IGN Review of Tony Hawk's Proving Ground
When the first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater hit the PlayStation back in 1999, it redefined what an extreme sports game could be. Its control scheme set the industry standard for years to come, and its goal-based progression has been the basis for most similar titles since then. A year later, Neversoft followed up the game with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, the nearly-perfect sequel that took everything to the next level and set the bar high enough that competing franchises quickly died off attempt after attempt.
Since then the franchise has had its ups and downs. Part of the reason for this is that since THPS2 was so robust and encompassing, there wasn't a whole lot missing that Neversoft could add to the formula. Yearly updates have added in a few new moves, new areas to skate in and varying story and progression formulas, some better than others.
So here we are with the ninth title in the series, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground. Neversoft has once again tweaked the formula a bit, and while some of the additions are certainly welcome, the Birdman is really starting to show his age. And since the series has now seen its first strong, direct competitor in its nearly decade-long history with EA's skate, its lack of any significant design improvements in years is even more apparent.
But as is generally the case with Neversoft's signature series, there are some good things that keep Proving Ground worthy of a look. For one thing, the spot-on control scheme is still present, allowing you to pull off moves faster than you can say kickflip. The controls are immediately responsive and allow you to pull off some completely insane combos and lines. And while they've certainly gotten more complicated over time, the most important features are the quickest to pick up, while new features are introduced over time.
One thing that's different this time around though is that you don't have access to really any of the game's new features until you've gone through the proper story goals and learned them. For instance, you're unable to use the new Nail a Grab until you've run through the beginning of Bob Burnquist's story. Being as you can play these in any order you want, it means that you might not have access to some of the better new features, like the mentioned Nail a Grab or the ability to check people, until later in the game.
Some of the new tricks and features are useful, like how you can place objects anywhere in the world or the ability to push yourself with the help of a wall while performing a manual, but some feel a little cheap. For instance, the Bowl Carving elements are especially cheap. These are intended for skating pools and curved ramps and allow you to either cut the ramp short in a surf-like manner or slice the lip by grinding it for a bit. But while you have to balance a grind, there's none of that here. All you need to do is tap a button to slice or carve, giving you easy points. The slicing also isn't all that responsive as some ramps work well but others are a little hit-or-miss as to whether you'll stick and slice them or simply fly out and rotate.
One nice new change is that there isn't a single, overarching storyline anymore but rather a series of smaller stories that you can play through at any time. Everything you do works towards you overall goals of getting your own signature board, putting together your own team and things like this, but the goal-based story elements are playable in any order and you can go about them at your own pace. None of them are all that interesting, and aside from the real skaters they're plagued with annoying characters, but at least you no longer get to a point where you must complete a single goal to progress and your inability to do so would keep you from going any further.
One thing that's a bit curious though is how the rewards, or lack thereof, for the different difficulty options have been implemented. As was the case with Project 8, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground has three levels of difficulty for each challenge - Am (for amateur), Pro and Sick. A competition might require 50,000 points for earning an Am ranking, 150,000 for Pro and 800,000 for Sick, for example. You'll clear the challenge for finishing it on Am, so progression isn't affected by getting better rankings. You also earn the same amount of ability upgrade points for getting Am as you do for Sick, so there's no difference there. The only benefits you get for finishing a goal on Pro or Sick are bragging rights and a little more money, which is only good for buying new clothes and outfitting your Skate Lounge.
The Skate Lounge is one of the new highlights to this installment, but its value is honestly very small. As you work through the game you'll unlock new parts and more money to buy said parts, which you can place anywhere in your Skate Lounge. Think of it as a permanent Create-a-Park that you can cater to your style. While it's cool that it exists, we only ever messed around with the Skate Lounge enough to try out the building tools, and didn't see the long-term benefits of spending an hour or two customizing our warehouse.
The world of Proving Ground is a bit of a hit-or-miss with regards to layout. There's plenty to do and lots of nice spots to hit, though it can feel a little too crowded at times. Our problem though is that each of the three cities in the game is connected by a bridge and possibly an underground transit tunnel. Because of this, when moving from one to another you need to find the correct street to take to get there instead of just going in the general direction that the goal arrow tells you to go. It would have been much more helpful if the arrow actually told you how to get there instead of pointing in some general direction that you can't directly travel to.
Another issue here is that the transit system of the past handful of games is gone. You need to manually (get it?) skate from goal to goal, and some of the multi-part goals are spread out all over the world.
One of the new features that had the potential to be awesome is the video editor. The editor itself is extremely robust, though the menu navigation can be a little wonky until you get used to it. You're able to drop in transitions, add effects and even combine separate saved clips into one video. All of this is great. However, instead of the game keeping a constantly-recorded replay of your recent happenings, you have to manually start the recording every time you want to make a clip. This means that if you just accidentally got hit by a car and flung into the ocean, it's not on video. Also, you can't get being hit bar a car and getting flung into the ocean on video because when you start recording the game removes all pedestrians and vehicles from the area. Weak sauce.
©2007-10-17, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved