Genre: Extreme Sports
Release Date: October 15, 2007
When I was growing up, our choice of skating video games was extremely limited. We had Skate or Die and 720 on the original NES, and that's pretty much it. Yeah, there was a skating event on California Games, but it wasn't that good. Truth be told, the entire sport of skating was pretty underrepresented in the video game market until 1999, when Tony Hawk's Pro Skater hit the shelves and revolutionized the digital skater.
Eight years later, we have Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, the ninth installment in the series. Proving Ground drops you into the shoes of an up-and-coming skater on the streets of Philadelphia. As you nail your flip tricks and grinds, you start to get noticed by professional skaters and sponsors. Before you start raking in the big bucks, however, you have to decide what kind of skater you want to be.
Overall, the gameplay in Proving Ground doesn't deviate too much from the Tony Hawk formula. You still string together massive combos using your arsenal of flips, grabs and grinds. The game does give you some new additions, with the "Nail The Grab" and "Nail The Manual" systems.
The last game, Tony Hawk's Project 8, introduced the "Nail The Trick" mode, which, when activated, would slow down time and allow you to use the thumbsticks to control the skater's feet. The NTG and NTM systems operate on the same principle, but allow you to control the skater's hands and tricks, respectively. The three can also be linked together to create some massive combos that would be nearly impossible to do at normal speed.
A few other new additions round out Proving Ground's moves list, including the aggro kick, the skate-check and the bowl carve. The only one you'll find yourself using outside of specific challenges is the aggro kick, which allows you to kick with a long stride to gain a burst of speed while skating. This lets you hit longer gaps and higher jumps, leading to larger combos.
It's certainly nice to think that the developers are trying to expand on the formula that some people feel has grown stale over the past few titles. It would have been better if they'd put more thought into whether the player would want to use these additions. The "Nail The Manual" system seems tacked on and incredibly touchy, when a manual at normal speed would do the exact same thing. Skate-checking pedestrians can certainly be fun at times, but it adds little to the game, other than a brief chuckle. The "Nail The Grab" and the aggro kick are the most useful of the new additions here because they really increase your combo scores, which is really what the game is about.
Proving Ground gives you the option to move your skater in one of three directions: hardcore, career and rigger. Hardcore skaters skate for one person and one person only: themselves. They don't care about money or anybody else. Career skaters rely on complexity, variety and technique to create a vast repertoire of moves. Rigger skaters utilize the entire environment to create a giant skate park wherever they go. Each class also has its own story, which has you learning new techniques and moves from professionals.
In theory, the class system is a great idea, but it seems limited in practice. You can simultaneously play through all three stories with the same character; you can finish a hardcore challenge and jump right into a career challenge with little to no change in the way you play the game. Also, the class in which your character ends up being seems to be tied to the first challenge you choose to do. There was a point in the game where I had completed more career missions than rigger missions, but I was still considered a rigger.
However, just because the classes play similarly doesn't mean that they're well balanced. For example, the rigger missions are often pretty frustrating and boring, due to the game's built-in level editor. This allows you to pause the game, drop a ramp or rail in the environment and create a new area to shred. The problem is that the level editor is incredibly glitchy. There were times when, while trying to set a ramp, my cursor would drop below the ground, and Id have to restart the editor to get my cursor to where I could use it again. The camera in the editor is also frustrating. It zooms in when you don't want it to, and the perspective seems a bit skewed, leading to ramps and rails not lining up correctly.
Most of the rigger challenges involve placing a series of rails from one checkpoint to another and grinding, which creates some very boring and tedious gameplay. The riggers get some on-foot challenges that require them to get to some higher locations. These challenges are actually a lot of fun because they usually involve nailing a massive combo to get back down to the street level. These are also the perfect times to use the previously mentioned aggro kick and "Nail The Grab" moves.
The career and hardcore challenges are classic Tony Hawk, requiring you to skate a series of obstacles, linking together tricks for high-scoring combos. The only complaint I would have is that the two classes are almost too similar; you can go from one class to the other without really changing your button presses at all.
The graphics in Proving Ground are not nearly as good as they should be. There are some really weird clipping issues, like skaters going through objects, the facial models being off, weird moving mouths and vacant expressions. The sound is a mixed bag. You have the normal Tony Hawk soundtrack, with plenty of rock, rap and punk music. As with the previous titles, there are going to be tracks you really like and prefer to listen to while you skate, and other tracks for which you don't really care. The voices are all provided by the real-life skaters, and unfortunately tend to detract from the game's overall quality. The lines are all delivered with next to no enthusiasm, which leaves you, as the player, wondering if that "sick gap" is really all it's cracked up to be.
By far, Proving Ground's shining point is in the sheer size of the game. Set in three East Coast cities, the title will provide you with hours upon hours of things to do. In addition to the three stories, you also have numerous side-challenges to keep you busy, like performing a grind from one location to another and high score challenges. When you're finished with those, you also have three different ratings on each challenge, which take the game to the next level, with huge combo and score requirements. In strict terms of value, Proving Ground is easily worth the money.
Bear in mind, however, that you are dealing with a franchise that has done little different over the past four or five games. If you've tried to play a Tony Hawk game in the past and found that it wasn't your thing, you can expect that with Proving Ground. Of course, the same applies if you've loved every installment of the series since the beginning.
Tony Hawk's Proving Ground feels like the same game that we've been playing for years. The developers have certainly taken some steps in the right direction with the class system and a couple of new moves, but the game is plagued by frustrating and boring challenges, weak presentation and a glitchy level editor. I would recommend most people rent it, just to check out some of the new gameplay additions. Fans of the series, however, might want to buy this one, because there is no way you'll be able to complete it all in one rental period.
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