If you ever need a case study of why annual releases don’t always work, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series is the epitome of this theory. After a run of successes with the first four games, the series evolved to take on a more story driven experience to it’s already altered campaign structure, before sinking the series into the gutter with the ill-fated Tony Hawk: Ride. Evidently looking back to the early days of success before all the ridiculous peripheral shenanigans, Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD attempts to bring back the series from the brink. Is it holding on to what it had or is it just pretending to be the Hawkman?
So how far do the controls go back to? The only real way to tell is to test out all the funky things you could do in later instalments and see if they work. Ready? Manuals – check. Lip tricks – check. Reverts? Nope. So from that we can gather that it goes as far back as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2’s control scheme. Despite its age, the controls work really well and allow you to perform the crazy chain of combos needed to get up to the hundred-thousand mark with your point total.
One major issue however, is to do with the clipping. On more than one occasion I have had my skater fall through the ground or jitter while in the air from a half-pipe and subsequently not land the trick they were performing. The revert will be made available as part of DLC later in the year, but will only be able to be used in the levels it comes with – a decision that seems ludicrous to those who want to experiment with the new ability in a familiar setting.
The decision to take a lot from the sequel seems to have continued with the level selection with the majority coming from the second game. Each level has a selection of different goals you must complete; from the High Scores and S-K-A-T-E challenges that appear on every level, to more location specific ones such as smashing the boxes in the Warehouse to leaping over Ollie the Magic Bum several times. It’s classic stuff, though some may find that the missing Tournament levels limit the gameplay in the main campaign to just a mere checklist. Completing these challenges and collecting cash found throughout the levels grants your rider access to better stats, new tricks and new board designs for the right price. More levels from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 will be made available later in the year, so it will be interesting to see which ones see the HD treatment and how they attempt to emulate the classic game.
Where it slightly differs is in its variation of game types. While Free Skate allows you to leisurely practice your lines without worrying about time limits or objectives, others such as Hawkman ask you to follow a line of markers where you need to be doing a certain action in order to collect them. Another variation is the Big Head mode, where you need to constantly perform tricks in order for your balloon to deflate. Online modes allow for skaters to rack up points with up to four players in the park at a time, mark up the park by successfully performing tricks on them and the aforementioned big head/free skate options. Having these options is nice, but there really isn’t much of an incentive to keep going. In an age where level-ups, perks and the like are the norm, just playing for the fun of it needs to be actively engaging or have a sense of development; whatever that progression may be. Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD’s online offering is severely underwhelming in this regard as it offers no inducement to skaters.
Rider selection is a mix of old faces and rising talent in the extreme sport. Some secret characters are around, but it is the omission of the Create-A-Skater option that will likely annoy some people. A workaround has been made to allow Xbox Live Avatars you have created to skate in their complete attire and for the most part it is a slick compromise. Their big heads make you wonder if a cheat has been enabled, but that is all that is odd about their presence. The areas themselves have seen a bit of a high-definition upgrade in terms of the looks, but oddly the physics feel just like the PlayStation days. As a result of this, the animation is at times shoddier than an awful paint job.
One also has to question though the music choice for Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD; not only because of the new and largely forgettable stuff, but the fact that six of the seven “old school” tracks are from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. That isn’t to say that they aren’t good, but snubbing Rage Against The Machine’s ”Guerilla Radio” and the vast majority of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’s soundtrack in favour of the aforementioned new stuff is a baffling decision. Licencing may be the main issue as reportedly being so earlier in the year, but no option to alter your playlist to suit your nostalgia is also a confusing one. You also can’t control the loop, so you may find that some songs play multiple times in a row. This further confirms my suspicion that Punk and Rap were more memorable in the 90’s and while it may one day become someone’s nostalgia, the current soundtrack surely isn’t anyone else’s.
Given that the series was long considered to be pushing up the daisies, Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD does a remarkable job to try to reignite the spark. By going back to the drawing board to figure out what made the series so successful, the developers rediscovered some of the things that worked. But so much time has passed that looking back at the series with hindsight means some of the flaws are more noticeable. Essentially with the HD update, they got their priorities wrong in development. The areas that needed to be nostalgic were in how the game sounds and the area design, while the areas that needed updating were the physics and the animation. The result of the design process is a conflicted mess with some elements following this pattern and others deviating from the intended structure. Is it still mindless fun? Of course it is. But this isn’t the nostalgia many were looking for.