Activision just recently announced Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 + 2, a remake of the first two Tony Hawk Pro Skater games developed by Vicarious Visions, a team responsible for Crash Bandicoot and Spyro remakes. For myself this is pretty exciting because I’ve been playing the Tony Hawk games since the very beginning. While I’d still love to get a brand-new entry in the series, perhaps this remake will pave the way for just that.
So, while we wait for Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1+2 (wait, does that make it Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3) to pop-shuvit into out lives later this year I thought I’d sit down and rank the games in the Tony Hawk franchise, from the very worst to the very best.
There are a couple of caveats to keep in mind; first, I’m not including any of the hand-held or mobile exclusive titles, so that means no Motion, Shred or Skate Jam. I’m keeping this list purely to console and PC games, but that still leaves a total of 15 Tony Hawk titles to rank. And the other thing is that this list is purely personal, based on my own experiences with the games over the years. There are no right or wrong answers and I’m sure your list would be quite different. In fact, I’d love to hear about it down in the comments.
15. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5
Truthfully the next two games on this list are considerably worse games than Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5. However, they do have one thing that, to my mind, makes them slightly less awful than Robomodo’s Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5; they were at least trying to do something new. Pro Skater 5 does not have that excuse.
As a sequel to the long-running series it somehow has barely any content and a bunch of missing features. Eight ugly and poorly designed levels, a horrible new ‘slam’ mechanic mapped to the grind button and clumsy multiplayer implementation that could screw up the single-player game were just a few of the issues here.
With the licensing deal with Tony Hawk running out at the end of 2015 Activision wanted to squeeze one last bit of cash from the franchise, and so Pro Skater 5 was chucked together in a matter of months. The roughshod treatment of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater name can be felt in every single facet of Pro Skater 5. It was an ignominious end to the series and that’s why it’s surprising Tony Hawk agreed to work with Activision once again on the upcoming Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 & 2.
14. Tony Hawk’s Ride
Activision and Neversoft were making big money with the Guitar Hero franchise in 2008 and presumably decided what people really wanted with their video games was plastic peripherals. Cue Tony Hawk Ride, a bloody awful game that came packed with a plastic ‘skateboard’ that you stood on. They thought wrong though, and in 2009 when Ride was released the Guitar Hero franchise was just beginning it’s sudden drop into oblivion.
So, the idea was you’d stand on the plastic board and control the game by leaning to turn, and by using your foot to push yourself along. The infared sensors on the side would pick up you sliding your shoe across the floor and propel you forward in the game. You could also pull off tricks…sometimes.
It was as bad as you can imagine. Probably worse, in fact. For newcomers it had a steep learning curve, and for hardcore fans it had zero precision. Trying to pull off specify tricks and lines was nothing short of a nightmare. Most of the time you’d kick the board and get a complete random trick or nothing would happen at all.
13. Tony Hawk’s Shred
To their credit, Activision and Robomodo did manage to make some improvements to the concept for Tony Hawk’s Ride’s sequel, Shred. The controls were a little better and there was snowboard added to the mix, which actually makes a lot of sense when you take the plastic peripheral into account.
But while it’s still better than Ride, it’s crap.
12. Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam
In the very first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater there was a level that had you blasting down a damn. It was a race from start to finish, and unique amongst all the other levels. It was named Downhill Jam. Years later that idea got turned into its own spinoff game and it was…a thing. That existed.
To be fair to Downhill Jam it’s a passable game that could be fun. Essentially it’s a racing game but with skateboards and some tricks. It gets old fast, the repetition of the concept quickly draining the game of any fun.
To the game’s credit the characters were cool and the idea wasn’t terrible. It could have been a much better game than it wound up being.
11. Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD
Although the name suggests that Pro Skater HD, developer by Robomodo, is a remake of the original game, it’s actually a weird combination of Pro Skater and Pro Skater 2. Out of the possible 20 levels spanning both games Robomodo chose just 7 to include in their Unreal Engine 3 remake. It was a pitifully small amount of content. Pro Skater 2x managed to pack in 24 levels. Even worse, they included Venice, a level which I disliked in the original and which was not any better in Robomodo’s remake.
