Reviews

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD – Review

Platforms: PSN, PC, XBLA (reviewed)
Release: Out now on XBLA. PSN and PC release date TBA.
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Robomodo
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: Yes
Split-screen: No

Thanks to Activision for providing a copy of this for review.

Back in the day I used to play Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater so much that it bordered on an obsession. Not a day went by when I wouldn’t throw the disc into my PS1 and carve around the levels, continuously looking to come up with epic new lines to send my scores soaring. Likewise I adored Pro Skater 2 when it released, probably putting even more time with it as  I did the original. But like so many other gamers I became disillusioned with the franchise over the years, eventually converting to EA’s Skate series. The last Tony Hawks game that I actually owned was Proving Grounds. Since then I’ve avoided the newer incarnations of my once cherished series. That is until now, as Robomodo have revamped Pro Skater and  Pro Skater 2, merged them together to make something new and released it onto Arcade.

And as with any HD remake of a classic game or games there’s a problem that the developers face: exactly how far do they go with this? Should they simply give it a visual makeover and leave it at that? Or should they attempt to fix some of the glitches and bugs that were present in the original release? Maybe they should tweak the gameplay or even alter it in some massive way? Should they add new features or take some things away? Ultimately, though, no matter what the developer decides, somebody, somewhere, will be unhappy. It’s inevitable. It’s pretty much impossible to please everyone with a HD remake, instead they’ve simply got to try to please the majority. And this makes reviewing it tricky: should a developer be praised or criticised for altering the original gameplay? Loved or hated for adding a new feature or taking one away? Well,I honestly do not have a definite answer to all those questions, especially since matters are somewhat confused by the fact that this is arguably a whole new game that has taken some bits and dropped others from two games to create a new entry in the franchise, billing it as the best of both games. All I know is that I loved the original Pro Skater games, and that  sort of  like this one too. Sort of.

From the moment you start the game up, its clear that Robomodo have done a solid job of renovating the two games so that the complete package can stand alongside modern Arcade titles and feel proud of itself.  Using the dominant Unreal 3 engine, which means texture pop-in is rampant, everything from the ground up has been completely redone: the animations are slicker and the textures look solid.  However, it ain’t all good news in skateboard land as during the HD makeover they’ve somehow murdered the color palette of the original games, replacing it with a new palette of washed out colors. Yeah, this is arguably a whole new game and everything, but why lose that vibrant wash of colors that the original games had? I don’t want washed out colors that make it more “realistic”, I want eye-popping reds, blues, yellows and greens!  They’ve not done much about the sparse look of the levels themselves, either: they’ve not added in much in the way of new details to make them feel a little livelier nor actually changed them in any real shape or form, they’ve simply been left almost exactly as they were in the original games, and that leaves me a little disappointed. When skating around it’s hard not to notice the stark contrast between the decently modeled skaters the sparse environments. Likewise, it’s a shame they didn’t take the chance to tweak the geometry of the levels a little, to update them so that flow a little better than they originally did, because as much as I enjoyed them back in the day, they were always a little tight at times, often making things more annoying than it had to be as you clipped corners and such.

Its at this point that I should also mention a strange decision on Robomodo’s behalf: there’s only a total of 7-levels in this HD remake taken from Pro Skater and Pro Skater 2, and four of those are from Pro Skater 2. Exactly why they chose just seven levels is a bit of a mystery: perhaps they simply wanted to cherry pick those that they included, yet if that was the case then I feel inclined to point out that they missed some damn fine ones in the process and chose a few poor ones. What we’ve got here, for those that remember them, is the Warehouse, School II, Venice Beach, Downhill Jam, Hangar and Marseille levels. For a start, Robomodo have seemingly chosen the smallest and tightest of the levels, again coming back to what I mentioned earlier about wishing they had tweaked the maps a little. And two of those small and tight maps, Warehouse and Hangar, share a chunk of layout design. secondly, the inclusion of Downhill Jam and Venice Beach are questionable. Downhill Jam can probably be answered by the simple fact that it’s Tony Hawk’s favorite, but Venice Beach was a poor map to begin with and age ain’t helping it any: it just doesn’t have any flow to it, leaving me baffled as to why it was chosen over something like the New York City level from Pro Skater 2. The cynic in me, and arguably the realist as well, can’t help but feel there’s a simpler reason for just 7-levels, and that reason is DLC. Yup, call me a cynic, but I just can’t help but feel that we’ll be seeing the rest of the levels as DLC at some point in the future, especially as Pro Skater 3 DLC has already been announced, bringing new levels and gameplay elements such as reverts to the game.

HD, ladies and gentlemen

During their HD makeover Robomodo also altered one or two things such as the HUD to make everything a little clearer and menu layouts. Have no fear hardcore fans, these are changes for the better. The HUD now has a far slicker look to it that suits the upgraded HD graphics well and the menu is….well, it’s a menu, what more can really be said about it?

Thankfully throughout all of the graphical twiddling Robomodo kept some of the music that made the Pro Skater games sound so great, though there’s a, eh, subtle slant toward Pro Skater 2’s soundtrack, with a grand total of six of the original seven songs coming from it. Arguably my strongest memory of the Hawk series comes from skating the streets of New York to the freaking awesome tune of When Worlds Collide. Alongside the seven songs from the original games Robomodo have added in seven brand new tune. They fit in pretty well with existing soundtrack, although for pure nostalgia reasons they just don’t top them. Still, though, given that Pro Skater and Pro Skater had over 25-songs between the two of them, with almost of all them being fantastic, it’s disappointing to see that just seven tunes from the two games made it into this HD package. Perhaps there was some licensing issues, but in my imaginary perfect realm, they would have just whacked in almost the entire soundtrack from the two games into Hawks HD and a few new tunes as well, for good measure. Oh, and while I’m at it, why is there no playlist options to let me choose the songs I want to hear?

Speaking of things that were and were not included in this HD remake, there’s two major things missing here that really shouldn’t be: Create a Skater and the Park Editor. Both of these features were introduced in Pro Skater 2 and as their names imply they brought a considerable amount of fun and player creativity to the game. With the Park Editor you were free to create the skate park of your dreams, though obviously technology limits at the time meant they were fairly small. It seems utterly insane that neither of these features, both of which became series staples from their introduction, are absent from Robomodo’s package. Create a Skater being missing is less of a disappointment, but the lack of a Park Editor is a huge letdown for me, and it feels like a wasted opportunity for Robomodo to create a great community of builders had they also added in the ability to share created levels with other players, much like what we’ve seen in Trials Evolution.

But lets jump into the core of the game for a moment: the career. The career mode comprises of the games seven levels, starting with the Warehouse. To unlock  levels you simply have to jump on your board and achieve a certain amount of goals from the list presented to you at the start of each map, with each run  limited to just 2-minutes in which to try to do as much as possible, although there’s no limit to the amount of runs you can do, so the first few blasts around the level are usually just to get the layout and figure out how best to tackle everything Each level shares a set of common goals based around scoring a certain amount of points, collecting letters to spell out the word, “skate” and finding a hidden DVD. As well as those there’s level-specific goals like jumping over homeless bums in Venice Beach or collecting Spray Cans. While they’re all pretty much the same things in disguise these goals do help to keep each level nice and focused. Each goal you complete awards you with some lovely cash  which your free to use to purchase new boards, special tricks or to upgrade your chosen skaters stats so he can go faster, ollie higher, balance better or hang for longer in the air. Fans will of course recognise that this is taken directly from Pro Skater 2, and it’s nice that they’ve included it as it does bring a nice sense of progression to proceedings.

Playing through the career mode is definitely a lot of fun and did bring back a lot of fond memories for me, but because there’s just seven levels to complete you’re going to have unlocked the final map, Marsielle, in just over an hour of play, though actually completing every goal on every level will take a bit longer. Happily the career is very replayable and the real lifespan of the game comes from the simple desire to beat your own scores. It’s also a bit of a shame that the career just ends: there’s no fanfare to celebrate, no nothing. It just stops. That’s it. Done. Finished. Wham. Bam.  It’s a stark contrast to Pro Skater 2 which wrapped up the career mode by having you compete in a series of competitions against other skaters. In each competition you were given just a few heats lasting a minute each to score as much as possible in an attempt to score a gold medal. While these events were easy to win in the original game, it’s hard to see why Robomodo didn’t keep them for this HD remake  to finish up the campaign with. It’s just one more strange decision on their behalf.

