Platforms: PS3 (eventually) | Xbox 360 (Reviewed)
Typically speaking, HD reboots should be a chance to rediscover a classic game or series, and either learn, or simply revisit, the reasons why that game or series was worthy of remembering in the first place. The first four Tony Hawk games still have pride of place in my pantheon of nostalgia. It was 1999 when the first game came out. Ska punk was in its element, baggy jeans were in, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater helped to push skateboarding and skateboard culture into the mainstream.
I remember playing the demo for hours over at a friend's house. Two minutes, the Chicago skatepark, highest score wins. Go! It was beautiful in its purity: the controls were fantastically tight, the physics perfectly exaggerated, and the level provided cracking verticality. The incongruous mission directives and collectibles would come later, but already we were scouring the rafters for grinding opportunities, and wondering how we could scale those heights. The start for me was always the same: nosegrind-kickflip-boardslide on the two-level rail at the start, and then a spiralling indy nosebone off of the quarterpipe, spinning off to the left to nail the gap trick and land safely in the adjacent halfpipe.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD does much to strive for a return to that purity by combinig levels and mechanics from the first two games inthe series. The first excellent thing that Robomodo have done is dial back the years. Ok, so the spine transfers of THPS4 and the reverts of THPS3 would have been nice, but the early levels weren't built for such things really. In fact, by removing them from the game, Robomodo have shown just how lazy we've become. The earliest titles were all about picking the perfect line, restarting runs only a handful of seconds in, and always, always weighing up risk against reward. In that respect, this HD redux nails the hardcore aspects of the games that started it all.
Forget the whining critics begging for the newer mechanics. The stripped-back nature of it all is a fundamentally good thing that heightens the need for consistency, perfect landings, imaginative variations, and ambitious trick lines. Part of the joy of the first two games was always looking for the pesky hidden VHS tape (now a DVD) in each of the levels, and invariably it would be in a high up, far flung place that would make your jaw drop. You'd scratch your head for hours wondering how to reach it, but that was the beauty of it. It created conversation too - stories in the playground of flukey ascents, cheeky telephone line grinds, and endless tales of epic fails. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD brings that back, it refuses to molly-coddle, and challenges you to experiment with the basic tools at your disposal.
So, right idea, then. It's a shame that the execution is so utterly dire.
By stripping everything back to basics, Robomodo put huge emphasis on the physical, mechanical nature of the skating, and although this wasn't a problem with Neversoft's games - they had perfected the formula right at the start - as we saw with Ride and Shred, Robomodo are no Neversoft. The pacing feels off, the spins feel less within your control than they did 13 years ago, the gravity feels horribly floaty - it was always exaggerated, but there's definitely something wrong at work here. Then there's the poltergeist that is your skater, with the game often unable to decide whether or not the man (or woman) on the board is ethereal of corporeal. Sometimes you'll clip a supposedly smooth lip several inches away from where it actually begins. Sometimes you'll pass right through the end of a grind rail. You'll often bail, and glitch into a wall, or space, or into the bail animation twice...three times... four times? And don't even get me started on wall rides.
Nostalgia can do strange things to a man, of course, and to check out whether or not my mind was playing tricks on me I fired up both THPS and THPS2. To be honest, I had so much fun that I didn't really want to come back to the modern revamp.
If you can get past the uneasy physics and the technical aberrations, it's pretty much business as usual. Career Mode sees you getting two minutes on the clock to bust tricks and hit three different score targets, collect the letters S-K-A-T-E along with a bunch of other level-specific materials, smash crates, grind lifts, perform specials over death-defying gaps, and nab that infuriating DVD. Each target smashed nets you cash (there are stacks of money littered about the levels, too), and that cash can be used to boost your stats.
There are other modes too. Free Skate returns to allow you to plot the perfect route through a level, and its joined by Big Head Survival - a mode that has you furiously busting tricks to stop your head expanding and eventually exploding in a shower of confetti. Also available offline is Hawkman - a mode that has you collecting coins, Mario-style, and busting out specials for bonuses. Taking the game online, Trick Attack and Graffiti return to help you challenge your friends, and there are leaderboards for each level too.
Sounds fine, right? Wrong.
Let's start with Career Mode. First up, there are only seven levels. Seven. And one of them is sodding Downhill Jam. Now Tony Hawk has admitted that it's his personal favourite, fair enough, each to their own. But making Downhill Jam one-seventh of the content that you're offering is borderline criminal. Where's my Chicago skatepark, Activision? Where's the level that started this whole series? School II and the Hangar and Venice Beach and Marseille and the Warehouse are all in there, that's fine. But what about Roswell, what about the Bullring?!
Speaking of things which are missing, there's no Chad Muska or Spider-Man (the character roster is almost insultingly small), no move list to speak of, no "Light out, Guerilla Radio!". Mercifully, Goldfinger is still there, but the soundtrack sounds like it's made up of about nine songs, there's no playlist to change the roster, and over half of the tunes on there (most of the newer stuff) are absolutely rubbish. Oh, and there's no H-O-R-S-E or local multiplayer either. These are utterly unforgivable omissions, especially when one considers the horrendous lag to be found in the online multiplayer modes. Because that's what all games that require precise inputs and timing need - crippling lag!
Yes, it looks nice. The levels that are present have been recreated in colourful, shiny fashion by Robomodo, the game sparkles, especially when lined up against their forebears. They're just not fun to romp about in any more, though, because everything else about the game reeks of disappointment and missed opportunity. In spite of early promise, THPS HD turns out to be a prime example of how not to make an HD revamp - gutting the content and the soul out of a classic game to facilitate long term profits through DLC (Activision have already admitted as much) to the extent that you begin to question whether the original games were even that good to begin with.
NEWSFLASH: They were.
It's irresponsible, really, and in peddling this material as some sort of return, it runs the risk of damaging a legacy that Neversoft worked hard to create. I would have paid merrily for a collection of the first four games, or even individually at £10-12, maybe given a spit and a polish, with leaderboard support and online options. But this amalgam suffers greatly from trying to emulate rather than enhance, and it falls short almost every time. Do yourself a favour, grab Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2X or any of the classic titles for half the price of this, and save yourself from an abuse of nostalgia.
- Stripped back gameplay harks back to hardcore roots
- Kickingflipping the Warehouse pipe gap still feels great
- Superman is on the setlist
- Guerilla Radio isn't
- Awful paucity of content - no HORSE or offline multiplayer
- Mechanics not as tight as they should be
The Short Version: You might sneak some enjoyment out of this supposed "Best Of...", but all that will be is a hollow echo of games that were much better, and deserved far better treatment, than this. Like a budget, poorly remastered, unofficial Greatest Hits album that's missing half of the material that should be there, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD trades ruthlessly on nostalgia and leaves you only with disappointment.