What is the concept? With the arrival of a pricey plastic skateboard and conviction that gamers desired to perform simulated ollies in their living room, the Tony Hawk series attempted the most dangerous stunt of its career. Woefully, that plan fizzled, sending stacks of both Tony Hawk: Ride and its ill-fated sequel Shred, kick-flipping their way into bargain bins and nearly retiring the once-popular franchise. With the release of Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD, a downloadable title for the Xbox 360 (a PS3 version is forthcoming) Ride and Shred developers Robomodo have been given a chance at redemption by returning the series to its joystick-wrangling roots.
Merging a selection of stages, skaters, and music from both 1999’s Tony Hawk Pro Skater and its sequel, Pro Skater 2, Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD revisits the addictive runs of the franchise’s early years, tasking players to complete a variety of challenges within a two minute time-frame. Forging any overarching completion or storyline, levels task gamers with collecting the five letters in the word S-K-A-T-E, attaining predetermined scores, or completing a number of designated stunts before the game’s timer depletes. The title’s online-only multiplayer component retains classic Graffiti and Trick Attack competitions, adding Big Head Mode, where players are forced to perform stunts to reduce the size of their continually swelling craniums. Hawkman Mode replaces the series’ HORSE matches, tasking players with earning coins by executing distinctive tricks.
What are the game’s strengths? Unlike many high-definition revisions, Pro Skater HD isn’t a port, but built from the ground up using the third iteration of the Unreal Engine. As such, the title’s seven stages offer a significantly upgraded polygon count, renovating classic venues such as Warehouse, School II, Venice Beach and Mall. Likewise, the gamer’s skaters are rendered with more fidelity than a simple up-rez would allow. The sole downside is that Pro Skater’s framerate isn’t as fluid as it should be; while serviceable in single player, multiplayer exhibits unwelcome choppiness.
Hawk’s original iterations urged gamers to memorize the location of every collectable letter, destructible item, and VHS tape (now revised as DVDs). With Pro Skater HD, a press of the start button brings up a map of the entire level- revealing the location of every item. For players who have ever experienced the frustration of unearthing the last item of a set, this addition will be welcome.
What are the game’s weaknesses? Woefully, Pro Skater HD omits many of the franchise’s developments- from split-screen support, create-a-skater element, park editor, and even an in-game move list. While the series has always been light on narrative, the game’s sole incentive to persevere is a Projectives mode, which presents a succession of maddeningly difficult challenges certain to test the skills of any sim skater.
For players who missed the PlayStation One-era Hawk titles, Pro Skater HD might seem like an anachronism, with its simplistic progression system. Whereas contemporary titles often ensure players don’t hit an impasse that detains them on a particular stage, two of Pro Skater HD’s levels compel players to complete a number of difficult goals before advancement. Additionally, gamers accustomed to guided tutorials may bemoan the lack of any direct instruction.
Is it worth the money? Considering new copies of Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland, Project 8, or Proving Ground offer significantly more content at a lower price, it’s a bit difficult to recommend a purchase of Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD. Although the game validates the enjoyment found in the first two Hawk titles, for players who experienced the advancements of later franchise entries, Pro Skater’s mechanics are a sizeable step back despite being one graphical nose flip forward.