Outside of the career mode you’ve got a few more options to delve into for your skating pleasure. Free Skate is exactly what it sounds like: a chance to jump into any level you want and skate around, practicing your lines and having a blast. Single Session challenges you to nail the highest score you possibly can in just two-minutes without all the focus on objectives that the career has. For me and probably a lot of Hawk fans Single Session is probably where most of the playtime will be spent. The two-minute runs are incredibly addictive, challenging you to come up with more and more inventive lines whilst improving your own skills. Leaderboards have, of course, been added to the game as well, so it’s very easy to get sucked into competing with friends and players around the world for the best scores. The two-minute time-limit also makes it a perfect pick up and play mode for when you’ve got ten or twenty minutes of spare time, or if you just want a quick blast of fun. Hell, I don’t mind admitting that I’ve popped off for a few runs while writing this review.

Alongside Free Skate and Single Session, Robomodo have also added in two brand new modes: Hawkman and Big Head Survival. The idea behind Hawkman is that you’re placed in a small section of one of the already pretty damn small levels and challenged with collecting color-coded pellets as fast as you possibly can, like PacMan, but with a skateboard, and less ghosts. Well, no ghosts. Again, its riffing on the fact that finding the best lines is an integral part of the gameplay, so it works really well and provides plenty of fun. Big Head Survival has it so that your skater’s head is constantly growing in size. Should it reach maximum size, indicated by the bar on the side of the screen, then your head will literally explode. The only way to stop this is by scoring as many points as you can which causes the head to deflate. The goal is to last as long as you can without your head going bang, but the catch is that the speed of inflation will keep increasing the longer you survive. And yes, it really is as fun as it sounds to play, but its online where this mode really shines….

Yup, I said online. In arguably the biggest and best change that Robomodo have made, they’ve added the ability to head online and play with other gamers around the world. If you just feeling like relaxing then you can simply join a Free Skate session with up to three other people where you can just kick back and show off your skills. But if you’re in the mood for a bit more of a competitive experience then the game provides that as well. Score Attack, which is the same as Single Session from the career, Hawkman and Big Head Survival mode are all available to play online and are oodles of fun. Another mode titled Graffiti is also available to play online, which is where you capture sections of the by scoring as many points as you can on it, that section will then turn the color corresponding to you. To capture an opponents section you need to score more points than them. The person with the most captured locations at the end of the game wins. Sadly, though, fan favorite mode HORSE is absent from the lineup, again for apparently no good reason. Still, getting to test my Pro Skater skills against other people across the realm has probably been the most fun part of playing this HD remake, and is the best decision Robomodo made during  developement.

However, this multiplayer mayhem doesn’t come without a price. The first is that there’s a noticeable drop in the framerate whilst playing online. For the most part this wasn’t too bad, but there were times when it became frustrating. The second price is that much of my time with the game online was plagued by lag. Perhaps this was simply a problem for me and me alone, but I don’t think. The third price paid for online multiplayer is a shocking one: the split-screen mode has been removed. This may not seem like a big deal to newer gamers out there, but to me one of the biggest reasons I was looking forward to this HD release was so I could get together my friends and relive the days when we would huddle around the screen trying to one-up each other. Why Robomodo decided to remove this feature is somewhat of a mystery, but remove it they have. Split-screen was such an integral part of the original experience that not having it feels…..wrong.