But it’s the gameplay where Pro Skater HD failed miserably. First, the sense of momentum and speed feels so much slower than the original. Despite the fact that you seemed to be going slower, the jump height seemed to be much higher. Doing a 900 on the first level with base stats was tricky in the original, but in HD it’s quite easy. A lot of the harder games are the same, the new physics making them easier.
There were heaps of bugs and glitches, too, from the constant clipping when grinding to the random bails. You could even find yourself stuck outside of the levels.
If all that wasn’t enough, there were none of the original multiplayer modes or cheat codes, and create-a-park was missing, too. They didn’t even get the damn music right.
10. Tony Hawk’s 2x
This is a tricky one to rank because it’s essentially the first two games stuck together, plus a few bits and pieces from Pro Skater 3 and five levels exclusive to Pro Skater 2x. It was released in 2001 as a launch game for the Xbox. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 was already out on the Gamecube and the Playstation 2, but there was a delay getting it to the Xbox. Because of this Activision contracted Treyarch to put something together quickly, and thus 2x was born.
On the one hand 2x is still the best way to experience the Pro Skater 2 levels thanks to improved graphics. But on the other hand it isn’t the best way to experience the original Pro Skater levels because the developers use Pro Skater 2’s gameplay, making the first game’s levels far too easy to complete.
As for the new levels, they were a bit crap. That’s because Treyarch didn’t seem to understand the design language that made Neversoft’s work so fantastic. The result was lifeless, awkward levels where everything felt like it had been randomly placed. There were a few lines here or there, but nothing compared to what you could trick, grind and manual in Neversoft’s brilliance.
But if nothing else, Pro Skater 2x gives us an idea of what the developers must avoid doing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2. And it was better than Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD.
9. Tony Hawk Project 8
The big new addition to the series that Project 8 brought was Nail-the-Trick where the camera would zoom in, slow-motion would kick in and you could use the analogue sticks to flick the board around to create ‘new’ tricks. It looked weird but it was a lot of fun.
I also liked the general structure of the game. Tony Hawk had come to town with the goal of finding the eight best skaters to form Project 8. You start ranked 200 and work your way up to become one of the 8. It was a basic narrative, but that’s what I liked about it – it provided structure without getting in the way.
This was also the first Tony Hawk game with a proper open-world, and it was a reasonably well-designed city with cool spots to find.
But there were also some things missing or more limited than they had been before. Skater customization was lacking options, and the ability to create a skate park was gone entirely. Plus there were some framerate issues at launch.
All in all, it was a solid game but it lacked the spark and the excitement of the prior games. Neversoft were floundering with Project 8 and the series at large.
8. Tony Hawk American Wasteland
Much like Proving Ground, American Wasteland seems to divide a lot of the fanbase with some people loving it and others hating it. In fact, some people cite is their favourite of the entire series. Those people are wrong. I joke! Kind of.
Sporting a grungy, punk rock vibe, American Wasteland promises an open world to experience with no loading screens. It’s a technically accurate claim – there are no loading screens, and you can freely skate from one end of the map to the other. However, in reality it was a bullshit claim because American Wasteland is actually a series of small areas connected by empty hallways that hide the game loading in.
The premise is that you’re a lazy, whiny runaway who winds up joining a punk-skater gang who come up with creating the ultimate skatepark named American Wasteland! To do that you need to demolish and steal a load of the city’s landmarks, which is a cool idea. The tone here is firmly daft, evoking Underground 2’s antics. Thankfully the characters aren’t quite as annoying as Underground 2, but that isn’t high praise. And sadly the eventual ultimate skatepark you make is…naff.
As for the world, it’s dull to skate. It’s lifeless. And the story structure that guides you through it is filled with horrible missions that force you into cutscenes for even the most basic objective.
Maybe I’m too harsh on this one, but American Wasteland never did connect with me the same way it seemed to connect with others.
7. Tony Hawk Underground 2
Underground introduced some more zany elements into the series, but Underground 2 went completely bat-shit crazy thanks to the introduction and heavy focus on Bam Margera. You might know him from Jackass, and that Jackass influence was absolutely everywhere in Underground 2. You derail trains, commit straight-up terrorism and even raise the dead. Oh, and you can skate around as Benjamin Franklin. For reasons.
