I’ve got a history with the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series. In my pre-adolescent days, I had the delusion that skateboarding was exactly as high-flying and exciting as it was depicted in those early Playstation titles. I still have the resulting friction burn scar on my elbow. My last encounter with the series was Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, which was where I reached peak Hawk-age — able to land crazy combos and tear through the game’s objectives. I can still complete your average THPS game in an afternoon, but my skillz don’t pay the billz quite like they used to.
I’ve intentionally skipped the more recent titles, having already gotten my fill of a stagnate and often imitated formula. Whenever I get the itch to hit the quarter-pipes, I just return to the classic games. The newer entries received mixed reception, and I wasn’t interested enough to find out for myself if their reputations were justified. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD was yet another such game that plowed right into the turned backs of critics, leaving me with no desire to explore it. Having heard news that it was about to be delisted from storefronts, I decided I might as well take the plunge and find out if it really deserves the scorn that was so unceremoniously heaped upon it.
IT DESERVES THE SCORN
For the uninitiated, the Pro Skater series has never focused on realistic physic. Skaters shoot off quarter pipes and rocket 20 feet into the air, momentum can be gained while grinding on objects, boards stick to rails like magnets are attached to the trucks. It all lends itself to a fun, chaotic experience. The abstract, predictable physics allow for breezier gameplay; you don’t have to wait long for your skater to accelerate or peel themselves off the pavement, nor do you need to slow down to reposition yourself. It’s easy to bounce, jump, and grind all over the maps without interruption.
For the most part, that’s retained underneath all the shiny HD coating. The momentum, the airtime, the speed; it’s similar enough to the point where the game felt familiar. To be completely honest, I can’t claim to be a purist when it comes to HD remakes. I bring this up because, unless you put the titles side-by-side, I wouldn’t be able to notice the differences in controls or physics. Some people will, no doubt. However, even to my untrained eye, certain facets of the control don’t feel right.
The collision detection in particular fails to feel familiar, instead choosing to act like, to use the technical term, a dick. In the classic Pro Skaters, it took a lot to dislodge your skater’s feet from their board. You were more likely to take a dive after failing to keep balance during a grind than from plowing headlong into a wall or landing crooked. Along with all its high definitions, ragdoll physics have been jammed in, and while that may sound like a good time, it has a deep impact on wipeouts, collision detection, and the game’s overall flow.
Want a good example? It’s often just as simple as grinding straight into a wall. Your character will launch off towards the horizon, which is hilarious, but easy to avoid by, you know, dislodging from the rail before coming into contact with a barrier. That won’t prevent you from journeying beyond the stars, however, when the game decides on its own that it’s time for you to blast off again. Sometimes when going up a ramp, or coming down off a ramp, or just because the ground was just slightly uneven. Every time your skater decides to take flight, the game is all too delighted to follow their arc to its bone-crunching end. It’s amusing the first few times it happens, but after a while, you’ll probably just want to get on with it and play, but the game would rather linger on your skater’s lifeless body while the clock keeps ticking. There’s allegedly a quick-recover button to alleviate this, but it either doesn’t work or only makes an imperceptible difference.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
Starting with Undergound, the Tony Hawk series began diverging from its original formula, if only superficially. HD reverts back to the classic setup. You’re given a set of 10 initial objectives to complete in each level, and you have two minutes to complete as many of them as possible. After those two minutes are up, your progress is erased and any objective you didn’t complete has to be started over. These objectives are rather abstract, ranging from beating a score, doing a specific trick off a specific piece of set dressing, or collecting a bunch of floating objects. It’s simple, but it’s a pretty successful formula, even today.
For the HD version, levels from THPS 1 and 2 were dissected and packaged together. You wind up with a collection of the most memorable levels from the first two games, and really, the picks are a pretty agreeable mix. I wasn’t left wishing one was included or scratching my head at the inclusion of another. The only exception is Marseilles, which was a competition map in THPS 2. Competitions didn’t make it to the HD version, sadly, and the map was left unchanged, resulting in a tiny area crammed with objectives. It’s also the game’s last level, so the whole game caps off with a miniature level where every objective is within spitting distance of the next. It’s not the ideal climax.
That wouldn’t be all that offensive, considering it was released as a budget title, but Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2x exists. 2x was a launch title for the original Xbox and it featured every level from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2, included all the features that had become standard at that point, and also updated the graphics. Obviously the Xbox can’t push the same pixels as modern consoles and computers, but really, HD’s art is pretty mediocre at best. If anything, I would have preferred that Activision just release an up-rezzed version of 2x than this haphazard amalgamation.
I got through the whole game in about 5 hours, clearing every objective. Afterwards, “projectives” were unlocked; an additional mode that adds a handful of new objectives to every map. These are all the same with little variation across the levels. Screw that. Honestly, completing every objective was taxing enough on my patience, I wasn’t looking to extend that. I already did my part.
As charitably as I can put it, Pro Skater HD feels like it was assembled by fans. That’s not even very accurate, because at least fans would have put some love behind the product. THPSHD doesn’t exude that feeling of effort. It’s unrefined, raw, and unpolished. Even if you ignore the intrusive glitchiness, the UI is barebones, eternal standards like a simple endgame credits roll are nowhere to be found, and many of the features added into later games (or even the second game) didn’t make it into the update. It’s lazy. There’s no create-a-skater, create-a-park, or even competitions, all of which were standard features beginning in Pro Skater 2.
Whatever. I got the game for the bargain basement price of $2. Even if you were still able to buy it at that price (or even at all), I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see a re-release of the original titles due to the myriad of licensing concerns, but if you can get your hands on them, I’d suggest playing them instead. Or, heck, pick up a copy of 2X on the Xbox, which is a substantially better compilation of the first two titles than this lurching monstrosity.
This review was conducted on a Steam copy of the game purchased on sale by the author.