But what about the gameplay? The actual skating? Well, that’s been ripped out of Pro Skater 2, and of all the things in the game this is arguably the only thing that Robomodo could have left completely untouched and everyone would have been happy about it. When creating Pro Skater 2, Neversoft got it pretty much perfect. Sure, there were things like reverts that would come in Pro Skater which improved the gameplay, though arguably turned every level into one massive combo, but in Pro Skater 2 they nailed the feel of it beautifully. However, for this HD remake Robomodo felt the need to try to tinker with the winning formula a little, and while the resulting gameplay is still fun, it’s certainly not as good. The key comes from how Neversoft balanced the responsiveness of the controls, the weight of the skater, the sense of gravity, the speed, the spin and the overall physics that powered the skating. The overall package was a fantastic blend that felt just right while you played it. In this outing of the Hawks series the gravity has been tweaked a little, the controls feel a touch less responsive and precise, and the sensation of speed that was so carefully balanced in the original also feels like it has been changed. The result is that the gameplay offered here just feels fundamentally off. It’s truly hard to play my finger on exactly what it is causing this, and for a while I even worried if my nostalgia was simply clouding my judgement and that the original games weren’t as well-balanced and tuned as I remembered. To this end I dug out Pro Skater 2 and fired it up: nope, it still feels wonderful even to this day. I turned Pro Skater HD back on and started up a session in the Hangar, the exact same level I had just played on the original: the gameplay was still pretty fun, but it was also far more frustrating. The Tony Hawks series has always been notably forgiving, a fact which belies its arcade nature, but HD feels a little harsher – not hard, by any means, but definitely more frustrating. The gravity, the speed, the spin – they just didn’t feel as good as Neversoft’s original creation. 

But what if you’ve never played a Tony Hawk game? Well, for newbies out there, let me give you a rough idea of the gameplay: Pro Skater HD is a game that puts emphasis on arcade skateboarding fun rather than the more realistic stuff that EA’s Skate series presents. You’ll chain together flip tricks, grabs, grinds and manuals into massively long combos using a combination of the face buttons and the direction buttons. Huge air and insane combos made up of numerous tricks and manuals are the name of the game here.

 Issues also arise during play that once plagued the originals as well. It’s very easy to find yourself clipping bits of scenery that bring you to a halt, a problem caused by a mixture of the sometimes tight levels and the lack of controllable camera, another feature which I seriously wish Robomodo have decided to include. These two problems become even worse when combined with the games often annoying spawn system which can place you in some very inconvenient spots should you bail, such as on the edge of massive drops or in an area which requires some manoeuvring to get out of. New problems also rear their heads: skaters take far too long to get up after bails, and the physics system often throws temper tantrums resulting in skaters getting thrown around or even sinking into the floor.

Ultimately both Pro Skater and Pro Skater 2 are games that are almost perfect examples of titles that should be brought to Xbox Live Arcade, making Pro Skater HD all the more disappointing. For pure nostalgia there’s no denying that playing this brings happy memories flooding back. The gameplay, while not as slick, is still fun and addictive, but this is a game plagued by poor design choices: Sure, we’ve gained online multiplayer, HD graphics and a few new modes, but there’s just so much missing here that should have been included. Where’s the park editor? Where’s the rest of the levels? Why is splitscreen missing? For 1200MSP this is a sparse package that could, and really, should, have been so much more.

The Good:
+ Building combos is still good fun.
+ Online is a blast.
+ Nostalgia

The Bad:
– Gameplay doesn’t feel as good.
– Questionable design choices.
– Not a lot of content.

The Score:

Graphics: 7
A decent HD makeover brings the game up to a modern standard, but the levels are still sparse.

Sound: 8
It may not be the original soundtrack in all of its glory, but the mix of old and new is pleasing to the ear. Everything is just does its job.

Story: 0
There isn’t one!

Gameplay: 7
The level selection contains more poor levels than good ones, and the gameplay just doesn’t have that same balance the originals had. And where’s my park editor?

Lifespan: 6
An hour or two for career. Multiplayer is a blast and single sessions are addictive, but in terms of pure content this doesn’t have much.

The Verdict: 6
For a die-hard fan of the Pro Skater games like myself, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a disappointment marred by design choices that simply fail to make any sense. The split-screen in gone, the park editor isn’t included, there’s just seven levels and the gameplay isn’t as slick as it once was. The conclusion I draw, then, is that hardcore fans of the originals will have fun but ultimately walk away feeling like this was a wasted opportunity. Despite all this, new gamers and casual fans of the series will likely have plenty of fun with this.

Categories: Reviews

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