"Tony Hawk's Proving Ground definitely could have used more enhancements like 'nail the grab' and less of the other crap. Nowhere is that clearer than when it comes to the various missions you are expected to complete. Now you have not just one plot, but several. You progress through each of them in roughly the order you like. If you get tired of bowling for hoodlums, perhaps you can head to the park for a skate competition instead."
Most fans of the series will tell you that although Tony Hawk's Proving Ground (the ninth game in as many years to feature the affable skating legend) had big shoes to fill, it should have been more than capable. Last year's effort, Tony Hawk's Project 8, was one of the finest entries the franchise had seen since peaking with THPS3. It featured fun and expansive environments full of great lines, the 'nail the trick' mechanic and minimal plot interference. In short, it looked like the start of something great. All Tony Hawk's Proving Ground needed to do was maintain and perhaps improve on a few minor areas. Instead, the ambitious people at Neversoft tried to take the franchise to the next level. That was a mistake.
Remember the skate meters? In past games, they told you when your faltering balance was about to turn a lengthy grind or manual into a concrete kiss. Now those handy tools are gone, casualties of an apparent desire to make everything more realistic. It's still possible to tell that you're about to wipe out thanks to a semi-transparent image of the edge of a skateboard that pops up onto the screen, but it's not immediately useful and it definitely requires adjustment if you've been with the games from the start. On the positive side, it makes Tony Hawk's Proving Ground feel less like a game and more like a movie. On the negative side, well... gamers usually prefer games to movies.
They also tend to like it when they buy skating games and skating is the actual focus. One problem with Tony's flagship series for a long time was that Neversoft seemed to be interested in making anything BUT a skating game. Project 8 was exciting because it looked like someone finally remembered what was important, but Tony Hawk's Proving Ground makes it obvious that the people responsible for that success either no longer are with the company or were for some reason outvoted. As a result, you'll now spend much of your time snapping pictures, piecing together bits of film or shopping for clothes so that your custom skater looks spectacularly hip and sexy. It's yawn-inducing.
At least there are new skating moves. Each game since the first has introduced a new ability, such as the manual or the revert. This time around, there are several. One is the ability to 'check' your opponents. This is mostly useful in story-based missions where you have to punch gangsters and see how far they fly from the docks and into the water. You're rated on the time they stay in the air and you fail your mission if the average air time between the lot of the hoodlums isn't high enough. Elsewhere, you can check pedestrians and watch them go flying as you work on your combo (though once you land your combo, it's pretty much forgotten for the purposes of the game).
A more useful addition is the 'nail the grab' mechanic, which is of course an expansion of the 'nail the trick' move from last year. In case you don't remember, that move is accessed by pressing in on both thumb sticks once you launch into the air. As time slows to a crawl, you can then manipulate the sticks to kick the board about in the air, working hard to make sure it returns to a neutral position before you land. Well, now that concept extends to grabs. Holding the left trigger will let you tilt the board this way or that, and you can even set it spinning in new directions. The particularly industrious can switch from a special grab to a finishing trick, just in time to land with an astonishing high score.
Tony Hawk's Proving Ground definitely could have used more enhancements like 'nail the grab' and less of the other crap. Nowhere is that clearer than when it comes to the various missions you are expected to complete. Now you have not just one plot, but several. You progress through each of them in roughly the order you like. If you get tired of bowling for hoodlums, perhaps you can head to the park for a skate competition instead. Each objective you complete rewards you with points toward overarching objectives, such as finding a sponsor, signing to a team or getting a tennis shoe deal.
The multi-faceted story is nice in that you don't always have to stick on one path to progress the game. However, it's also confusing. Sometimes you'll talk to a pro thinking that you're about to unlock a new area of the game, but actually you're just replaying a stage you already completed a few hours ago. Arrows point toward your new objective, but you may get lost if you're switching between objectives too often, or if the person you're looking to talk to is standing in the middle of a crowd of other possible targets. Occasionally, you'll be on one part of the map and a wall blocks you from proceeding in the direction the arrow is pointing. You figure out a way over the barrier, but then you're told for no apparent reason that you've gone out of bounds. In theory, the cityscape you're exploring is seamless and expansive. In practice, it isn't.
Such shortcomings will have some players pining for the days when they simply selected a stage from the menu and then skated to their hearts' content. There's no option like that here, but you can at least roll up to an arcade machine (they're placed randomly throughout the map) and play a game with familiar objectives. In these diversions, you'll work through a sectioned off area as you collect S-K-A-T-E or grab secret discs or any number of other nostalgic objectives. The problem is that sometimes you'll have a combo going and you'll ride through a translucent barrier, only to start a timer that ticks down if you don't return to the acceptable area quickly enough. That's both irritating and jarring. The developers should have provided fences or something so you wouldn't accidentally leave the area of play. Not only that, but there isn't a single area to skate that feels as inspired as the packaged deals you might remember from the early THPS titles. It's disappointing.
Tony Hawk's Proving Ground tries hard to innovate and expand on everything people loved about the earlier games, but really it only proves that wandering too far from a successful core formula is likely to result in a mediocre affair. Too often, it feels like the developers are wasting their time trying to refine ideas that were bad the first four times they were included in the series and by now are complete disasters. That's not to say that the game doesn't have any redeeming qualities--certainly it does--but overall this is a release that even faithful fans will likely wish to avoid. In the meantime, at least we have Tony Hawk's Project 8.
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 02, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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