I have to admit, I have never played a skateboard game before now as I was never into the skater culture. The many fantastic games in the genre went unplayed as I focused on other games that were a little more up my alley. I never really understood the appeal of them. That is until I sat down with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD game from Activision. It was definitely an interesting ride but not without its share of issues.
The overall presentation of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is nice and simple whereby you are offered a few modes of play at the start. A selection of levels from the first two Tony Hawk games is available; however, most are locked initially. First is “Free Skate” mode, in which you can just goof around in the levels. Then there is “Single Session” that lets you play out one round of scoring in a set time limit; and finally a “Career” mode where you select a character and level them up as you go by playing timed rounds.
I spent some time playing the multiplayer modes too. “Big Head” mode has your character’s head gradually inflate unless you successfully pull off tricks. Let your head get too big and it pops like a balloon and the other player wins. Then there is “Graffiti” mode where the goal is to do tricks on objects to turn a colour connected to your character. The goal of this is to have the most objects in your color by the end of the time limit. Another mode is “Trick Attack” where basically you just do the most tricks during the round and hope your score is the highest when the timer runs out. When I was trying out the multiplayer, it was hard to find someone to play with. I kept choosing random matches but ended up facing the same guy over and over.
What really surprised me was the lack of character creation tools in the game. Instead, you just get a set of pre-made skateboarders based off of real life pros with set stats. These stats can be upgraded between rounds with cash you earn from completing challenges and finding cash laying around the levels. Completing level-specific challenges unlocks new levels, too. The challenges range from achieving a certain score, collecting the letters S-K-A-T-E and other items, to pulling off certain moves over certain objects. I liked the levels that were provided, but I wish there were more of them.
Since I had never played a skateboarding game before, I really didn’t know what to expect for controls. The left analog stick controls the skater. The other buttons are mapped to moves such as grab, flip, and crouch (which took me some time to figure out that it speeds you up). That is one gripe I have with the game: there is no training mode. You basically have to learn as you play, which may be fine for long-time fans of the series, but it has a very high learning curve for beginners. I had to play a good couple of hours before I even knew how to properly pull off some of the moves that they were giving me. As I gained cash I used the Pro Shop to upgrade my player’s skills and buy new moves that would bring in more points and cash. Also, I would have liked to have seen a preview of the moves before I bought them, but maybe I’m being too picky.
Now I don’t want to completely dump on the game, but the collision detection also seemed very flakey. I found myself at times soaring up a ramp just to be suddenly thrown off it for no reason at all. Also, my character got stuck numerous times on some invisible object in some levels, particularly the Hanger level. It was amusing to watch my poor character wipe out and crash like a limp rag doll; however, there is only so much of wonky graphical issues you can put up with before it is not amusing anymore. The addition of a “reset button” was nice, I’m not sure if this was in the first games or not.
The graphics are better than expected but still nothing mind blowing. The levels are varied, but I wish that they had more to them. With few exceptions, the areas seem sterile, soulless places devoid of life. I know it’s a remake, but with today’s machines, I expected more. The characters animations and characters preforming tricks look decent. They are well animated at times and are impressive when you are able to pull them off successfully. The camera worked well and the sense of speed was conveyed well.
Musically the game definitely has that late 90’s, early 2000 vibe, with a combination of new and old tracks from the Tony Hawk games. There are 14 tracks that randomly play as you go through the levels, but I wish you could have the ability to turn off certain tracks. It probably could have benefitted from more music too, as it felt like the tracks available repeated too frequently. Sound effects fit nicely as your character rolls and flies around the level. There is a satisfying crunch when you fail to pull off a move which will have you smiling. However, like the graphics, there is that noticeable sterile feeling.
Overall, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD for the PlayStation Network felt like an average and almost forgettable experience. Like so many other HD remakes, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD seems to fall short of expectations. The game left me wanting more in the features department. Also, the issues with the controls and graphics were admittedly a let-down. If you are desperate for a blast of Tony Hawk nostalgia then the $14.99 price tag for this game may fill what you need; otherwise, I would suggest you look around for some far superior Skateboarding games already available for the PS3.