By Nerje 1 Comments
There's been a lot of chatter recently about the latest release in the ages-old Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series. A lot of this chatter revolves around the ill reception the game has recieved from the press, and the fact that it's not all that good. Most reviews have rated the game below average, and many pundits predict that is will become just another blip in the Guiter Hero-dominated landscape of peripheral games.
They're probably right, but there's a lot more to it than the quality of the game. Now, I haven't played it so I can't really share my opinion much further than what I can glean based on face value. The face of this game though, an aging professional skater, can actually tell us a lot about the future of the series and where things might be headed. As an ex-skater, I have the utmost respect for Tony Hawk, because he set standards in skateboarding that have still not been met, but also more than any other skater he has brought the sport to the masses and can easily be considered the first real crossover star that skating has produced. And the THPS series of games played no small part in that happening.
A bit of a history lesson - when THPS was first released for Playstation was when skateboarding made it's first major push into the pop culture sphere. Suddenly, gamers knew who Tony Hawk was, and skaters knew that it was time to buy a Playstation. As soon as Christmas rolled around, Tony Hawk became a household name as parents around the world ticked the game off their christmas lists. Kids who'd spent their lives simulating amazing feats on their television screens realised that for the first time, those amazing feats were grounded in reality and with a bit of investment they could learn to ollie just like they played in the game. THPS was responsible for the massive influx of skateboarding fans, and without a doubt gaming in general became somewhat cooler - here was a reason for the 'cool kids' to finally take the plunge and buy a console.
The thing is, in the beginning the game paid a lot of respect to skateboarding and skate culture. The environments were gritty and basic, just like the spots real skaters would search long and hard to find. The tricks were sometimes outrageous but only slightly, and combos were short and sweet. Diligent players could find and unlock skate videos for each of their favourite pros - and this was very important, because skate vids were and still are the bread and butter for professional skaters.
But, as time went on, the environments became more and more colourful and the introduction of manuals and reverts meant that to complete a task, you had to perform stupid combos that took you on a grind odyssey around the outside of a skyscraper then across a whole city block on a power line. The tricks became daft and unrealistic and eventually, we were riding mechanical bulls with Steve-O and Bam from Jackass. It was no longer an homage to skating but a parody of all that skating had become.
Then came Skate.
EA released what could be considered the ultimate homage to the sport. Remember what I mentioned earlier? Skate ticked all those boxes. The environment, while vast and expansive, was based on real geometry and required the player to search long and hard for the sweetest spots to skate. The control input had a learning curve, not unlike real-life skating, and it required actual skill and dedication to perform moves fluidly and realistically. But finally, it engaged the all-important concept of the skate video - players were given the tools to make clips that showed off their skill and style. On all accounts, Skate engaged the audience that THPS had left behind with all it's backflipping and kilometre-long grindery. You only need to take a quick glance at what's going down in the skate.ea.com forums to see that what they've done is a success. Many of the game community's greatest supporters also upload videos of their real life skating achievements.
So, now, Tony Hawk has come out in defence of his game, stating in an interview "They were ready to discredit it before they even tried it, and if it didn't play exactly how they imagined it... then they passed it off,". Can you blame them Tony? For years, the game with your name on it has portrayed skating as a cartoon, full of larger-than-life characters and stunts. I'm not going to say that they're bad games, but now, you've included a plastic peripheral which only highlights exactly what I've mentioned before: these games no longer represent skate culture but look to bastardise it, package it up in a little bonbon wrapper and feed it to six year olds in the promise that they'll be getting closer to skating than ever before. Meanwhile, all the actual skaters have moved on to a franchise that supports what they do and shows a clear understanding of the culture from which it emerges.
Tony Hawk is a man that takes the piss out of the laws of physics on a daily basis. There's no need to continue taking the piss out of the people and activities that made him who he is today. Real skaters can't respect something that doesn't respect them and that's why Skate 2 is the current champion of skating games. I don't doubt that his son, Hudson, plays it more than he plays any of the games that his father endorses. There's a reason for that - the brand "Tony Hawk" is quickly shifting from a top-tier skating brand to a middling and forgettable video game character, a bit like Sonic the Hedgehog. That, in itself, could do more damage to the public perception of skating than anything else.