Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD Review – Xbox 360August 1, 2012
Enter Tony Hawk. He was (and still is, to some extent) one of the biggest names in professional skating, and he is synonymous with late-90s popular culture. The same goes for the Tony Hawk series of video games published by Activision, which has been one of the most successful extreme sports franchises of all-time. Still, in recent times the series has hit some hard times, and after the two flops Tony Hawk: Ride and Shred, I had a feeling that this long-running franchise had reached its end. As most people should know though, Bobby Kotick doesn’t know when to quit, for now we have a brand new Tony Hawk game. However, this one actually had a lot of promise going into it, because Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a remake of the first two games in the series (obviously two of the best ones). Is this game a welcome reboot for one of Activision’s oldest series or a failure consumed by nostalgia?
Yes, folks, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is not a game in which you use a freakin peripheral; this game is straight up old school. Finally, we have a Tony Hawk game that hearkens back to the nostalgic, arcadish and twitchy awesomeness of the original games. The thing about this game though is that it’s a remake of the original two games (as I had already mentioned), so Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD plays almost exactly as the originals did over a decade ago. As the originals, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is an arcade skateboarding game in which all tricks you would ever need are routed to specific buttons on the controller. Flips, grabs, grinding, lip tricks, manuals, advanced manuevers, you name it. This makes Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD one of those games that is simple to learn despite not having a tutorial, but ultimately difficult to master. For instance, some tricks require specific timing in order to score some points, which can become very challenging (albeit rewarding) when trying to lock together gigantic combos. Also, repeating the same trick(s) will continually decrease their value, encouraging creativity when it comes to amassing points. The good thing about the basic gameplay is that the age of it doesn’t bury it to the ground; this version of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games is as smooth as it ever was to play. As soon as the game kicked off with the very first level, I was performing tricks like I was some kind of skating god due to the smooth nature of the gameplay, and as a result it feels fresh to have a old school Tony Hawk game (the best kind) that also feels polished enough to stand on its own as a seventh generation title. There a couple of minor issues I have such as some glaring glitches that occur when bailing tricks, but overall Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD plays exactly how I wanted it to, and it feels great.
Although I will talk more about level design later, I feel that this is also a strength of the gameplay because gamers can’t just rely on their ability to press buttons to score big points. The game employs what it calls gaps to add score multipliers, which may include jumping from rail to rail, performing a trick over a gigantic jump, or performing a transfer (jumping from halfpipe to halfpipe). Some of these gaps can be very difficult to perform tricks on, but it is a rather rewarding feeling when impressive combos are amassed as a result of adding a gap to many other tricks. Another major dynamic of the gameplay is upgrades: each skater has his/her own set of personal stats, skateboards and tricks to upgrade, and through completing objectives in single player each skater earns cash toward such upgrades. This proves to be somewhat of a driving force towards completing everything in the game, and over time it becomes necessary towards getting better scores.
Modes in the game range from Career, Free Skate, Hawkman and a new one called Big Head Survival. Career is the most traditional of them all (isn’t that the same with all sports games?), for this is the one in which you take a skater of choice and complete various objectives to earn cash I had mentioned earlier in a matter of two minutes. Such objectives don’t just include obtaining huge scores but also finding a secret DVD, collecting S-K-A-T-E (five letters scattered throughout each level), along with other level-specific goals. The objectives don’t have a ton of variety, but they give the gameplay a bigger dynamic beyond just playing for a big score. Free Skate allows you to practice tricks and combos for as long as you want, but scores will only be totaled and counted on the leaderboards if playing in Single Session mode (Free Skate with a two minute time limit). Hawkman is personally new to me, but I’m not entirely sure if it’s new or not: nonetheless, it’s a fun mode because it requires players to collect a number of colored pellets as fast as possible. Faster times means bigger cash awards, along with better standings on leaderboards. Big Head Survival is a brand new mode to the series, and although it isn’t revolutionary by any means it’s a fun new addition. Just like Hawkwman and Career, this mode is one in which you are rewarded with cash, but instead your goal in this is to rack up as many large combos as you can to keep your head shrunken as long as you can. If you keep it at a normal size for long enough, you get cash, but otherwise you lose if your head reaches maximum growth and explodes in a shower of confetti.
The disappointing thing about Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is mainly what it lacks. The game has seven levels in total, which is forgivable since this is a downloadable title, but the thing is that all seven maps are used in single player and multiplayer so there isn’t much variety there. The levels of this game are near replicas of maps from the original game as well, so although they are very fun to mess around on I wish there could have been separate, larger maps used for multiplayer to allow for more breathing space. That’s just my opinion though, for it isn’t a true flaw that the maps are used for both single and multiplayer gameplay. What really aggravates me is that the game will have DLC; why not just pack in three or maps and make us gamers happier with the money we already spent? On top of that, multiplayer has really disappointed me for this game, because splitscreen has been omitted. Being the nostalgic gamer I am, I tend to love having splitscreen multiplayer so I can play with my friends in a party-like setting. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was one of those games I used to play a lot with my brother when I was a kid, and with that in mind I was really hopeful that this remake would also have splitscreen. It doesn’t though, and as a result I was sorely disappointed. Online multiplayer is decent enough, but this is the kind of game that just works better with splitscreen, so as a whole multiplayer was the main disappointment for me.
Thankfully, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is unlike most remakes in which it isn’t a high-definition port of the same game. In a similar way to how the gameplay is almost the exact same with minor touches here and there, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD retains the same visual style and level design of the original games while also looking like a modern title. This game’s frame rate runs at a generally fast pace (not 60 fps, but it looks great for what it is), textures are well done, character models are realistic and although the physics engine has some glitches here and there Robomodo succeeded at making this look a Tony Hawk game for a modern age. Music definitely mattered more to me than the graphics here since the soundtracks have always been a strong point of these games, and I’m happy to report that this game has some great music in it. There aren’t a ton of tracks, but some of the best from the first two games have made their way into this one, and some new additions to the series also give Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD a more modern edge. Robomodo also made sure to update the sound effects, so this certainly sounds like a genuine skating game as well. If you had some doubts regarding the graphics or soundtrack, doubt no longer!
I really have to say that this “new” Tony Hawk game has somewhat disappointed me. If multiplayer included a splitscreen option and there was more content included (although you can use your Xbox Avatar, Robomodo also omitted a character creator), I would have been much more happy with this game. Nonetheless, my main hope was that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD would be the return-to-basics that this franchise desparately needed, and this game certainly delivered on that. With buttery smooth gameplay, a great soundtrack, well done visuals that hearken back to the original games and a wealth of modes, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is straight up old school. And I love it.