What happened to the Tony Hawk games of this generation? In an effort to inject innovation into the series, Robomodo came up with a skateboard peripheral that was required to play Ride and Shred. The games were horrible, and the board was inconsistant making controlling your character the biggest challenge. It was a shame to see the franchise struggling, but we had the suberb Skate by EA to satisfy our virtual skateboarding needs.
Now, developer Robomodo are going back to the roots with Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD, a remake of the original 1999 classic. While still maintaining the first game's mechanics, the team have incorporated levels from both the original and sequel, added new modes, exclusive features and some modernisation to the old rooster. But is revisiting a 13 year old game the 180° this once thriving franchise so desperately needs?
Outdated gameplay often greets you when going back to games you used to love, but concerns of that should be laid to rest as Pro Skater HD's core mechanics still feels solid 13 years later.
Just as in the original Pro Skater, the games career sets you free on a map for two minutes to complete ten goals on a list. You aren't expected to complete them all in that time however, as completed goals will remain ticked off and saved even when the time is up. Goals include grabbing collectables like the letters S-K-A-T-E, performing tricks over gaps or earning high scores. Completing these goals will reward you cash that can be spent on character attributes, new boards, and tricks. It's all fairly straightforward, and there isn't a story or sponsorships to gain like in proceeding games. Just complete the required amount of goals and progress to the next level. Repetitive objectives and individual skater progression may be a grind for some, so the career's appeal may wear off once all levels and modes have opened up. The real joy here is chaining combos together for as long as possible to reach those high scores, be it in free skate or career. The gameplay just absorbs your soul.
The first time you drop in, you'll be gaining momentum down the slope of Warehouse and memories will come flooding back. Some levels require triggering an event to open over certain areas, like grinding the helicopter blades in Hanger to get it flying out the back door. Even today its still really cool, and the nostalgia isn't dampened by age. What isn't immediately obvious is level unlocks and progression being specific to each skater, which I discovered while trying to switch character after time expired. One cannot simply jump into any map with any character. You may also notice bailing off the board a ton. Landing big jumps feels unpredicatble and initiating grinds is riskier than ever. The less forgiving nature requires you to pull off better timing between tricks, but it may frustrate.
Other modes available from the get go is Free Skate and Single Session, the latter of which is a fight against the clock to set as high of a score as possible. More options will open up as you progress through the career, and for total completion, players will unlock "projectives", where you only have one minute to complete the listed goals. Besides that, there isn't a whole lot of incentive or reward for clearing every goal in the career. The new Big Head mode is sure to become a favourite. Your character's head will gradually increase in size unless you keep performing tricks. Failure to keep up will result in your head popping like a balloon.
Online multiplayer offers a variety of fun and varied modes of new and old. Among them is the return of graffiti, where you have to perform tricks on as many objects as you can to tag them, and trick attack which set you off to get the highest score possible. Big Head mode is also here, and is even better when competiting to be the last man standing. There is a lot here to play around with, but no inclusion of split screen for local play is a unforgivable.
The visual overhaul for Pro Skater HD looks great and holds up well by today's standards. Colourful maps, lighting and visual effects are obviously a real step up from the PS One era. Still, there are a couple of issues that crop up occasionally, like stiff character physics making for some strange looking bails, and characters clipping through the ground. Back the basics doesn't have to be a bad thing and it largely isn't, but when the fixed camera restricts you from looking up or around for collectables, it becomes a nuisance and you begin to question why some small improvements for things like this were never implemented.
One new addition to ease that frustration ever so slightly is a detailed map of the level, accessible on the pause menu. It certainly helps, but will take some time to understand. The icons can become clustered, it doesn't show your current position and you can't zoom in. Those secret CDs aren't all that secret anymore either, and you'll find yourself relying on it all too often. Its optional and the help is appreciated, but it could have used a little more work.
Again, there are no tutorials like in the original. Players are thrown in head first and will are expected to learn everything for themselves. This is no problem for series veterans but newcomers would want to start out in Free Skate to get used to things without the pressure of time. Seven levels are here in total, a reduction from the original game's ten. These are a mix of fan favourites from the first two including Warehouse, Downhill Jam and School II. All look great with the visual overhaul. Downhill Jam's star night and lighting in particular.
The soundtrack has always been an important part of Tony Hawks series, and upon initial boot up returning players will instantly feel transported back in time with the best from the first two games including the likes of Superman by Goldfinger and Bring the Noise from Public Enemy. It isn't all returning music though, as half the tracks are entirely new and fit seamlessly into the mix.
Overall - 4/5
Even though Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD doesn't stray from the fundamental gameplay, it still manages to stand the test of time. There's a hefty amount of content and rewards for players to unlock here, and the new modes are great additions. Even more is on the way with DLC plans to implement a few Tony Hawks Pro Skater 3 maps and the revert mechanic, although it could be argued this should have been in there in the first place. Pro Skater HD has areas for improvement, but these do not taint the overall product. No create a skater or a map editor may be harder to accept for those who missed the originals, but this remake of a classic is still as addicting as ever.