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 (and thereby Page 44 Studios, who handled the port) 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 changes 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.
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 your 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.
While the setup is nice, unfortunately the PlayStation 2 and Wii ports of the game featured very stripped-down versions of the storylines and some of them don't make a whole lot of sense anymore. Whereas the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games rendered your skater along with the other characters in real-time, this version has to make use of pre-rendered cutscenes in some places, and in others Page 44 just removed them entirely.
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.
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. While the PS3 and Xbox 360 games featured one large world, the PS2 and Wii games have separated levels that you must pause and then skip to. While the sections are pretty much identical in layout, they don't work as well in closed-off sections like you'll see here.
It's worth noting that the Neversoft-developed versions of the game saw the addition of a few new notable features like the Skate Lounge and Video Editor. Those are nowhere to be seen here, unfortunately.
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