Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater made me think Goldfinger’s Superman only lasted two minutes. About a decade later, when I heard the record on the radio in its entirety, it continued well past the bit where it would have faded out on the game, and was far more jarring than it should have been. Likewise, firmly entrenched memories tricked me into thinking I knew which song would be played next – such was the extent that I played Activision’s sublime skateboarding title.
I’ve been a massive fan ever since: as the series matured in 2 and then entered the next generation of consoles with 3, and beyond as the games tried to be more story-based and lost a little bit of direction. I’ve always preferred the Hawk series to any of its rivals, and although I think the lineage has misfired considerably of late, right up to and including Project 8 there have been some brilliant examples of level design and a gradual trickle of new tricks.
It’s this notion – that the old school levels were the best – that binds this new title. The name gives it away, or at least partly – it’s a remix of seven levels from the first two games, with identical architecture and furniture but improved textures, models and visual effects. Included are Warehouse, Mall and Downhill Jam from THPS and Hangar, School II, Venice Beach and Marseille from the second game – seven levels in total, from a much larger pool.
Of course, revisiting old levels is hardly unique to THPS HD – it’s been something of an habitual checkbox since the series moved to the PlayStation 2 era as bonus levels at the end, and I’ve lost count how many times I’ve seen Warehouse redone and repainted. I’ve never been a big fan of the downhill courses, too – Mall is reasonable fun but the attraction of Downhill Jam has escaped me ever since I first played it back in 2000.[drop]Thankfully the courses pulled from THPS 2 are much better. Hanger’s riffs on Warehouse are obvious but it’s much tighter and dynamic; School II is a fantastically open area with loads of space for grinds and manuals and lots of secrets (that Carlsbad area remains a treat); Venice Beach is still a shining example of how to take a real life location and transform it into something endlessly skateable and the night time Marseille is a pool fan’s dream come true.
All these levels are presented exactly as they were when they were first issued, more or less. That means that every fence, ledge and ramp is precisely where it was over a decade ago, the objectives are largely the same and where there are tweaks (such as a few minor additions here and there) they’re out of the way and won’t disrupt any muscle memory. Naturally they’ve been given a fresh coat of paint (and look lovely), but that’s purely cosmetic.
Rather, what you have are seven levels lovingly retouched but not altered. Again, we’ve had the opportunity to play these same levels remixed before (and at twice the frame rate that this HD version offers, too, in some cases) but they’ve never looked as good as they do now – pin sharp, richer models, better lighting – and the animation has been notched up a little too on the skaters themselves, although bail animations are still ridiculously canned.
Indeed, it takes a good hour or so for you to adapt to how the games used to feel. This isn’t a perfect 1:1 recreation of the original games’ physics but it’s close enough, and the initially slow speed and sluggish response takes a little time to get used to. A few stat points later and Hawk and friends will be darting around at full speed but coming from a more recent game like Underground, the difference is huge. Persevere, of course, and it’s all good.
The new engine (which is actually Unreal, complete with trademark texture loading issues) offers up unlimited draw distances and proper shadows but still lets players wallride, ollie and then grind most vertical surfaces. The mechanics remaining the same was critical, and I think Robomodo have just about pulled it off, but it’s going to be interesting to see how the planned DLC (with levels from Pro Skater 3) will adjust in terms of handling, update speed and tricks.[drop2]Frustratingly, the revert trick isn’t allowed in the core level set, despite the manual working just fine in the levels from the first game. And whilst I appreciate that this is meant to replicate the original experience, some habits die hard and you can’t help feeling that the movelists are basic for the sake of it – double tapping face buttons to transition grinds and manuals does nothing, you can’t get off your board, you can’t wallplant… You get the idea.
Likewise, although an unlock down the line mixes things up a little bit and adds a fair chunk of difficulty, a lot of the objectives listed in the Career mode are taken wholesale from the Neversoft titles. Collecting S K A T E, locating secret tapes (now DVDs), ollieing the bum – they’re all here, but they’re all ad verbatim, as if this compilation is intended for newcomers to the series rather than seasoned pros who’ll get through the game in a couple of hours.
Other modes are on offer for the solo player though – there’s a cute survival mode which sees you doing tricks to keep the size of your head down (and prevent a confetti explosion) and an interesting Pac-man like set of trials in which you need to collect all the coloured balls in pre-set time limits. There’s no local multiplayer (and thus no HORSE, or split-screen) but there is online play which also includes the chilled out Free Skate with up to four friends.
Graffiti and Score Attack and a variation or two make up the rest of the multiplayer options. The lobbies were empty at the time of testing, but all the levels were open from the start unlike the single player, which requires you to make progress through Career Mode to unlock each new area.
Otherwise, there’s little else to comment on. Really, this is probably exactly what you expected this to be: a recreation of the old school levels dressed up in a shiny new coat of paint, and with that in mind this can’t be anything other than a success. On some level I’m just a tiny bit disappointed by the lack of content, but I’m also hugely glad that I’ve now got some brilliant levels to skate around in happily for days and weeks.
- Vastly improved graphics
- Great music, featuring some classic Hawk tracks and some new songs
- Lots of fun unlockables and cheats
- Little challenge for the better players
- No offline multiplayer
- Some of the tricks from later games could have been carried over
- Slightly ugly UI
THPS HD’s beauty lies in its level choices. Seven isn’t a massive amount, and some others could have easily made the cut in place of the weaker ones (where’s Skate Street, Skater Heaven or Philadelphia?) but the ones here present a fair mix of diversity and scope, and the killer duo of School II and Venice Beach are especially welcome. It is cut-down in terms of features though despite the online – there’s no create-a-park either – but what there is is great.
Of course, the people that’ll get the most out of this will be those that, like me, adored the games in the first place and are quite happy to start building a gradual collection as hopefully Activision continue to issue more level packs. If they also bring in the moves from later games and retrospectively let us experiment with the older levels in the same way they’ve done in the past, I’ll be even happier. For a tenner, though, this is well worth the money.
THPS HD is out now for Xbox 360. A date for the PS3 version is yet to be announced, but it’s likely to be mid-August.