful when the skater has managed to get their foot stuck in a half pipe or half of their body stuck into a solid concrete floor. Sometimes the ragdoll bounces as well. Even with ragdoll physics, the bails start to feel too similar after a while. There are blood splatters from falling, and for those who do not like them, they cannot be turned off. Playing as an Avatar disables the blood effects, however Avatars do look slightly shiny and out of place. Occasional clipping of objects also happens, especially in the Downhill Jam level. The in game map displays in a way that leaves mixed feelings. On the one hand, it can be useful in revealing where things are, but anything collected won't disappear from it, and your location is never shown.

-Sound-

The sound effects range from decent to credible. The skateboard sounds as it hits the ground or grinds a rail sounds realistic enough, but the slightly exaggerated feel to the sounds isn't a bad thing since it effectively communicates that you've made contact. The skaters will groan from falls, although not always in a believably painful way. As the timer ticks down in its last seconds, it will beep. This adds a sense of urgency to finishing the remaining objectives as fast as you can. There is a drum roll for manuals and wall rides, and sometimes it doesn't stop once the trick has stopped, which can be a bit annoying.

The soundtrack is not a soundtrack that will cater to all tastes in music. It is the kind of soundtrack many will have come to expect from an extreme sports game, with the music mostly being in the genres of punk, rock, metal and hip-hop. It comprises seven songs from the first two games, and seven new songs. The soundtrack itself plays each song randomly, much like the ‘shuffle' feature of many music players. However, since there are only 14 songs in the soundtrack, the same songs tend to get heard time and time again. It is possible that a song will play, then a different song will play, then the song you heard the first time plays again. It is also possible to go several hours into the game without having heard every song on the soundtrack, due to the nature of the random soundtrack. Retrying a level or going into the pause menu won't stop the music, but the shuffling of the soundtrack will reset every time you go between the menus outside the level and back into the levels themselves. It is hard to resist any urge to go into the options menu and turn the music all the way down and just play your own music instead.

The sound options in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD are a bit limited. You can only choose to turn up or down the music or sound effects. In the levels, there is no way to skip over a song or to customise which songs play and which songs don't. This is an unusual decision on the developer's part, as this is the first game in the series which won't let you skip a song.

-Gameplay-

The good news for a lot of long time fans is that this game returns to the very core of the original Tony Hawk games in its gameplay. It plays similarly to ‘Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2', but it has kept the balance metre for lip tricks from ‘Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3', which is a fantastic decision, as lip tricks can be held for longer periods of time. Otherwise, it is the same experience, but with a graphical upgrade. The usual modes of ‘Career', ‘Single Session' and ‘Free Skate' are available from the start, but there are unlockable modes which add objectives or new challenges to the levels.

Career is the same as the early Tony Hawk Games. You are given a list of set goals and a two minute timer to complete them in. Any not completed can be tried again in another run. Single Session gives you two minutes to set as high of a score on a level as you can. Free Skate gives you the option to skate around the level at your leisure, with no timers or objectives. This makes Free Skate ideal for exploring a level and finding gaps or good skating lines for better scores.

There are three much publicised unlockable modes. There's ‘Big Head Survival Mode', in which you have to prevent your skaters head from swelling too much and exploding by keeping good but fast combos going. It makes much more sense in the context of the game. When your skaters head explodes, confetti comes out of it, making it more of a comical effect, and not graphic in any way except for the default blood splatter from any given bail. The next highly publicised unlockable mode is ‘Hawkman', in which the skater has to collect coloured pellets via different means. This is best achieved in the time limits listed for better rewards. This mode can become addicting, especially on levels that are troublesome, such as School II or Mall. In this mode however, some pellets are poorly placed and combined with some control difficulties can make the challenge more frustrating and less skill based. The last unlockable mode is ‘Projectives', which is essentially Career mode with harder goals and half the time to do them in.

There is no split-screen multiplayer, which is unfortunate, as it would be a welcome addition to the game. However, there is online multiplayer over Xbox Live, which has Graffiti, Trick Attack, Big Head Survival and Free Skate. Graffiti is the colouring of objects that you do tricks on, higher scores earning or keeping that object yours. Objects include rails, ramps and most things in the level, but not the ground or walls. Trick Attack is you against all other skaters, trying for the highest score. Big Head Survival is a competition to see who can keep their head from exploding the longest. If there are more than two players the first to lose their heads can skate around the level headless. Free Skate is exactly the same as it is in single player, but with extra people.

Now, gameplay sounds like the original Tony Hawk games, but all isn't as it should be. There are a couple of issues in this good game which prevent it from being great.
First of all, control issues. Sometimes buttons or directions will not respond at all, which can lead to prematurely ended combos, wasted time in the air or not even getting into the air. It can also lead to grinds or manuals not initiating. Sometimes there is a delay in the response to a button press, which can lead to something activating too late. It is an annoyance at best and can be catastrophic to your lines and time at worst. There is also a delay which seems to be intentional- holding down the left stick or d-pad is to brake, but the brake doesn't come until later than it feels it should. This makes it a little harder to control your skater, especially if you don't want them to fall off something or crash into a wall.

The mechanics of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD feel a little different from what the original games do. It's something that can be adapted too, but there are times where the physics seem slightly off. You don't go particularly fast, and can often gain more air than you would expect. However, on a downhill incline, speed can be gained quite quickly, and control becomes more difficult at faster speeds. This can lead to scenarios where if you go up a half pipe, you may fly right off the side and have no choice but to watch your skater hurtle toward the ground. It can also lead to unintended crashing into walls or flying off into out of bounds areas. Coupled with the sometimes delayed or non-responsive controls, it can be frustrating. However, it never gets frustrating enough to make you want to give up on the game. This game also sees the return of the ‘big drop' mechanic, which was in ‘Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2'. This causes you to crash if you fall from a great height, but it feels unnecessary, because holding down the ‘Ollie' button allows you to land safely.

-Replayability-

There is a decent amount of incentive to keep playing. Unlockable characters, cheats, boards and a gap list make the game last longer. There is also a small incentive to maximise each characters stats. The achievements for this game are a good mix as well, some easy to unlock and others challenging, and only one online achievement. There are also Leaderboards, for those who take interest in them. But the best way to replay is either just to try and make high scores or just skate around for fun in Free Skate. There are only seven levels, which can get a bit bland after a while. However, this game is fun enough to last at least six hours (most likely more) if everything is attempted and completed at least once. The planned DLC will also add some replayability.

-Final Recommendation-

For 1200 Microsoft Points, this game is a good deal. If you've got the urge to play a Tony Hawk game and want something new, this may be the solution. However, this is more of a HD enticement than it is a completely new game, so some will understandably be disappointed. If you're a huge fan of the Tony Hawk series, this comes highly recommended. If you're new and looking to get into the series, this isn't a bad start, but know that some older Tony Hawk Pro Skater games would be better choices. It has its problems, but none of them are that grating that the game will be remembered as a bad game. Some of its problems could be addressed in the future by patches and title updates. There is planned DLC for this game as well, which will add a reasonable amount to it.

7/10


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 07/30/12

Game Release: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD (AU, 07/18/12)


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