Arguably no game sums up the 1990s like the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, released on PlayStation and N64 in ‘99. Short of including a cameo appearance of Kurt Cobain’s ghost, a free bottle of Tab Clear and a Barcode Battler, it would not be possible for one single game to evoke such nostalgia for the era.
It is therefore no surprise that there has been quite a hubbub surrounding Activision’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, a downloadable remix of the first two games in the series with (you guessed it) sumptuous modern visuals. At its bare bones this latest release is of course a spruced up spin on a formula over a decade old and a game cannot survive on nostalgia alone. With this in mind is Pro Skater HD the equivalent of landing a wicked 1080 or more like wiping out and crunching to the concrete?
True to the old-school gameplay of the original releases, the player is thrust straight into the action with nary a tutorial in sight, instead appearing on a board at the start of Warehouse – the series’ most iconic level. Indeed the only instruction comes from an unusually sparse guide to the controls, viewable from the pause menu. Rather than being a hindrance, this is something of a breath of fresh air and epitomises one of the key selling points of the Pro Skater series: unparalleled freedom and creativity.
A sense of self-expression rarely seen in sports games (or games in general) was apparent upon the release of the original Pro Skater and thankfully this stays true with the latest incarnation, the player able to string together huge lines of flips, grabs, grinds and inverts with their own sense of personal flair. This is greatly aided by the inclusion of the manual (a neat way to link tricks moves together) which didn’t originally appear until the second game in the series. Sadly reverts (introduced in Pro Skater 3) are missing as of yet, although promised in future DLC.
Gameplay feels as smooth as silk with the physics and level layouts ever so slightly tweaked for the better. Granted the level of control feels somewhat sparse when compared to the later games in the series (as well as competitors such as the Skate trilogy) and newcomers to the series may feel a little let down by the limited move set. However, the arcade fun of nailing all the objectives on each course is still as undeniably satisfying (not to mention downright addictive) as it ever was. Objectives include achieving ‘sick’ scores, finding hidden items and performing tricks involving interactive pieces of the environment. These range from simply destroying cardboard boxes to grinding across the blades of a helicopter, forcing it to take off and open a new part of the level. Completing these objectives sees the player rewarded with points that can be used to improve character attributes as well as purchase new boards.
While all the maps are included are undeniable classics with plenty of room to explore, there are unfortunately not very many of them available – a paltry seven, in fact. Similarly, while there is an array of skaters to choose from (each with individual specialities), gone are fan favourites such as Chad Muska as well as the ability to create your own skater. The acclaimed build-a-park element of the original release has also been axed as well as local multiplayer, greatly reducing the longevity of this incarnation. Fans can at least take some solace in the fact that Activision have promised more maps from the first three games in the form of forthcoming DLC.
Thankfully despite the lack of couch-based multiplayer, there are a number of online modes to contend with. Trick attack and graffiti modes have returned, not to mention the inclusion of part-creepy part-chucklesome Big Head mode. While the former are tried and tested modes (with fan favourite graffiti involving tagging as much of the map as possible by performing tricks on certain objects), the latter adds some much appreciated innovation to the game. Available in both single and multiplayer, this mini-game ups the intensity by inflating the skater’s head to ridiculous proportions if they fail to pull off enough tricks, eventually exploding it. While a fun distraction in single player, this hoot of a mode comes into its own online and is sure to become an Xbox Live favourite. After completing every objective in campaign mode, ludicrously difficult tasks or ‘projectives’ are unlocked, which should keep avid trick-fiends’ fingers occupied until the release of new maps.
Although this is a title which will largely attract those who played the original Hawk titles first time around (thriving in no small part on nostalgia), there is plenty on offer that will appeal to those who like a serious dose of fun in their sports games, not to mention some wacky and unforgiving arcade physics. Cranked up to 11, these often see the boarder tossed high into the air for the slightest misgivings, making for some hilarious skate sessions. Granted what is on offer here is nowhere near as complex or deep as more recent genre titles but the simplicity is part of the charm and nailing the more complex projectives is a hair-pullingly difficult task.
Long-time aficionados of the series will be relieved to hear that Goldfinger’s ‘Superman’ (the unofficial anthem of the first game) has returned for the soundtrack this time around, as well as a ‘best of’ selection of tracks from Pro Skater 1 and 2 and an assortment of brand spanking new pop punk and rap metal tunes. Some will mourn the lack of seminal jams such as ‘Police Truck’ by the Dead Kennedys, but by and large the tracks included are the better half of those from the original releases.
Although the skimpiness of Pro Skater HD might disappoint some (especially those not well versed with the original games and indeed gamers who prefer a little more realism in their skate-based exploits), even those with a casual interest in the Tony Hawk back catalogue will surely find something to enjoy here. With fantastic visuals, a still-banging soundtrack and unrepentantly addictive gameplay, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD proves there is life in the proverbial baggy shorts yet.