Video games and skateboarding are no strangers, with titles like 720° and Skate or Die becoming early landmark titles. It wasn't until August 1999, however, that the idea of video game skateboarding caught on with the mainstream crowd due to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Beating out the more simulation-oriented Thrasher: Skate and Destroy, the game became a hit, spawning several sequels and influencing other games in the genre. Its reign didn't last very long, however, with EA's Skate series taking over while the series deviated from its roots and quickly fell out of favor. With the trend of HD remakes in full swing, Activision decided it was time for the Birdman to soar again with the downloadable Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD.
In an effort to rediscover what made the game fun in the first place, the game dials back everything to the basics. You start out by selecting a skater, each with different stats in categories like hangtime, landing and speed, just to name a few. From there, you pick a level and are given two minutes to complete the level's objectives. Most of the objectives are universal, such as finding a hidden DVD, scoring a certain number of points in a run, or collecting all of the letters for the word "skate." Other objectives are level-specific, such as clearing a certain gap, knocking out school bells, or jumping over sleeping bums. Cash, which can be used to buy things (stat improvements, new boards, etc.) for your skater, is gained for completing certain objectives. Passing a number of these objectives opens up access to the next level.
Despite the name of the game, this isn't a simple HD remake of the first game but more like a mash-up of the first and second games, with an emphasis on the latter. The levels represent a good mix of both games, with some of the classic levels like the Warehouse from the first game and the Hangar from the second game coming back in HD, though every level is now peppered with extra cash just like the second game. The objective count per level adheres to the second game by having 10 instead of five, and the skating mechanics obey the second game due to the inclusion of manuals. Level progression doesn't require you to complete everything, though a number of objectives per level need to be cleared for the next one to open.
Progression remains locked to your chosen skater, so switching up skaters midway through the game means starting a new career path as opposed to taking over from where your last skater left off. Available skaters represent a good mix of classic and brand-new pros. You still have vets like Tony Hawk and Andrew Reynolds, but you also have skaters who didn't appear until later, like Nyjah Houston and Tony's son, Riley, is now in the picture.
From a content perspective, the game feels a bit shallow because the level selection is rather low. Fewer than half of the levels of both games combined are featured here, and while that means some classic ones made the cut, a few of the least-liked levels, such as Downhill Jam, also make an appearance. Some popular elements, such as trick competitions against AI opponents, are also missing. Though you have a healthy amount of skaters to choose from, completing their levels doesn't give you any bonus video clips, lessening the incentive to do everything with every character. Even though the game is only $15, it feels slightly bare-bones since much of the classic stuff from both games isn't available. This could possibly be rectified if Activision decides to release those forgotten levels as DLC in the future.
If you can get over that hurdle, however, you'll find that the game is pretty faithful to the old titles. The levels still have the same goals and, more importantly, the layout for each stage remains untouched, save for a few textures here and there. If you've played those levels religiously, you can replay your high-scoring lines without needing to relearn or do much adjustment. The skating is just as fast and forgiving as before, and it's also as exciting since it favors more vert skating than street skating. Most importantly, the gameplay remains fun due to the emphasis on busting out high scores and combos. Going back to the original game mechanics makes you realize how valuable the simple manual was in creating ridiculous combo strings and how much harder it is for players to create those high-scoring combos without that move. It makes the original levels more exciting to play since it opens up so many combo opportunities. Thanks to a recent patch, the revert, a move introduced in the third game, can be used to extend combos, making all of the levels feel fresh again since it opens up even more scoring opportunities. There are some insane scores posted on the online leaderboards.
Career mode may be what players remember the most about the single-player game, but there are a few other available modes. Single Session gives you two minutes to bust out amazing scores without worrying about completing objectives. Free Skate is similar but takes away the timer, so you can practice tricks and discover a level's secrets at your own pace. Both are classic modes from the old games that keep the game fun by freeing the skating from other restrictions.
