When Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater launched in late 1999, gamers had yet to experience the kind of freedom and fluidity of motion that the game offered, not to mention the impressive soundtrack, filled with apt songs – it raised the bar in terms of what gamers expected, so when Neversoft followed up with an even better sequel a year later, it was eagerly lapped up. Eleven iterations later (including two horribly ill-conceived attempts at jumping on the motion-control bandwagon) the franchise has crashed and burned, its revolutionary origins long obscured by the haze of annualization.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD looks to remind gamers of just how good those early days were, by pulling together seven fan-favourite levels from the first two installments, bringing back some of that all-important soundtrack, and giving everything a fresh lick of paint.
First and foremost: this is almost exactly how I remember Tony Hawk. The objectives are intact, those tried and trusted combo lines haven’t been fussed with, and all the agony and ecstasy I recall from hunting down various tsotchkes and hitting score limits under tight timelines is present and correct. The manual feature, introduced in Pro Skater 2 to link combos, is now available in the original levels, which only serves to enhance their enjoyment — so vital is this simple addition to the toolkit that its omission would feel akin to losing a virtual limb.
The revamped graphics are certainly passable – even if getting up close to objects reveals low resolution textures, but even if you hate the brighter colours and broader palette, you’ll surely agree that this is easier to navigate than the originals’ foggy environments. There are plenty of niceties added for the modern gamer, none of which sully the game’s faithful restoration. The balance bar when performing manuals shows which way you can overbalance without falling and losing your combo. The pause menu now houses a map that shows the locations of all collectibles and gaps, which eliminates the feeling of hunting for needles in haystacks, which blighted progression in the originals.
Despite the careful refinements, there are a few regressions. The HUD is far more intrusive than it ever was – which is particularly offensive considering that no manual camera control has been added – this makes finding collectibles and lining up jumps unnecessarily frustrating. The physics engine has seen a few tweaks – mostly for the problematic. Gravity seems more overbearing than memory serves, but it’s also not uncommon to fall through the world, or spawn in awkward spots and get in bail-loops – unforgivable shortcomings in a game that imposes time limits. Furthermore, the omission of local multiplayer is sorely felt – not only is there no split-screen, but the pass-the-controller madness of Horse is also left in the past.
All that said, this game is a steal at $15. Each of the seven levels are crammed with increasingly-difficult objectives, and there’s a steady drip feed of unlocks – first levels, then modes, cheats, and characters. Once every level has been cleared, a ‘Projectives’ mode becomes available – a collection of absurdly difficult challenges that will ensure you explore each and every last crevasse of these environments. Leaderboard integration shows your score relative to the next highest score on the friend / global leaderboards, which means there will always be something to work towards in the single player mode, and the four-player online multiplayer is crammed with enough modes to hold your interest for a few sessions.
Despite its inconsistent approach to revitalizing this nascent era of the Hawkman’s videogame legacy, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a thoroughly enjoyable throwback to a time when 2-minute arcade-style score attacks were enough to sustain the mainstream’s attention. If you’ve been looking for something to scratch that old-school itch, or if your nostalgia flares up when you think about those early experiences with the Tony Hawk franchise, this game is for you, so long as you’re willing to overlook its shortcomings.