It’s now been nearly 13 years since Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater debuted on the
original PlayStation. I spent dozens of hours playing the demo before the game
actually hit stores, and then I played that for dozens of hours more. The game
was, to me, a return to a time when scores actually mattered. Even after
completing all of the game’s objectives and finding its secrets, I still found
myself going back to try and improve my score on a certain level. Pro Skater
seemed to have arcade roots, even more so that Street Sk8er did when EA
published that a few months earlier. When Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 arrived in
stores the following year, the excitement was even greater. The introduction of
the manual was something that I didn’t fully grasp right away, but with more
levels and the ability to put myself in the game, I was excited all over again.
There wasn’t a sophomore slump to be seen.
Now, thanks to Activision and the Robomodo development team, players like me
have the chance to relive 1999 and 2000 all over again with the release of
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD. This update for both XBLA and PSN
isn’t just a basic port with a high-def coat of paint put on, but instead takes
the source material and builds on it just enough to make it stand out. There are
a few new objectives to complete, new game modes have been added, and some new
music tracks complement the familiar ones that Activision was able to license
for use once again. On paper, this is the game that most of us who loved the
earlier Tony Hawk titles asked for. In many ways, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD
succeeds; however, for players used to the original games, something didn’t
quite carry over on the way to the high-def era.
The good news is that the new visuals look great. Thinking back to how levels
like the Warehouse from the first game and School II from the second game looked
originally, Robomodo has shined them up significantly. New lighting and particle
effects are readily apparent, and animations for the skaters are smoother and
cleaner. The Downhill Jam level now takes place at dusk and plays up the new
lighting quite well. There’s some lens flare on the Venice Beach level. All of
these things and more show the attention to detail that Robomodo demonstrated in
revisiting and rebuilding these games.
The sound is equally as impressive, if not a bit more so. Bringing back some
of the most popular songs licensed tracks from the first two games cements the
comfortably familiar feeling that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is trying to convey.
Hearing “Superman” again while playing the first stage brought a huge smile to
my face. Bad Religion, Millencolin, Powerman 5000, and Anthrax (with Chuck D, of
course) also have returning music here. The sound effects are strong. Breaking
through a window or pane of glass never sounded so good, and the other sounds
have appropriate effects added based on where they happen.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is where the package starts to come apart.
The physics in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD are quite different from original
games that it’s based on, and this leads to problems. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and
its sequel had unrealistic physics, but the games were accepted anyway because
of the arcade-style feel that they conveyed. Players could hold tricks for
longer periods of time (and for more points) and still land successfully in the
original games. In Pro Skater HD, this is not the case. Players must unlearn
familiar habits and get used to pulling out of tricks earlier to complete the
animation and have the skater ready to land. It’s more challenging than it
should be to find the proper timing window, and it becomes more frustrating than
it needs to be. Over time, this frustration eases, but it still feels different
than it should. I never had such difficulty landing tricks in a Tony Hawk game
before this one. It’s disappointing. (It’s worth noting here that the stock Xbox
360 controller does this game no favors. Input isn’t as precise as it needs to
be, leading to issues with getting out of bowls or clearing quarter pipes.)
The game offers seven stages, each with progressively harder objectives to
accomplish in order to unlock the next. It’s fair to argue that the number of
stages is a bit low, but considering that consumers paid $50 for nine stages
back in 1999 and that they’re paying 70% less for two fewer stages, I don’t
consider it to be short on content in that sense; however, there’s no real
payoff for completing the Career Mode. In the original games, players were
rewarded with videos showing skater bails or pro highlights. Here, extra
objectives - called Projectives - are unlocked, but that’s it.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD isn't a bad game. In fact, despite
its flaws, it’s very easy to get multiple hours of gameplay out of the $15 that
the game is selling for. Although there are more than a few times that I was
frustrated by the physics or by some of the objectives required to unlock
stages, Pro Skater HD is still more enjoyable than not. Competing for high
scores amongst my Friends List is addictive and there is still a sense of “just
one more run” that the original games had. It’s just too bad that the physics
model is so punitive, because that flaw alone is enough to add a strong sense of
caution before buying to this review. You’ve been warned.