If you could travel back to the fall of 1999, the Sony PlayStation (no number at the end) would be the hottest game console on the block, and the game to have would be Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. A sports game that simultaneously appealed to the hardcore and the mainstream, the original THPS put Neversoft on the map and arguably made Tony Hawk a household name. Finely polished, expertly tuned and backed up with a rockin' soundtrack, THPS is still a classic. It's disappointing then, that the HD remake fails to live up to its namesake.
A collection of seven levels from THPS and THPS 2, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD is meant to showcase the best of the Tony Hawk franchise. In terms of visuals, it has certainly done just that. Running on the Unreal engine, each of the HD remakes is a treat. Played side by side with the original games, the HD remake is enough to make you feel like you're seeing the world clearly for the first time.
The levels haven't been noticeably changed; in fact, aside from the higher resolution and better textures, the levels appear to be identical. If there's a change to any of the geometry, it isn't immediately obvious to the naked eye. Pop-in, which plagued the original PlayStation versions, is nowhere to be seen.
About the only thing missing from the original is some of the more visceral body damage. In THPS and THPS 2, some of the crashes looked genuinely painful — the visual no doubt helped along by the bloody words on the screen. In the HD update the crashes seem to be sanitized.
Much like the visuals, the music in THPS HD also hits a high point, with franchise classics like Goldfinger's "Superman" and Anthrax's "Bring the Noise" here in all their glory. The new tracks also mesh well with the series, blending seamlessly with the older selections.
Unfortunately, where THPS HD stumbles just happens to be in its most important area: the gameplay. Given that there wasn't much in the way of story (OK, there was no story) in the early games, absolutely nailing the controls was going to be the make-or-break moment of THPS HD. In the end, it's close, but not quite there. Grinds seem to be "stickier" while the timing window for landing verts is noticeably smaller.
A perfect example is in the School II level taken from THPS 2. One of the bells in the level is located in a corner, above a large, elevated ramp. In the original game, hitting the bell was a simple matter of jumping off the ramp and doing a wall ride. In THPS HD, hitting the same bell requires a delay after jumping in order to do the wall ride. If you use the same timing as on the PlayStation, instead of hitting the wall, you'll find yourself grinding on the ramp.
Another disappointment has to do with the lack of customization. Creating a custom skater, or even a custom level, was a big part of the Tony Hawk franchise. Not here. Yes, you can play with your avatar and swap out your board, but that's the limit of the visual tweaks. With no level editor, forget about challenging your friends with an insane layout. It's a huge missed opportunity, as custom levels could have been a boon to the title.
Speaking of levels, don't plan on swapping characters much unless you want to replay the game with each one. Levels unlock on a per-character basis. That means if you open up every level with Tony Hawk but decide you want to experiment with Rodney Mullen, you're out of luck. This applies to all of the single-player modes, including single session and free skate. Quite frankly, it's annoying.
Thankfully, none of the levels are locked when it comes to online play, but online has its own set of issues. Even with the day-one title update, going online was far from smooth sailing. The biggest problem we faced was starting a match because characters would spawn into the world on top of one another. Most of the time, this resulted in simply falling to the ground, but every so often, a player would get shot into the stratosphere. Once away from the start point, gameplay was generally smooth, though we did see random crashes (even in mid-air once), presumably from lag.
While the concept is good, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD fails on execution. The game just can't hold a candle to its predecessors. Playing the remake is like listening to a classic band on a reunion tour. The song lyrics haven't changed, but the magic just isn't there.
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