It’s been thirteen years since Tony Hawk and his Birdhouse board graced my PlayStation. It’s also been thirteen years since I pulled my first Ollie, landed my first Kickflip, successfully Nosegrinded along a rail, and somehow managed to bail over a taxi in a funbox. As those thirteen years have passed the face of skateboarding games has changed from embodying the joy of skating to replicating the skill and simulation of the sport; and then, ultimately unable to be pushed any further, skating games stopped.
Now however Activision and Robomodo have brought back Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater for us all to enjoy again, except this time they’ve polished it up. By building it from the ground up in a new engine, and compiling 7 stages from across Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, it seems that Robomodo are hoping that nostalgia will lead them to loving this revamp. Quite honestly though, you can tell this is a labour of love. However it’s also a sign that nostalgia betrays your memories. You’ll never love and hate Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater as much as you have now.
You best get used to the sound of bones, flesh and blood hitting wood, steel and cold hard concrete as you’ll bail so often that more time is spent off the board than on it. With time though, you’ll get the hang of how unforgiving THPS HD is and you’ll begin to remember exactly why you loved the series. The moment I rolled down the starting slope in Warehouse, or did a death-defying grind on the massive rail in School II, memories of sitting cross-legged infront of a TV as a kid came flooding back.
Indeed, with the levels Robomodo chose to include from THPS and THPS 2 it’ll be an enjoyable journey through the Career mode – even if the two minute model feels incredibly dated – for any self-confessed fan. Personally though, it baffles me as to why Downhill Jam was included in the selection
as it wasn’t in the first two games, nor is it as it’s not a very good level anyway – but putting that aside the choices are great, especially as Hanger has been included. Interestingly Robomodo have also tried to please both the old and new fans by creating a soundtrack comprised of some old favourites along with rather dull new choices. It’s a shame because the original games soundtracks were just incredible, but perhaps Robomodo couldn’t gain the rights to their licenses.
There are other, bigger, problems though – ones that go beyond the endless bailing. Firstly the game feels really rather soulless. Levels may be accurate reproductions of their original guises, but thirteen years of game development has done no favours to their design, meaning that larger levels like School II just feel bland and empty. Along with this design progression, the fact that Robomodo chose to only bring the first – and arguably worst – two of the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games together is perplexing. Sure, they’re releasing a THPS 3 DLC pack but why wasn’t it part of the compendium from the start?
Both THPS3 and THPS4 had refined the series to its highest point before it all became sullied with the idiocy of dismounting your board and climbing everywhere in Tony Hawk’s Underground, so not including them from the off seems rather silly. While THPS 3 added the incredibly useful revert feature for chaining vert tricks, it wasn’t until THPS 4 that the series hit its pinacle with spine transfers allowing you to level out if you overshot – so you didn’t automatically bail – and an un-timed career mode. These features should have been in the game right from the off, allowing it to truly be a HD compendium of Tony Hawk’s games that fans love, and still being playable enough for newcomers. Now Career mode’s timed runs feel restrictive compared to the mechanics found in more modern games, and the fact that many games dropped this model it seems silly to bring it back for the sake of nostalgia.
Despite these problems though THPS HD is one incredibly addictive game. It’s hard to put down, and you really want to keep going back in to improve your skills and mess around in those levels you love. The inclusion of some fun throwaway modes like Big Head Survival and Graffiti also adds some extra fun to things along with the inclusion of an online multiplayer – yet strangely no classic split-screen multiplayer that really made the originals.
If you haven’t guessed, this is a mixed package. For fans of the series it’s missing out it’s greatest elements – including a level creator – and for those who have never played a Tony Hawk’s game it’ll seem too unforgiving and restrictive to really please in such a modern market. Conversely though it’ll make the purists happy for its no nonsense approach to gameplay, plus it’s the only ‘new’ skateboarding game around. Hopefully with some DLC tweaks from THPS 3, and maybe a THPS 4 update, this will turn into a must have; for now though it’s only worth looking into if you’re starved for skateboarding fun.
Audio/Visual – 3/5: Levels feel dull and empty but it has been lovingly recreated. The soundtrack has a good choice of music, but again feels rather unspectacular.
Gameplay – 3/5: Made for the purists but really should have taken the mechanics of the series peak and retrofitted it to the older levels. The ragdoll physics are also hilariously bad/annoying.
Innovation – 2/5: It feels dated to play even so soon after release, and really brings nothing new to the series.
Value – 3/5: For 1200MSP you get a fair bit of content and fun but you’ll probably tire of it fast.
Final Score: 3.5/5