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Tony Hawk Proving Ground

What a difference a year can make. Last year about this time I was musing on how I was relieved to see Tony Hawk’s line of games make a turn in the right direction, thanks mainly to the addition of the Nail the Trick mode. Between Project 8 and now we’ve also seen a new take on the skateboarding genre with the excellent Skate, so the question turns out to be which is better game? My answer to that question is, depends on what you’re looking for in a skateboarding title.

Not too dissimilar than Project 8, Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground puts you in the roll of a young up and coming skater, who you create using the slightly limited create a skater mode immediately after starting the game. That young skater is then presented with a short tutorial of the three branches of the game, a Career mode, Hardcore, or Rigger. The rigger path has you learn how to place items to solve problems, like retrieving items or crossing certain gaps. Essentially, it’s Neversoft’s way of incorporating the create a park mode within natural gameplay. And while it’s a neat thing to have, I found it painful and slightly strange to be able to edit any level with rails, kickers and various pipes. It made the thrill of finding a sweet line in a level less satisfying because you could lay one out yourself.

Hardcore is the path of the skater who cares not about salary, magazine shots or videos, but live solely to hit that massive gap. While one of the better story paths, Hardcore introduced a feature I absolutely loathe in a game of this type, that is the act of skate checking; Basically allowing you to run into people or other skaters on the street for points and ways to stretch a combo. This type of addition to the game was better suited for when the series was in “jackass” mode, not when faced with a competitor like EA’s skate.

Career is the other option which is essentially a means for you to relearn Nail the Trick, and get into magazines for completing story elements. New this time around are Nail the Grab and Nail the Manual, both of which are a great addition to the already solid NTT. They are performed in a similar manner as NTT, and serve as great ways to string together massive tricks and combos.

Some challenges within the game included a need for you to take a photo of yourself while skating. Once you hit the bubble which represents the area the camera is focused on, the game switches to its point of view. You then need to click R3 to take the photo, which shouldn’t be an issue right? Well, consider the fact you are still in total control of your skater, you’ll need to stop the trick you’re currently holding to press down the joystick. I found this to be completely unresponsive more than half of the time I needed to take a photo, so I ended up failing the challenge and needed to retry it.

Just like how the skill progression was handled in Project 8, the more you use a skill like grinding or being in an invert, the faster that skill progresses. While I really like this method of skill improvement the character was much too quick and agile when you first start the game. Immediately I was able to manual very long distances and perform some killer spins while in the air, making the improvements seem non-existent other than an number on a scale. I like it more when you really have to struggle to stay in a grind early on in the game, then as you play more and more the skill is shown in game. In addition to the basic skate skills, you earn points as you accomplish the plethora of goals scattered throughout the game, exactly like in Project 8. These addition skills are ones unlocked while progressing through the stories in the game. So once you unlock Nail the Grab you can spend points to earn more points for perfectly timed grabs, or get points when performing the Aggro Kick learned early in the game.

Featuring music from the likes of The Rolling Stones, Bloc Party and El-p, once again the series packs a fantastic soundtrack to play to. While I am disappointed in the game as a whole, I definitely am not disappointed by the soundtrack. It as well as ambient sounds and the voice work in the game is top tier, if not a bit overacted by some of the many included professional skaters in the game. Once again the game looks very nice and sharp, and I didn’t have too many concerns with how the game looked. I do remember seeing a little pop up way off in the distance, but in doing that I was reaching for a problem to report.

If you want ultra fast tricks with insanely strung together combos and massive spins and special tricks, Proving Ground is a good option. But if you want something a little closer to the feel of actually skating, the obvious choice is Skate. I personally feel that although the TH series started heading back in the right direction, having seen the alternative makes me not want to see the originator again. Activision, please – it’s time to let Neversoft put this series to rest and you might as well go out when you’ve got a decent game to rest your laurels on. While it’s not a bad game, because it is a solid entry in to the series – there’s nothing left that I feel this series can offer gamers. Some may want to rent it to compare games for themselves and others may want to buy it because they haven’t suffered through over 8 years of the game. But the gamer who’s been around the scene for longer than it’s been since the Berlin Wall came down can safely skip this title and not feel like they’d be missing out on another revolution.