I’m a huge fan of early THPS games. I was enough of a fan to stick with the series long after it started to get pretty terrible. Remembering the amount of time I spent playing, and hating, games like Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 and Tony Hawk’s Project 8 reminds me how heartbreaking the series’ decline was for me, so it’s only natural that I was excited to see that Activision were making a new game that brought back what made the old ones so great. The fact that this is a repackaging of old levels in Unreal Engine 3 might dampen that excitement somewhat, but fuck it, it’s another excuse to play School II again. I was excited, and I understand many others were too, but let’s try and see if this really worth purchasing.
Let’s get this out of the way early on; Early Tony Hawk’s is great. A fast-paced arcade experience that rewards skill and practice, and one that is still relevant in a post-Skate world. If you have no way to play the original releases of THPS1 and 2, and you’re interested in this, you should go ahead and pick it up. Don’t bother reading the rest of this if this applies to you.
The following section of this review is a fairly dry list of everything that’s in the game, with details that will only interest hardcore fans of the series. I wouldn’t normally include this kind of thing in a review, but these are things I would have liked to have known before I bought the game, and it’s difficult to find this information elsewhere. There’s no critical analysis in this section. Please skip it if you’re not interested, or if you want some surprises left in the game.
BORING DETAILS BEGIN
Here’s the full level list:
School II (THPS2)
The Hanger (THPS2)
Venice Beach (THPS2)
Downhill Jam (THPS1)
The level models all stay faithful to their original geometry. There’s proper 3D backgrounds in each of them, so they don’t look like they’re floating about in space any more. The Hanger features the control room starting point that was added in THPS2X. That’s the only difference in terms of the shape of the levels. There are no hidden levels.
There are new and old gameplay modes. Here’s another list:
- Career (Single player only): Play each level and complete 10 goals from the original games on each. (I think Marseille features goals from the GBA version of THPS2 instead of the competition from the home version)
- Single Session (Single player only): Play any level for 2 minutes to attempt to beat your high score. Leaderboards are supported, so you can try to beat your friends’ scores, or the best THPS players in the world.
- Free Skate (Single player or online): Play a level with no time limit. Scores are rest after each combo is finished.
- Hawkman (Single player only): Attempt to combo through a series of dots within a time limit. Dots of different colours require different kinds of moves to be collected.
- Big Head Survival (Single player or online): Your character’s head gradually expands throughout your run. It can be deflated by landing high-scoring moves and combos. If you don’t land enough moves in time, your head will explode. You have to survive for as long as possible.
- Projectives (Single player): A series of difficult goals for each level. This is a hidden mode that is only unlocked when all of the goals in Career mode has been collected.
- Trick Attack (Online only): A competitive variation of Single Session, where you compete to get the highest score in 2 minutes.
- Graffiti (Online only): Tag as many objects in a level as possible by using them to land a combo. Steal other players’ tagged objects by landing a higher scoring combo than them.
Gameplay is based around THPS2. New additions to basic gameplay include a map that displays the positions of each goal item and gap, a dedicated quick restart button, and new ragdoll physics for wipeouts. Skateboarding physics are faithful to THPS2. There are no reverts, spine transfers, walking or any other major gameplay addition from after THPS2.
BORING DETAILS END
That was a bit stuffy, sorry. Let’s talk about this more critically now. And this is something that’s going to get really nitpicky. I wouldn’t, but this is something that’s being advertised as superior alternative to THPS1 and 2, so I’ve got to point out every reason that’s wrong.
This isn’t as good a pack of levels as either THPS1 or TPS2 were. Picking only 7 levels from the games was always going to end up with some controversial choices, but they really could have done better. I thought there were no downhill levels in the Tony Hawk’s sequels because they were generally considered quite sub-par compared to the less linear levels. Why are there two here? Why do they make up most of the THPS1 selections? Did they have to include both the Hanger and the Warehouse? They’re pretty much the same level, and they’re both really small too. There are plenty of beloved and more varied levels omitted so these could be included, though the cynic in me suspects this may have been a deliberate decision to make future DLC packs look more tempting.
Many of THPS2’s most appealing features are gone. There’s no Create-A-Park or Create-A-Skater (though avatars are supported on the Xbox 360 version of the game), and no local multiplayer. Sensible additions to the game from following THPS games are missing too, such as the ability to remove songs from the game’s tracklist, or skip the song that’s currently playing.
This is Robomodo’s first traditional THPS game, and they’ve done a good job at making it play like one, though basing so much of it on old designs makes that feat less impressive. They’re not as good as Neversoft were though, and there’s a load of new collision glitches for you to discover here. Downhill Jam is particularly glitchy, with hard landings sending you through the floor quite often. Hopefully, that’ll get patched out soon.
There’s no real sense of logic to the locations that the game respawns you at after a fall either. Sometimes you’re respawned where you landed, sometimes you’re sent to where you started your jump, sometimes to the beginning of the level, and sometimes inside an object, or outside the map in a traditionally inaccessible area. It’s something that can get really frustrating when you’re trying to access hidden locations that require a bit of a trek to get to. Trying to collect the Hidden DVD (yes, they’ve updated the tapes) in, the already glitchy, Downhill Jam was a particular lowpoint for the game, with the game’s code constantly throwing collision glitches at me to prevent me from doing something I could have done after only a couple of attempts if a more competent developer had worked on it.
Progression through the levels seems to miss the point of what had been nicely thought out in the original games. Back there, a new level would be unlocked once you had completed enough goals on the currently unlocked levels. You could avoid goals that you were struggling with and come back to them when you and your character were a bit better. Now, you unlock a new level when you’ve completed enough goals on the previous one. This means your choices are unnecessarily limited. Also, the number of required goals to unlock each level increases as the game goes on, making the learning curve quite unforgiving.
There’s other signs of roughness in the game, including the apeshit crazy ragdoll falling physics, and ugly uses of lighting to bring a nasty new look to clean old levels (sorry, I really, really hate Downhill Jam in this game). They’re not enough to break the game though.
This is a bowlful of bits of classic game, and it (generally) looks really nice. And it’s pretty cheap. And you can download it and access it whenever. People who have played the old levels to death will get a real kick out of having new things to do on them, and to have something to show for all the time they’d previously wasted on them. I was in the top 100 on the global leaderboards on School II last night. It felt amazing.
Ideally, this will become the basis for a big downloadable THPS experience, with more classic levels offered as optional DLC. At the moment, there’s a great number of THPS1&2 ports and rereleases that are superior to this, but Activision are pretty keen on DLC, and Robomodo have built a good core to stick it all onto, so this could change. Robomodo’s success with THPS HD is also an encouraging sign for the series’ future. Maybe we’ll get some great new, original THPS games in the future?
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD isn’t something that you should replace your old copies of THPS1&2 with, but if you loved those games, you’ll get plenty out of this. If you weren’t so passionate about them, the inferiority probably won’t strike you as much of an issue.