Review by Wolfvie
The assets are here, but something not at all tangible is at the backbone of something once great
The Pro Skater titles were perhaps some of the most timeless titles ever the grace the 5th generation of systems. Finally after many years of anticipation what I and Im sure many other fans had sought after, has finally hit store shelves (or more appropriately the download market). A HD-ified remake of the original Pro Skater titles. Rather appropriately titled Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD is a best of collection of a selection of levels from the first two titles, accompanied by a reworked reimagining of the gameplay that made the series so popular (unlike the recent awful but undeniably ambiguous motion-based Ride titles).
When I first heard of the reworked, built from the ground up gameplay, I was worried the title would be the last nail in the coffin for the already tired franchise; would take the same path and fate of the series before it, and were my suspicions justified in thinking this?
Back to the core. No unnecessary plot, riddled with all the clitches and plot holes you might expect from somebody who writes at a five grade level.
For the most part the game looks fine. Its very barebones and minimalistic, but when was Tony Hawk ever about the eye candy. The entirely new animations that accompany the game being built from the ground up are good, but arguably unnecessary addition to a series highly arcadey in nature. There is also quite noticeable texture pop-in, namely whilst entering new areas, which is a product of the growing dated-nature of the current Unreal Engine.
Unfortunately thats not the end of it. The engine caps the frame rate at 30 fps (with occasional minor dips), which definitely is not at all ideal for a game that relies on pin-point precision in the fast flow of the gameplay. Still it remains playable; if it doesnt create a slight annoyance for those accustomed the smoothness of recent titles (or even the far better optimised originals).
The games soundtrack is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand youve got a pretty flawless mix of punk/alt tracks from the first two games (minus the exclusion of Guerrilla Radio).The remaining new entries to the soundtrack whilst generally speaking, arent terrible, just feel really out of place when backed to the context of the gameplay which benefits from the fast and furious nature of the likes of Lagwagon, Bad Religion and of course Goldfinger.
The sound effects could be assumed to be ripped from the originals and it wouldnt really matter regardless. The skateboards sound like... skateboards with the monotonous sound of the wheels rolling over pavement and the appropriate clashes when they meet steel and pavement. Solid.
It just doesnt feel like Tony Hawk. Those confused words laced and underlined with a distinct sense of disappointment I uttered from my mouth, as I loaded up Warehouse and launched towards the secret VHS (or the obnoxiously newly titled DVD as an attempt to appeal to youths of the new millennium).
At first I wasnt exactly sure why. The assets were certainly all there; the original 2 minute levels with a variety of unique goals, the mix of real-life skaters and comedic creations (for the most part) and the unforgettable zany tricks all come to life in this modern day reimagining. But something not-at-all tangible was in the place of the backbone that once supported this concoctor of ideas and features.
Excuse that awkwardly worded analogy for a moment, but to sum it up, the components of design are all still very much there in place but the part the really matters, the genre defining gameplay, is missing. The devs have ironically nailed everything, but the thing that really set the series apart and created a formula for literally tens of dozens of poser/wannabe titles that would later follow in its legacy.
So what exactly is the problem? At its core Pro Skater HD is still follows very much the same skate- around rack up as many points as possible formula, but whether it be the physics or the general pace of the gameplay it just doesnt feel like the originals. While it would be ignorant to write off this indifference without explanation, the floatier, slowed down pace doesnt benefit the nature of the games design and ultimately creates a recipe for boredom.
What was once frantic and fun, flying around the warehouse trying to rack up as many points as possible, is now reduced to a slow, monotonous and unnecessarily paced experience. Some might say thrill of the experience is gone and in its place an empty shell of potential. On top of this, its not even an entirely functional game with the odd clipping into environments, random physics bug and other features synonymous with unpolished games. While this might not seem like much, its not exactly a rarity to see one of the aforementioned oddities screw up a perfectly good combo/run, leading to frustration.
