Review: Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD
Genre: Arcade-sports
Developer: Robomodo
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: 7/18/2012

I was a big fan of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games, however I remember that after the first title came out it seemed like everyone was a fan. If there was a game that was practically a requirement to own on the Playstation it was Tony Hawk Pro Skater. The game was extremely addictive, giving a player two minutes to accomplish a specific set of goals, with tight game mechanics and a fun soundtrack. I still look back with nostalgia at a time when I would spend all night playing the demo that came with the Official Playstation Magazine, and wonder how the series got to the point where there are stacks of these fake skateboard controllers cluttering up shelf space at big box stores.

After pumping out yearly sequels with diminishing returns, Activision tried to push the series in a different direction with the Ride and Shred video games, and now have decided to take the series back to its roots with Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD. THPS HD is a mix of levels and music from the first two games, with updated visuals and runs on the Unreal 3 engine. Trying to bring the best of the first two games together as a downloadable game on the surface sounds like a great idea, you can show off what drew people to the series in the first place and hope it washes away the tarnish left on the series from the last couple of games, though at the same time you run the risk of the over a decade old game mechanics not being as impressive as they once were.

So does Activision and Robomodo pull the trick off, or have they faceplanted with Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD?

Let’s begin with the modes. There’s a career mode, where you run across levels with different skaters to complete objectives to earn money, which can be used to buy tricks and improve the stats of different skaters. This can last several hours per skater, as some of the objectives are more difficult than others. You can also play Free Skate just to get the hang of the levels, and unlock the Big Head Elimination and Hawkman modes. Hawkman mode scatters pellets around the stage, with different colors having different requirements to collect them. The game scores you on the time it takes to collect the pellets, so planning tight skating lines is the main theme of this mode. In Big Head Elimination the skater’s head will continue to grow, unless you keep deflating it by landing tricks. If you can’t land tricks fast enough the head blows up into a burst of confetti. That mode is based on how long you can survive.

The game also has an interesting twist with a Projectives mode. If you manage to complete 100% of the objectives for a skater, you will unlock the Projective mode for that character and will be able to run through a series of more difficult objectives for each stage. Aside from that the game also has an online mode where you can battle it out against other players in Free Skate and Big Head Elimination modes, as well as a trick attack mode where you can mark pieces of level terrain with your color by doing tricks onto or off of them. The game has many reasons to come back to the levels again and again and the different modes give the game enough variety to keep it from getting too stale. My only complaint is a lack of the HORSE mode in multiplayer.

Graphically it is an upgrade of the first two games, with some slight adjustments to the levels, including some that I don’t understand, like the odd green color they chose for the rail for Venice Beach. It looks good, but not up to the level of some of something like Tony Hawk Proving Ground or Project 8. The characters and levels have more detail, but the rail animations look clunky, and there are some really weird times when a collision will mess with the physics engine and the character goes flying awkwardly in the air. I understand this is because it is an HD upgrade and not a remake, but there it’s still something weird to see. Also, maybe because it is on the Unreal Engine, but there is some frequent texture pop-in. This never caused a problem for me with the game, but was noticeable.

Perhaps the worst thing graphically is the menu set up. If any part of the game truly feels like a return to 1999, it’s the menu, both the main menu and pause menus, which look archaic and are about as user friendly as a book on tape would be to a deaf man. Aside from those complaints the game does look immediately recognizable to anyone who has played the first games, and it does look better than the originals.

Audio has always been a strong point for the Tony Hawk games. Most of my memories of the early games are tied to different songs, if I hear Guerrilla Radio or Ace of Spades I immediately flash back to grinding on rails and trying to pull off sick scores. Tony Hawk HD due to licensing issues does not have some of the tracks that I associate with the first two games. There are still some of the familiar songs, like When Worlds Collide, from the first two games, as well as some new tracks that have been added that fit in with the game well. The sound effects are just as anyone might remember them, and work with the game. I’m disappointed that some of the music that I loved to listen to is not available, however I can understand the issues with licensing.

Despite being a while since I’ve played a Tony Hawk game, and the last time I did so I don’t believe it was with an Xbox 360 controller, the controls felt like second nature. In fact, if anything, since my favorite Tony Hawk game was the third one, I would automatically try to pull off some moves that are not in the game, like the revert. The A button will make the character crouch when held, and pressing it will make the character jump. X is for kick tricks, Y is to grind, B is for Grab tricks, and the triggers are for turning. I felt more comfortable using the D-Pad than the joystick, but I think that’s a matter of preference based on how I learned to play the games and not really of one being better than the other.

