GAME NAME: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): 18 July 2012
The Birdman is back after a long absence. We say ‘absence’ because the series started getting very strange right about the time Tony Hawk’s Underground was released and only got worse from there. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD hopes to change your impressions of the franchise by offering a stripped down version of the original two games in the series, with a selection of levels from each available for tearing it up. Did they hit the mark they were going for with this refurbished title? No. Will you have wasted your money if you buy it? Also no.
THPS HD takes players back to the days where there were three high score challenges, S-K-A-T-E letters to find, a Hidden Tape (updated to DVD) and a few miscellaneous stunts to pull, with two minutes per outing to manage it in. Clear enough of these and you open the next of the seven available levels in the game. Players have access to Warehouse, School II, Hangar, Mall, Venice Beach, Downhill Jam and Marseille – all suitably updated in the visuals department. Tony, Rodney Mullen and a couple of other old-school skaters stand alonside a new lineup and the option to have your Xbox avatar join in the fun. While there is a lot of classic Hawk contained in THPS HD, not everything is as rosy as it could be.
We’ll start with the negatives for THPS HD because there are fewer of them than you’re worrying about. The biggest blow to the game is that it lacks a split-screen two player mode, something that allowed hours of fun and bragging rights in the original titles. It has been replaced with online multiplayer, which works pretty effectively, but losing the ability to play with someone in the same rooms is dreadful. There are some physics problems to be had as well but these usually crop up when colliding with a wall or landing with a trick still active. Your player character manages to bounce awfully high sometimes… There have been reported problems of players sinking into the levels but these glitches were sorta present in the originals (and we didn’t see any for this review) so we’ll let it go. Players are also unable to create their own skate parks, a feature we would have liked to see return.
Time for the good stuff. On the surface THPS HD seems to be tougher to play than it should. The difficulty hasn’t been changed from the first games however, gamers were just better back then. 360 Flip into a 5.0 grind on the first rail of Warehouse, Heelflip out into a Manual up the back ramp before pulling off a perfect 540 Crossbone to land and then ask yourself if this is the Tony Hawk that made you waste entire weekends just seeing what was possible. Old fans will quickly find that their old reflexes return to form, with muscle memory being stronger than you’d expect it to be. Newcomers will have to learn the way that the rest of us did, by constantly bailing. There is a definite feeling of nostalgia, reinforced by grinding old locations like that chopper in Hangar and watching it take off. The hidden areas of the game are accessed in the same ways they always were and the core gameplay is largely unchanged. It may make for a little difficulty at first but that’s part of the challenge.
Player skills are upgraded by collecting cash scattered around levels or awarded to players for completing objectives. A fully-upgraded Tony Hawk is not to be messed with but Mullen is no slouch on the flat either. The classic Career, Single Session and Free modes are available for player to hone their skills, with two new-ish single player modes also part of the parcel. Hawkman is a previously-seen Pac Mac-style challenge where players must collect pellets while tricking. Yellow pellets are harvested while grinding, green while in a manual and red while in the air. Then there is Big Head mode, which can be played either competitively or solo. The player character’s head expands, eventually exploding and ending the run. This is prevented by executing and landing tricks and combos, always a fun pursuit.
The return to what made the series great is not unexpected since this is a refurbishing of the titles that started it all. There are still unlockables and cheats to mess around with but, as brilliant as it is to combo, flip and grab around the familiar locations, THPS HD isn’t perfect. Not that is matters much on this outing. Long-time fans shouldn’t be disappointed though and newbies now have a chance to see what all the fuss is about. Our biggest hope is that this solid effort (and the THPS 3 DLC that is coming later) will act as a springboard to a full reboot of the series. That’s the gap we hope this one manages to clear without bailing.