Let’s get the bad out of the way: I pretty much hated the characters and the tone of the game. That’s probably because I don’t like Jackass, either. And the big gimmick of destroying parts of the world to open up new stuff to skate was underwhelming. You released a rampaging bull? Sweet! Here’s some half-pipes. Um, okay. I guess.
The story missions themselves were also far too basic and easy. They just aren’t much fun to do.
Now onto the good: the skating itself feels great with all the previous tricks and abilities carrying over. And the level design was really good, too. In terms of just the raw skating Underground 2 is perhaps the most comprehensive of the franchise.
Classic Mode kicked arse, too, bringing back the timed runs and classic objective types, and a bunch of levels from the previous games, almost doubling the total number available.
6. Tony Hawk Proving Ground
Neversoft would follow up Project 8 with Proving Ground. This one gets a lot of hate, but I’m here to tell you that it’s actually quite good. At its core the gameplay in Proving Ground is solid enough. Building up insane combos felt pretty good, and there were a couple more additions like aggro kicks and carving. Plus, Nail-the-Trick mode got expanded on with new Nail-the-Manual and Nail-the-Grab variants.
The career mode had you choose between three career types which felt pointless. Of the three being a Rigger had the most potential because it focused on adding and moving objects around the environment. It was a cool nod to street skating culture, but sadly the editor you had to use was a pain in the backside. Still, once you got through the game and had money to spare it was cool to go back and see what you could come up with.
Special mention does have to go the photo and video mechanics, though. There was a robust video editor that was easy to use, and there were missions where you had to get film footage of you performing a series of specific tricks. Eventually your footage would form a proper skate movie, which was bloody awesome! It was just a shame we didn’t get to edit the movie ourselves.
The city was also a damn good place to skate with loads of sweet lines to find and solid mission designs. There’s a crap-load of content on offer, too. I think this might actually be richest game in the series purely in terms of how much there is to do.
Proving Ground was the very last Tony Hawk game created by Neversoft, and it was a shame to see them go out this way. Proving Ground might be divisive for fans, but I personally thought the franchise was moving in the right direction after Project 8.
Just, for God’s sake, don’t play the PS2 version of Proving Ground. It was bloody awful.
5. Tony Hawk Pro Skater
Deciding where on this last to put the original, classic Pro Skater was an agonizing choice. As much as I adore the game, it’s also the one I’m least likely to ever replay because the core gameplay is so basic. No reverts and no manuals feels borderline criminal now, and I find it hard to go back to not having them.
Still, this was the game that began my long infatuation with the franchise. It also sparked what would have surely been a life-long obsession with skating it my shredding career had not been brutally cut short when I discovered that I can’t actually skate for shit. Seriously, me on a skateboard is like watching a new-born Giraffe stagger around. Hilarious, yes, but hardly the stuff of skating legend.
The sound track, the gameplay, the Tony Hawk. Truly, Pro Skater was a fantastic game for its time. It defined the times, and laid the foundations for a series that would sell millions of copies and rake in who knows how much cash.
4. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2
LIGHTS OUT! TURN ON THE RADIO! Those lyrics and that badass intro defined my childhood. Of all the games on this list, this is the one I spent the most time playing. It’s the Tony Hawk game I’m most connected to personally. I know every level and every character almost as much as I know Lasagna. And let me tell you, I know my Lasagna, people.
Pro Skater 2 built on the first game in pretty much every way, including introducing the ability to manual which brought the combo possibilities into the realms of insanity. On top of that you could now create a custom skater and build your own skatepark! I mean, yeah, the skatepark building is pretty limited when you look at in now in 2020, but for the time it was revolutionary. I spent dozens upon dozens of hours crafting my own daft designs.
Then there was the way the game was structured. It followed the same basic premise of Pro Skater in that you’d complete two levels then enter a competition, but now instead of gathering useless tapes you’d earn cash which was then used to increase your stats and buy new tricks. It was a huge improvement.