The basic mechanics of the game are strong enough to still be enjoyable more than a decade later. Two minutes are put on the board to try and complete objectives, and the basic controls are easy enough to grasp to start putting together combos as you attempt to get the best score within that time limit. While there are some things that have not aged as well, such as the Big Drops screwing up a combo, especially some levels which seem to contain multiple areas where this is a possibility, I’m really amazed at how well the basic concepts have aged. There are some games that are better viewed through rose colored glasses, but even the basic structure of Tony Hawk is still fun.

It’s also interesting to see that some tricks, like cheesing manuals and kick flips at the end of a combo to get a huge multiplier, still works. There are some additions though that I miss, like the ability to level out to prevent a crash, wall kicks, reverts, and so on are noticeable in their absence. Reverts at least will be added with some additional Tony Hawk 3 content as DLC at a later date.

The game is well balanced in terms of increasing challenges, and difficulty. There are harder objectives as you unlock each level, and if you do manage to beat those objectives then there are the harder projectives to beat. Sure, some of the tricks to cheese the scoring system are still in place, and the in game map shows you the location off all collectibles so that you don’t have to look for them, but it still takes some skill to be able to pull all of it off. These are well implemented in the game, and for those seeking a really hard challenge can try to match the leaderboard scores, which are already at levels that I can not even imagine getting near to.

As mentioned, there are plenty of reasons to replay the game, with the online and additional modes. There are also unlockable cheats and characters that become available when certain criteria are met. This type of game really encourages playing each area several times, and the time limit tricks you into thinking that playing one more time will not be a big deal, until you realize hours later what a big mistake that was. The basic structure of the game is just as addictive as it once was, back when I’d just play the demo for hours.

Our website scores on originality, and besides the addition of the fun Hawkman and Big Head Elimination mode, you can otherwise just throw that right out the window. Of course, the whole selling point of this game is that it is a remake of some of the levels from the original titles, so take that with a grain of salt.

As far as appeal goes, I hope that the time for Tony Hawk games haven’t passed. When you take away some of the things that have been added to the Tony Hawk series over the years, like the larger overworlds with missions in them, the Jackass style shock stuff, the gimmicky slo-motion foot tricks, or terrible peripherals, that have been added over time just to try and keep pumping out another title every year, the core product is still as fun as it has ever been and a solid base to grow a strong franchise on. I believe the appeal is still there for fans who may have become worn out of the series, or wanted a return to what made the games fun. I just wonder if the new generation of teenagers playing the game will see what so many of us enjoyed about the series.

Finally I’d like to address a complaint I’ve seen elsewhere on the interwebs. There is a game that was available for the Xbox called Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2x that is still compatible with the Xbox 360. While that is an enjoyable game with all of the levels and music, as well as some kind of bad levels exclusive to just that game, I think comparing the two titles isn’t appropriate. For $15 Tony Hawk HD, with seven levels and several modes, provides many hours of entertainment and has full online support in terms of leaderboards and multiplayer. THPS 2x has decent visuals, fewer modes and no online support. If you can find it and are interested, I’d certainly recommend picking that game up, however I disagree that the existence of that game in any way negates the value of this title.

That said, in some ways I’m a little disappointed in Tony Hawk HD. While it is a good game that brought back memories of fun times I’ve had with the series, it still feels like a step back instead of a step forward. I really wish they would’ve added some other features to this game, in particular the level creation system that was introduced beginning in THPS3. My current favorite Xbox Live Arcade game is Trials Evolution, and I think they really could’ve taken a page from that game as far as including a level creator and then building a strong community behind their online and creative efforts. As it is, while it is great to see that some games hold up over time, it feels like a missed opportunity that they did not attempt to do more with it.

The Scores
Modes: Very Good
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Great
Balance: Great
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Miscellaneous: Decent

Short Attention Span Summary
Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD is a fun game whether you are a returning fan or new to the series. For $15 bucks it’s the most fun I’ve had with a Tony Hawk game in many years.



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One response to “Review: Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. confused Avatar

    How can it be just an HD texture revamp and not a remake, yet be running on the Unreal 3 engine? The original certainly wasn’t running on Unreal 3, or even Unreal 2, considering they didn’t exist.

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