Tony Hawk Proving Ground PS3 Review

Proving Ground is the ninth console Hawk game (portable versions aside) and the second developed especially for this current generation of machines, although versions of both this and the last title, Project 8, are available on the PS2. It’s once again a ‘clean-slate’ Hawk game, meaning you require no knowledge or skills from earlier games, although obviously you’ll be at an advantage if you’re familiar with recent additions such as Nail the Trick, upon which Proving Ground builds on massively. The extra twelve months on from Project 8 has given the developers time to refine the graphics (which are slightly simpler but at the benefit of a much more solid frame rate) and expand on the controls somewhat, as well as delivering a great storyline and incorporating an online mode for the first time on PS3…

hawkThis time around your create-a-skater takes centre stage as a newcomer to the east coast of America, with Philly, Baltimore and Washington DC as your proverbial oyster. Amongst the grey streets of the city areas are the usual parks, monuments and designated skate areas, with a perfectly re-created FDR (as previously seen in THPS 2) as a great example of why we all long for a skate-park only compendium of previous Tony Hawk classic levels some day. Put simply, the roads and pavements are only ever a means of getting from one skate spot to the next and here they lack the character of the smaller, more interesting pathways from Project 8, but they’re still filled with grindable edges, pipes and tramlines so massive tri-city combos are indeed possible: there are no load screens once you’re in the map as the whole thing streams seamlessly.

Proving Ground is a marked departure from the usual story mode in Neversoft’s leading series, and is split cleverly into three main disciplines: career skating, hardcore skating and rigging. Alongside the return of marked ‘street’ challenges, like long distance grinds and manuals is a branching, non-linear tale of choices, characters and brass knuckles, and the return of everyone’s least favourite skater Eric, complete with his Fast and Furious green modder car. You are free to follow the path of a career skater and aim for the big time or keep it real and skate for yourself as a hardcore skater, all the time developing your skills as a rigger with the ability to add to the environment and move key sections of the city around as you wish.

hawkEach branch has several storylines within, and each of these is split into a series of smaller sections, completion of which can add to your skill set, increase your standing with that particular fraternity and reward you with cold hard cash, new clothing and additional sections for your own custom Skate Lounge, this year’s create-a-park, which we’ll come to soon. Whichever path you choose is interchangeable with the rest, indeed, for 100% completion you’ll need to master not all three main stories but also obtain ‘sick’ ranking in each street challenge too – every task in the game has three skill levels and it’s advisable to go back and re-attempt earlier missions with an enhanced trick set to help you get the higher ranks if you settled for an ‘amateur’ rank the first time around, doing so brings more rewards, albeit usually cash.

So, as you complete key segments of the story, more areas open up and before long you’ll have free run of the three cities in the game, although smaller sections off the main route will remain locked until later in the game. Thankfully the best area, the Franklin De Roosevelt skate park is revealed early in the hardcore strand of the game, although you’ll have to deal with a group of thugs who have taken over the spot before getting the place to yourself. It’s here that Proving Ground starts to get a little messy: the sheer speed at which the game throws new moves and concepts at you. Firstly, Nail a Trick is expanded to Nail a Grab (via the trigger) and Nail a Manual, with links, fingerflips, transitions and combos all then available. Then the aggro kick appears, which lets you gain a boost of speed if timed right, but also means that the same can do apply to manuals if you’re near a wall or moving vehicle. Thirdly, there’s no special bar, nollies have moved and you can no longer manually push off the ground to control your speed. All this can prove problematic to seasoned fans, sure, but I dread to think what newcomers to the game will do with this steady avalanche of buttons.

The Skate Lounge is one of the best new features, however – initially a massive warehouse filled with skateable (but best sold early on for cash) objects like girders and a few quarter pipes that you can edit to your heart’s content to basically create the perfect skater paradise. You can’t control the height of the ground, and it’s lacking most of the ‘skate-park’ type tools from earlier create-a-parks but there’s still loads of flexibility and some interesting new parts, and the Skate Lounge is available online too so you can invite friends around to test out your creations, or hang out near your bar and chat, whilst watching one of the videos you have bought using the in-game cash. Different themes are available too, for a price, which re-skin the lounge to your tastes if you don’t like bare walls and metal fences.

hawkAs stated, this year also brings online play for the PlayStation 3, with various game modes, although when we attempted to test these out the game was pretty empty of gamers, presumably all building up their skater on the single player mode. Cleverly though the game records leaderboards for pretty much everything in the game, so there’s plenty of competition without actually having direct face-to-face interaction if you prefer – everything from the longest grind to best combo score is in there, as are the scores for each and every street challenge in the story.

So, with a far better framerate than last year’s Hawk game (and an infinitely superior one to EA’s Skate) the action is as fast as ever (and the aggro kick speeds things up further) but it’s a solid experience with the smart story mode, online leaderboards and massive customisation of both your avatar and the Skate Lounge keeping interest up as long as you want it to Proving Ground is great value for money. Highly recommended to fans of the series, and although we can’t think why there would be gamers that have never picked up a Tony Hawk game we would suggest going through a few earlier games in the series before trying this one for maximum enjoyment – try THPS 1, THPS 2, THPS 4, THUG and Project 8 if you’re in a rush. Hopefully in the future Neversoft will produce a ‘best-of’ title, with our favourite spots from the last 9 years rather than continuing down this open world path, but we’ve still got our copy of THPS 2x handy so we can always break out Skate Street and Skater Heaven for a bit of retro goodness. For everyone else, Proving Ground is great fun.