Those classic modes are accompanied by a few new modes that vary in their entertainment value. Big Head Survival has you trying to perform as many tricks as possible to stop your head from inflating to the point of bursting. Hawkman, a mode introduced in Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, has you trying to collect as many dots as possible via grinds, jumps and manuals. Both modes are fun for a while, but the paltry rewards mean you won't be visiting them as often as expected. Projectives, on the other hand, is much more appealing to the hardcore fan, as you're now tasked with completing a set of objectives in one minute instead of two. Fiendishly difficult, it is engaging and will satisfy the fan who can easily master all of the objectives in the main career mode.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was not only remembered for its single-player mode but for its multiplayer as well. For the most part, that was executed well in this iteration. There are four game types you can play online. Time Attack is essentially an online version of Single Session mode, where players have two minutes to rack up as many points as they can in any one of the levels. Graffiti, on the other hand, is more of a territorial mode where you can own parts of the level by performing the best trick on that piece, turning some spots into real battlegrounds as players try to execute higher-scoring tricks to steal property from other players. Both are classic modes that improve on the original games by being four-player affairs instead of just two. The other two game types are somewhat new. Free Skate mode gives you and your friends a place to goof around with no restrictions while Big Head Survival from the single-player game is modified so that everyone inflates at the same time, with successful tricks being the only way to delay the inevitable head pop. The good news is that the online performance is just fine. The age of the title means that it's harder to find an online game, but the performance is fine when you get one going. Lag is pretty much nonexistent, and the response time is just like the offline version.
You may notice that offline multiplayer wasn't mentioned, and that's because it doesn't exist. It's unknown whether this was a result of a new game engine, lack of development time or something else. Whatever the case, the heightened emphasis on online multiplayer at the cost of offline multiplayer will disappoint those who wanted to relive games of graffiti and time attack with a buddy.
The graphics polish is mostly great. The use of Unreal Engine 3 does wonders for the levels and the character models. The skaters look more realistic than before, with some good animations and facial expressions that are more noticeable when playing in big head mode, especially when you bail. The environments are both grittier and more colorful this time around, and it looks more realistic thanks to some nice texturing. Particle effects are more on display this time around, and while the blood droplets from a bail don't look that great, the sparks coming from the trucks during a grind look excellent. It isn't perfect, though. Players will see that all-too-familiar texture creep where everything seen for the first time gets a blurry texture before it's replaced with more refined ones. You'll see it when trying to select a new board and when you enter a level for the first time and the game prevents you from moving until the proper textures have loaded. There's also the issue of gameplay hitches, which don't appear too often but are noticeable since they can interrupt a gun run at the wrong time.
Like the rest of the game, the sound is a hybrid of both old and new, and they work together nicely. The sound effects come from the old games but are retouched to the point where they sound new again, the only exception to this being the letter pick-ups. The soundtrack consists of 14 songs, but it won't be immediately familiar to fans of the series. Due to licensing issues, only seven songs from the old games return, and of that selection, only "Superman" by Goldfinger represents the first game. The other seven songs are new entries with the likes of Apex Manor, El-P and Pigeon John filling in for the missing tracks. Luckily, the new songs fit perfectly, creating the high-energy skating vibe of the original game soundtracks.
The real question for fans is whether this is worth trying if you already have or can easily get access to the original PlayStation games. Prior to the recent patch, the answer would've favored the older titles. Even though you could only do manuals in the second game, the sheer breadth of levels, wider skater selection, classic rewards and offline split-screen play meant that the older games outweighed what's in the HD version. With the patch adding revert to the game, the HD version gets a little more consideration than before, especially since the third game on the original PlayStation comes nowhere close to what was seen in the PS2 version. If the promised DLC starts to add more of the classic levels and skaters, it may be time to retire the old games.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD is a good, but not great, nostalgia trip for those who fell in love with the series when it debuted. Every level is just as you remember it, the moves are executed in the same way, and the game still prods you to give a level just one more run. From a presentation standpoint, the title mostly looks great, and the sound feels familiar enough in a good way. The level selection could be better, and the lack of local multiplayer is disappointing, but in the end, the game does a better job of upholding the brand than the last few entries have. Old fans of the series as well as those looking to escape skateboard simulators will have some fun with this one, especially if the developers stick to their promise of revisiting more levels.
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