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Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD Review

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There are flashes of old brilliance in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD, but a lot of those moments are buried under questionable design decisions and a sterile feeling that leaves this downloadable release feeling a bit flat.

School II has you wallriding bells and dodging a runaway golf cart.

The rise and fall of Activision's Tony Hawk franchise was a spectacular and thrilling thing to watch over the series' decade-plus reign as the skateboarding game of record. Competitors came and went, from Grind Session to Aggressive Inline to Skate to that Razor scooter game to... well, you get the idea. Eventually the franchise entered decline, but those fond memories of the first handful of entries remain. Those good feelings are what Activision and developer Robomodo are hoping to capitalize on with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD, a new downloadable game that pulls together a handful of levels from the first two games in the line. It controls the way you want it to. And the levels feel just like they did back in the late 1990s. But the subset of selected levels includes a few stinkers and its new modes and options don't land cleanly. It's different enough to void some of its nostalgic draw, but similar enough to remind you that parts of those early Tony Hawk games might not hold up so well over a decade later.

At the outset, you're given access to the first of seven levels and the extra modes are locked up. For the most part, this is Pro Skater the way Pro Skater always was--there are goals to complete and you embark on as many two-minute runs as you need to complete them all. Completing goals opens up additional levels and gives you cash that you can use to enhance your skater with new tricks and upgraded stats. You'll also unlock additional single-player modes, like Big Head Elimination, where your skater's head blows up like a balloon and you must continually land longer and longer strings of tricks to keep your head from popping.

Those trick strings adhere to the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 level of combo theory, meaning that you can use manuals (skateboard wheelies) to connect your ground tricks together, but the Tony Hawk 3 revert doesn't continue combos. This prevents players from just turning every two-minute run into one long, incredible combo as easily as it got to be in the later Tony Hawk games. But you kind of can't unring the bell on an innovation as earth-shattering (well, earth-shattering for what it did to Tony Hawk games, anyway) as the revert, and I found myself disappointed by the scaled-down combo system.

Grinding over the Hangar pipe.

The level design is accurate to what appeared in the original games, though there are a few new goals in some spots and billboards and other textures have been updated. You won't find boxes for Neversoft's Bruce Willis-themed dual-joystick shooter, Apocalypse, in the mall level, for example. That means that the good levels, like the Warehouse and School II, are still good. And the lame levels, like Downhill Jam and the Mall, are still pretty lame. There's more good than bad on the level select list, but it's pretty easy to come up with a handful of missing levels from the first two games that belong in this collection.

The online leaderboards help focus your trick sessions into competitions with your friends, and once you've completed all the goals in a level, subsequent runs instead show the next-highest score on the leaderboard for you to challenge. It also has online play for up to four players in standard Trick Attack and Graffiti modes. You can also free skate online or start up a Big Head Elimination game over Xbox Live, but really... Trick Attack and Graffiti are probably the modes you're looking for. The performance online seems OK, though other skaters occasionally warp around a little bit. I also had a few games fail to connect, but with a little persistence it isn't too hard to get a game going.

Visually, the game has nicer-looking skaters and textures, but it's a bit strange to see higher-resolution assets draped over level layouts that were originally made for the PlayStation. Also, the game's made with the Unreal Engine, so expect to see that telltale texture fade-in whenever you first load into a level. After that initial load, however, everything looks fine, if a little empty. The soundtrack is a mix of new-to-Tony-Hawk music and a few tracks that appeared in the original games. So no "Police Truck," but you get "Superman" and that Anthrax/Public Enemy team-up. Much like the list of levels, the soundtrack feels awfully short, and after hearing the same batch of songs repeat for the third time, I finally just turned it down. Along with a mix of new and old music, there's also a mix of new and old skaters, including Eric Koston, Rodney Mullen, your Xbox 360 avatar, Riley Hawk, and more.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD is a terrific idea that just doesn't pan out as well as it feels like it should. All the little tweaks and decisions, from level list to the soundtrack to the decisions about which moves to include or exclude eventually start to weigh on the overall experience in a meaningful way. It turns something that should have been a joyous update and revival of a tarnished franchise into something that simply misses the mark. I'm still interested in seeing what happens to the game after some Tony Hawk 3 levels are added as DLC, but then I'm the guy who still owns every single game in the Tony Hawk franchise, right down to the one that came with the weird paint program on the DS. So of course I'd say that.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
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Posted by Smokey_Earhole

Nice review

Posted by lazarenth

Aww, Downhill Jam was Tony's favorite level!

Posted by Xtrminatr

This is what I was afraid of.

Posted by rmanthorp

Enjoying it so far but it does seem very bare bones. I just wish they had just released a full PS1 in HD and continued down that path... It feels kinda different also.

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Posted by hussatron

I was hoping for more, but at least it's a little glimmer of hope that the Tony Hawk series will return to something closer to sanity.

Posted by SoothsayerGB

Jeff seems jaded by the Tony Hawk series.

Posted by Tylea002

It ain't no Proving Ground, I'll tell you that.

What?