Indeed this is a HD Tony Hawk, but Pro Skater, it is not. It is merely decent but entirely playable gameplay that merely happens to feature a slew of excellent Pro Skater 1 & 2 content tacked on for namesake. Unfortunately this not all Pro Skater HD suffers from. There are a lot of minor niggles and flaws in the games design that could be very easily overlooked individually, but collectively, they create a recipe for undisputed raw frustration.
The intuitively helpful introductory camera that highlighted the criteria and whereabouts of the goals in the individual levels in previous entities will be indeed missed. In its place a poorly implemented static-unchanging map that very barely passes itself a use, as much as it is a pain to bring up the pause menu to view it.
The decision to both include and remove features from later titles is indeed as questionable as it is frustrating. The Manuel, which allowed for the chaining together of ground/air/rail tricks originally featured in THPS2 is a welcomed and necessary return. However the revert (Introduced in THPS3), which allowed for the chaining of vert tricks does not. This is all and fine if the devs were going for the feel and play more respective to the original two titles, but somewhat contrary to this, the perfect/sloppy landing system introduced in much later titles. Why scrap what was arguably the biggest innovation, as far as gameplay mechanics were concerned, and still include what would otherwise be considered mediocre more recent addition.
Im not going to delve into the fact that the revert, among other THPS3 content, will be available via payed DLC somewhere down the track; but just know it would greatly improve the gameplay and its absence in the core gameplay is a disappointment.
The level selection is a little disappointing with only about half of the levels from the first two games combined returning. Granted what is here is generally considered on the stronger end of the spectrum (Warehouse, Hanger and the Mall most notably) but a couple of extra tracks wouldnt have hurt its longevity.
The stellar create-a-park/skater additions (introduced in Pro Skater 2 and featured ever after) are bizarrely missing, which cuts down significantly on the longevity you should expect from the title. You can play as your Xbox Live Avatar (A feature obviously exclusive to this version) but its not quite as satisfying as creating your own ingame persona, complete with unique tricks, style and statistics.
Its not as content light as you might think though with the inclusion of a 8-player online mode with a couple of surprisingly decent new multiplayer modes. Whats disappointing is the glimpses in greatness in this otherwise promising feature.
The Tony Hawk titles have never exactly been known for being long lasting titles (the first two lasting between 2-3 hours at most). Pro Skater HD is no exception but the increased difficulty on each of the seven levels should pump up that final number to around 3-4; a lot more if youre planning to 100% it. Theres an additional 1 minute Pro-objective mode, unlocked after the completion of the main career mode, that adds new even tougher objectives to the mix that will surely make your stay with Pro Skater HD, far longer than you might have intended.
Control-wise the initial learning curve applies as with many other previous instalments. The control is fine (once you get past the initial frame rate of whats going on screen and the slight delay in control response). Its still tough for those who spent years sharpening their skills with the Playstation pad, only for those to transfer to the 360 where the stick configuration is basically the only option (over the terrible d-pad). Though that's more a fault with the controller, rather than the game.
Now for a quick revision...
+ Looks decent.
+ Plays decent.
+ Goldfinger, Bad Religion, Lagwagon...
-...Middle Class Rut, Lateef the Truthspeaker, Telekinesis.
- Botched gameplay mechanics; not the game you remember.
- Only seven levels.
- No return of splitscreen.
I guess the general recurring theme is it just doesnt feel like Tony Hawk. Robomodo went out of their way to rebuild one of the biggest cult classics of the late 90s and the end result leaves much to desire; a simple port would have been more in order. Thats not to mention the shortage of levels, frame rate and other questionable design choices riddled throughout a slightly buggy experience.
If you need that Tony Hawk fix, youd be better off scavenging the bargain bins for 2005s excellent American Wasteland or dusting off your old PS1 and giving the originals a run for their money. Unlike THPSHD, they will still be fondly remembered ten years down the line from now.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD (US, 07/18/12)
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