As for the levels, they were almost all superb. I say almost because Venice continues to suck. They flowed beautifully and contained numerous lines to skate, especially when you got really good. And they all featured hidden areas to find.
And did I mention Spider-Man is a playable character? Now that’s how you sell a skating game.
3. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4
Pro Skater 4 carried on the franchise’s run of awesome sequels, this time by making the bold move of ditching the timed runs in favour of a more structured career mode. You were no longer racing against the clock to complete ten objectives, instead you could skate around at your leisure and pick up missions from bystanders.
New gameplay additions included spine transfers, which while not quite as game changing as reverts and manuals still increased the scoring possibilities. At this point in the hands of a skilled player combos could reach utterly absurd heights.
The idea of earning money was expanded on, too, so now it could be found in levels as well and could then be spent on new characters, items for creating your park and much more.
And the level design continued to be strong. Sure, there were only 9 compared to the 12 found in Pro Skater 3, but they were also much larger. Sadly, though, they didn’t have as much interactivity as the ones in Pro Skater 3 did, which I think is a real shame.
On paper, Pro Skater 4 is probably a better game than Pro Skater 3, but there’s something about Pro Skater 4 that I can’t quite put my finger on. I didn’t have as much fun with it as I did Pro Skater 3.
2. Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3
Like Pro Skater 2 before it Pro Skater 3 was a good example of how to build a sequel, adding in a bunch of stuff. The big one was reverts, suddenly allowing you to combo out of vert ramps and thus ramping up the combo possibilities yet again. On top of that new trick variations were brought into the mix, like double-tapping square to pull off a double-kickflip.
Levels included some awesome interactive ideas, including how you could trigger an earth quake in Los Angles which dramatically changed the layout. It was a real shame that Neversoft never really expanded on this idea. Still, Los Angles is one of my favourite levels in the entire franchise, filled with awesome lines.
Pro Skater 3 also saw the introduction of online multiplayer, letting us play a game of HORSE with folk from around the world.
Truthfully, Pro Skater 3 isn’t a huge leap forward for the series, but it refines everything to a fantastic point. It just feels bloody awesome to play.
1. Tony Hawk Underground
Ditching the Pro Skater name, Underground sought to reinvent the series with a focus on customization and an actual storyline. What resulted was Neversoft’s best work on the franchise, introducing some unrealistic, zany fun that was careful never to go too stupid like it did in Underground 2.
Create-a-park was better than ever with heaps of cool stuff that you could put together, and even developer created levels that showed off what could be done if you had the patience and the creativity. On top of that you could create your own trick, editing together animations to create a Frankenstein of terror that was usually ugly to look at but awesome to use.
But the real star of the show was a new mode which let you create your own missions. You could add objectives and put in custom dialogue using a simple set of tools. It massively increased the replay value of the game, giving you even more reason to keep firing Underground up.
Then there was the story. Somehow, despite it being a game about skateboarding, Underground actually had a good stuff with decent characters and even a few proper emotional beats. Your former friend (Eric Sparrow) screws up your chances of winning a competition, but then you get teamed up to make a skate video. Putting aside your differences you perform the coolest set piece in the entire franchise: leaping over a police helicopter. But then Eric pulls another dick moves and claims that he was the guy in the footage. That ain’t cool, so you need to get it back.
It’s a simple story but it works well, and Eric is easy to hate. I also like that the game never outright explains Eric’s dislike of you, instead just hinting at it.
You could even step off your skateboard and amble around or climb up ladders. Sure, it felt a bit like trying to herd a pissed off bull through your grandma’s bewildering collecting of porcelain knick-knacks, but it opened up a whole host of new possibilities for level design.
And finally, the gameplay is sublime. Underground was the Tony Hawk formula at its peak. The physics felt wonderful, the controls were tight, the amount of tricks at your disposal felt just right and the levels were excellent. There were good Tony Hawk games after Tony Hawk Underground, but none of them managed to hit the same heights, and for that reason Tony Hawk Underground is my number one pick of the long-running series.
Now, Activision, for the love of all that is Tony Hawk, would you kind give us a remaster of Underground?
Categories: Feature, Opinion Piece
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