Just so you get where I’m coming from in this review – I’ve never played the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or its sequel on PlayStation. My first experience with the series was with the excellent GBA port of THPS2 before I moved into the 3D realm with the near-perfect Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 on PlayStation 2. Moving on from that into the very enjoyable Tony Hawk’s Underground, I began to witness the franchise’s descent into mediocrity with American Wasteland and Project 8, before the spectacular crash and burn of Ride‘s awfully misjudged skateboard controller. Activision is now quite literally returning to the series’ roots with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, as they serve up a mix of levels from the first two games done-up in HD graphics. It sounds like a good idea on paper.
Let’s start with the level selection. You’ve got some classics here, such as the School, Warehouse and Venice Beach. These are fun places to work out skating lines, and practice over and over to achieve big combos. But then clunkers like Downhill Jam have somehow found their way into the proceedings, which is filled with big drops which wreck combos and a disorienting layout that makes it a chore to play.
The first thing I noticed when loading up THPS HD, and which I’m sure many other veterans will notice, is the absence of reverts from THPS3. For those not in the know, this trick allows you to chain together a vert trick (ie. skating up a half pipe and doing a flip trick) to a ground trick or manual, allowing for bigger scores. Each Tony Hawk game introduced new ways to chain combos together longer, such as Underground actually letting you get off your board and still keep a combo going, but reverts always felt the most natural and are sorely missed – even though they are apparently on the way in DLC, along with levels from THPS3.
Perhaps it’s just as well, as these levels were designed for shorter combos. You can still pull off ollies, flips and vert tricks with ease, along with manuals and various grinds as you hunt the elusive ‘sick’ score. I’m not convinced the controls are identical to the original games, but using THPS3 as a reference (I promise, this will be the last time I bring it up), they don’t feel as immediate or responsive as they should. In single player, each of the levels has a set of objectives for you to complete, which can be something as simple as setting a high score to finding secret items. You are rewarded with cash for achieving these objectives, which can be used to level up your chosen skater’s skills and to buy special moves for them. You can even use your Xbox Live Avatar in-game.
This is all fairly familiar, and if you’re looking for a straight re-make of some old Tony Hawk levels, then THPS HD is satisfactory. However, there are some further annoyances. The physics engine introduced into this remake has a tendency to spaz out at times, which means more often than not running straight into a wall (and forgetting this game also omits wall pushes) can send your skater careening into the heavens at a rate of forty knots. Stacking seems surprisingly painless, as your skater falls limply to the floor, like a puppet with its strings cut. It’s not uncommon for the camera to get caught around level geometry either, and to be honest, the HD-upgrade that the visuals have received is a little drab and colourless. I don’t get that same personality the older games had, and the game’s soundtrack is a mild mix of late nineties/early noughties rock that evokes the era but doesn’t stand out.
The game’s added features are also a bit hit and miss. A map screen with objectives laid out for your perusal is a good idea, but it’s literally a photograph of the level taken from above, with no indicator of where you are in relation to everything else. It’s fairly difficult to figure exactly where you are, and where everything else is, without a lot of practice in each of the levels, rendering the map fairly useless. Multiplayer is back, along with some modes which prey on your nostalgia, like a ‘big head’ skating match. To be honest, I’d still take the online of Tony Hawk’s Underground over this any day, but that’s probably that same nostalgia talking.
I’m also in the habit of reloading my runs the instant I stack or mess up a long combo, which makes instant retries a necessity to my enjoyment of a Tony Hawk game. Reloads are about five seconds in THPS HD, which isn’t too bad, although it does require either reloading through the menu or using a ‘quick reload’ button on the controller which annoyingly still brings up a menu asking you for confirmation.
It is still possible to have fun with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, quite a bit of fun, in fact. The series definitely needed to revisit its older entries after the disaster that was Ride, but I doubt this game will draw new players in. It’s fun for fans of the first two games, but if you came into the series later, or are used to some of the more common elements which were introduced after THPS2 like reverts, grind tricks or wall pushes, you may find this game a step back. It’s great to have a classic style Tony Hawk game again, but the niggles and frustrations I have with this HD remake hold me back from recommending it to all but the most ardent fans.