The music that starts up alongside Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is randomised, but when it falls on a track from the original you can’t help but wonder why the game you’re about to play isn’t sheer perfection. Activision’s attempt to reboot the first two games wasn’t without merit (and garnered a 7/10 in our review) but looking back it’s clear that there were more than a few issues with the way certain elements were addressed.
The physics, for one, felt light, and the frame rate, locked at 30, was a considerable step backwards from almost every Hawk game released from the PS2 onwards. And whilst there were some glimmers of brilliance – some of the revisited levels have never looked better, for example – the game overall actually ended up being a little bit of a disappointment for an old hand like myself.
Airport looks nice and fresh, but what was once a haven for flatland and grinds is now pretty much just the latter.
You see, Pro Skater 3 wasn’t just about the revert, although that move has been integrated nicely into the rest of Pro Skater HD (barring some verts on Marseille, which simply don’t register your trigger prompts) – rather it was about the introduction of flatland tricks, extensions from the basic manual that boosted your combos by enabling players to cover street parts of the courses with an improved roster of chainable moves. These were refined in Pro Skater 4, but in 3 – as long as you had a ‘special’ manual to start from, you could do quite a few freestyle moves.
As far as I can see, they’ve not been covered in this DLC. The revert is handy, sure, but it’s not the only thing that should have been focused on, and the move set doesn’t feel like it’s been given as much attention as it could have.
It was also about the shift to 60 frames per second, something that’s also missing. It was too much to ask that the engine used for the rest of the game would suddenly double in refresh rate, but playing these levels at half the rate they were originally is jarring and offputting. Yes, it’s the Unreal engine and a limitation of it on consoles, but the truth remains that these three new areas – Canada, Airport and LA play better on the previous generation of machines.
They do, mostly, look better here though. Canada’s now engulfed in a blinding bleached white sun, icy streams and pin sharp textures; the Airport masked in gloriously rich blues and greens and LA, one of my personal favourite courses for those massive combos, looks chunkier than ever and much cleaner overall. There are sections that look worse though – the reflective effect in the flooring on Airport looks cheap and parts of LA are rather barren – and the geometry is largely identical, and thus somewhat angular in places. The three additions are visually stronger overall, but not without issues.
They’re also probably not the best that could have been selected – without flatland tricks LA’s more open structure is limited unless you stick to the tried and tested lines, and judging the distances in Canada’s wooden, tree-based section is tricky with the physics that remain far too floaty. Robomodo’s stoic determination to just feed in the new levels and not tweak the physics is frustrating, because jumps in Pro Skater 3 should be much heavier and shorter than they are.
Canada still plays brilliantly, with plenty of nice areas and some killer lines to find. Muscle memory takes over straight away.
After downloading the 200MB update and testing out the new courses I walked away slightly deflated: I can forgive the frame rate because that’s simply not going to bend (and the omission of the two guys in LA arguing about “frame rate or poly-count” from the PS2 version made me smile) but it wouldn’t have been hard to build in the updated trick set and tweak the physics – that’s simply frustrating.
There’s still no option to have the trigger do a single 180, and there’s still no option to manually kick, two things that should have been in there on the original release. Niggles that need fixing before the developers and the publishers expand the game any further – if they’re now looking at Pro Skater 4 for level ideas, San Francisco and Kona would be my personal picks, but I’m dreading thinking how they’re going to play with these tired dynamics.
In short: yes, the levels are welcome and they mostly look great, but this feels like it needed a few more tweaks before it was ready – despite the delayed launch. Is it worth £4, which equates to just over a quid a level (I’m ignoring the extra characters you get)? Probably, just about, as long as you know in advance that new levels and a few token gestures in the form of new characters is really all you’re getting for your money.