Edited by Yummylee

I'll definitely still get it when it's released on the PS3, but I'm now going to temper my expectations. The small selection of levels and music, and the noticeable lacking of create-a-stuff modes, are a supremely disappointing turn out. But I'll relish in what's there all the same, and it's only just occurred to me that I've lost most of my Tony Hawks games over the years, so I'm all for using Tony Hawk HD as a somewhat limited but more convenient attempt at banking on all of this nostalgia.

EDIT: Also apparently no Primus? What the fuck is this bollocks?!

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Posted by zombie2011

I like all the levels they put in this game, the only one i would have swapped out would have been Mall.

Posted by SuperSambo

7 maps is the point where I turned off the idea.

It is almost an insult in comparison to Trials.

Posted by phuzzybunny

I'm playing it and it seems pretty good to me. The controls feel a little off but that's because I played Tony Hawk on my playstation when I was younger and now I'm using the stupid Xbox D-pad.

Posted by Mento

Allow me to posit a possible reason for your ambivalence Jeff: Amped 3. It has all the features, fun and combo-building skill of a Pro Skater (on snow) game, but an amazing candy outer shell. The THPS series needed to raise the bar after that, but instead it limbo'd as far as it could go underneath it with the plastic skateboard games. I don't think a cold rehash of past victories is going to cut it.

At least we'll always have Shaun White and his staunch ally Stride Gum in the eternal battle against The Establishment.

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Posted by aseddon130

yeah i'm seeing the occasional bit of brilliance tucked in there but i cannot for the life of me get to FULL grips of the controls, i think the new SSX has made me real soft with being more accurate.

Posted by Yummylee

I wonder if it's too much to hope for if they'll ever give Matt Hoffman's Pro BMX the same courtesy... I imagine they don't quite hold the same amount of reverence as Tony Hawk.

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Posted by leejunfan83

fuck review scores

Edited by BBQBram

I would have been happier with a straight-up HD port of the original game to be honest. Or I could just buy Skate 2 or 3 for the same price and get a gazillion times more play time out of it.

Posted by Ehker

I already felt like skipping TNT... Seriously need some decent games for that segment.

Posted by Gordy

@Ehker: They're not playing just THPSHD, They're playing other Tony Hawk games as well.

Posted by Cyrisaurus

It seemed like something that would be so easy to do, and they fucked it up anyway.

Posted by CornBREDX

The release of this made me want to pop in my old THPS games.

So I did.

If nothing else I have that haha

Posted by csl316

Hate to say, but I have zero interest in anything other than part 3. If they just remade that game I'd buy every single thing associated with it.

In any case, glad they're doing this and I'm hoping the future DLC (and addition of the revert) leads to some kick ass original levels.

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Posted by m2cks

Man, this has got to be the letdown of the year (so far) for me. I was hoping for a more all-encompassing package of THPS games, blending in elements and levels into a giant downloadable game. At a distance, it looks like it was supposed to be giant, but then someone (most likely Activision) took a carving knife and sliced chunks out of it (then hoarding said mutilated chunks until consumers pay more for them, essentially undoing the damage that Activision themselves have caused!) This is gonna be DLC'd up the ass; it honestly has opened my eyes to why some gamers are outright opposed to the business practice in general. What a shame- such potential, wasted by the need to sell DLC to squeeze that extra buck out of people. What a damn shame, indeed.

Posted by andrew2696

Is that DS paint one like a customization thingy?

Posted by ArtisanBreads

The level list kills it for me. Maybe it it was $10 I could talk myself into it but just no way.

Posted by Brendan

So there aren't as many maps as Jeff would like, and they plan on extending the life of this game with map based DLC, eh? This game sounds like it was designed to be a bad value. No sale for me.

Posted by iAmJohn

Something about this game just feels off.

Posted by Cybexx

So your saying the people responsible for the last two terrible Tony Hawk games were not able to revitalize the old Tony Hawk? My god.

I wish they had given this back to Neversoft, but then again I have no idea how much of the old team is left there. At least this sounds functional. I'll still give this a try though because I enjoyed the majority of Tony Hawk games.

Posted by Peanut

I definitely feel like there are enough things slightly off to damper my enjoyment, which bums me out so incredibly bad.

Posted by beard_of_zeus

This is kind of a letdown. It sounds like they at least needed to include all that planned DLC upfront; seems to leave the game feeling barebones in its current state. Wouldn't fix all the problems, but it couldn't hurt.
 
I had forgotten about Aggressive Inline until Jeff brought it up at the start of this review, but I remember that game actually being pretty good! My favorite Tony Hawk-esque knockoff was Wakeboarding Unleashed, though. That game was legitimately awesome.

Posted by Hailinel

This is a classic case of needing to be careful of what you wish for.

Posted by Sunjammer

How come Your Xbox 360 Avatar doesn't have a character page, huh? OMISSION.

Posted by Napalm

@Hailinel said:

This is a classic case of needing to be careful of what you wish for.

I'm not sure this game exists because of fan clamoring. I don't remember them being like, "you asked for it, and now we're doing it!" Ever since the Tony Hawk peripheral games sunk hard, I think Activision was looking for a way to bring Tony Hawk back into the limelight. This probably seems like the safest bet. If it fails, it's probably not going to be a giant loss to Activision, but if it succeeds I'm sure they'll do more, another game or additional downloadable content.

Posted by RecSpec

Looks like I'll be sticking with my copy of THPS2.

Posted by liako21

wow that quick look really brought bad some memories. 3/5 is a far score.

Posted by Rmack

I liked the Mall level :/

I'm not big on this from what I've played and seen, though. Most of the levels I have nostalgia for aren't in it, and the same could be said for the soundtrack. And no local co-op, not even HORSE? Lame.

Posted by Tobiass

They really need to fix the glitches and sloppy mechanics in this one

Wallriding is near impossible

Your character bails during grinds for no reason

The big drop mechanic was terrible in THPS2 that they got rid of it an dit never made a comback in any of the later games

I don't kow why they included it again.

Posted by agentboolen

Kind of hard to scrounge up the money for this. 1st of all my Dreamcast copies of 1 and 2 don't look all that bad, 2 If I really want to play Tony Hawk on my Xbox 360 I'll just put in Project 8 or Proving ground. I wouldn't mind Activision trying to make a new game that is more closer to the original games but I don't think I can buy new copies of the old levels I already have. Thanks for the review Jeff.

Posted by Brazzle

No police truck no sale!

Posted by honkyjesus

After playing the trial I was wondering about the continued weird initial price tag. While being a well done upgrade from the original graphically I just can't see stuff like this in today's market thinking fifteen bucks for a short nostalgia trip is worth it. That goes for everything from Spelunky to I Am Alive, by the time they become reasonably priced I already forgot about them.

Meh.

Posted by Veektarius

I never understood Tony Hawk. Even with goals built in for various tricks/scores/whatever, the fact that you weren't trying to get anywhere, just sitting around on the same little stretch of half-pipe wracking up score... It always felt so directionless to me. People obsessed over it in college, but unlike Halo 1 and GTA III, I didn't get it at all.

Posted by RoyaleWifCheese

I swear, Tony Hawk is, like, the only guy that actually likes the Downhill Jam level.

No offense to the man, but it sucked in 1999, and it sucks in 2012.

Posted by Sticky_Pennies

Why couldn't they just glue THPS2 and 3 together, make them 1080p 60FPS, and re-release them?

It would have printed money. Probably.

Posted by IntoTheN1ght

You almost cant **** it up can you? Yet they still managed, somehow.

I dont think you can frankenstein 2 games and now 3 (with DLC) into one package, it will always come across as uneven.

All they really had to do was just port THPS3, the best regarded one, 100% to HD and that was it. Not having the full soundtrack is okay, as that is usually due to licensing but mucking around with how the game is played is inexcusable.

Posted by FunExplosions

Level selection and music selection and character selection is all horrible, given the possibilities. I'm sure there's dlc in the works to remedy all that, but they fucked up in not generating the demand in the first place. But at that point I wonder if I'd just be better off buying the first three games all over. Actually that's definitely a better idea.

Posted by Twinsun

Seems like a waste of money, just buy one of the older, you know, good ones.

Posted by vinsanityv22

You'd figure that Robomodo and Activision would just go for broke at this point. They already did "realistic", they tried "wacky" (the THUG games), they did the criminally underrated Downhill Jam titles, they did the peripheral stuff, and now they re-imagined the original gameplay...what's there left to do? What do people want to see?

They should just go crazy. Just make, like, an insane sci-fi futuristic take on Tony Hawk...like how Midway took the 3rd San Francisco Rush and threw it into the future? "Can cars fly in the future?" - "Sure; throw some fucking wings on these things!". It was crazy, unexpected and ended up brilliant. That's what Robomodo should try to do with Hawk; there's nothing "normal" that hasn't already been mined by the likes of Tony Hawk and SKATE anyway. Make an android Tony Hawk, have boards that can glide, invent crazy future death sports like "Skate Ball" (basically Motorball from Battle Angel), and make the whole thing look like that Speed Racer movie or perhaps the Running Man. There's nowhere left to go for this series before Activision's insane 14 year contract runs out. That's how thoroughly a job they did destroying the franchise with their crappy, "If it makes us money, it must be a yearly franchise!" mandate.

Posted by Zoombini

@vinsanityv22: Dude, that would be amazing. Make it so robot Tony Hawk is just his human brain in a jar with a robot built around it and you have got a day 1 sale from me.

Posted by dropabombonit

I will set get this when it comes to PSN but at least your review has helped me lower my expectations a bit

Posted by Lysergica33

Hm, guess I'll be sticking to THPS 3 for my Tony Hawk fix. Game hasn't aged a day IMO, plays, looks and feels just as good as it did when it came out. I had a binge last year for a few months. My friend turned up at my house every night and we played HORSE until the small hours. Great, great times. I'll still get this when it comes out on PS3, but I'll be tempering my expectations having read this and watched the quick look. Something about the feel of it really does just look simply OFF. That and they seem to have chosen all the most boring music from the first two games, and who the fuck can skate to Millencolin anyway? You need a phat groove for skating! The lack of Guerilla Radio or Primus or any good hip-hop kills the soundtrack for me completely.

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