Like most gamers I never enjoyed sports. It wasn’t so much the physicality of it as much as having to work in a team. This is probably why I turned to skateboarding in my youth. Not only did I get my parents off my back by actually spending time outside, I could also be endlessly creative and try new tricks and combos every day.
As can be expected, I had my fair share of injuries which is ultimately why I stopped skating in my late teens. However, thanks to Mr. Tony Hawk, whenever I got hurt or tired, I could head back inside, switch on my trusty PS1 and continue skating. Not only did Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (THPS) allow me to skate without injury, I could also land tricks I could never do in real life. Admittedly, I wasn’t the greatest skater and the best tricks I could manage were varial kickflips, fakie 360 shovit’s and backside boardslides. But with a controller, I could easily perform a 360 flip, bluntslide, kickflip out, to nose manual up a quarter pipe into a heelflip, 540 Japan Air. And that was when I was still warming up.
The THPS series was great fun, especially for an avid skateboarder like myself, despite being incredibly unrealistic and frankly, not all that good. It was the second installment in the series that was known by most to be the best due to the fantastic soundtracks and memorable skate parks. Sure, the graphics improved and more content became available in later games but it was THPS2 that came out on top for most. Along came THPS HD, essentially a “greatest hits” version of those that came before and thankfully it contained much of the legendary content from THPS2.
In this game, for those who are unfamiliar with THPS, you pick your favorite skateboarder and skate various parks, both real and imaginary, while trying to complete a laundry list of tasks. Every park has a few high scores to reach, a secret tape/DVD to find and the letters S-K-A-T-E scattered around to collect. Other tasks mostly included collecting various other items and performing certain tricks on specific obstacles.
Take away the skateboard element and you essentially had a clumsy person running around in search of mundane objects while falling over his own feet every few seconds. But having a multi-ply board with urethane wheels underneath your feet meant every single obstacle was an opportunity to try a new trick, and that’s what made these games so much fun.
You didn’t need 100% completion of a level to progress.Once you have enough points the next level will be unlocked and when you finish the final one you’re treated to a series of video clips featuring the skater you played with. If you complete all tasks in every level however, you also unlock a cheat which could make your next campaign either easier or just more entertaining. It comes as no surprise then that I spent countless hours with the older THPS games exploring the various levels to complete all the tasks with all the skaters in the roster.
HOW DOES HD COMPARE
Activision soon realized that in order to keep audiences captivated they’ll have to up the ante. This led to the birth of more the diverse games in the series, like THPS Underground. This period also saw the introduction of Bam Margera, who you might remember from the T.V. series, Jackass. His connection to Jackass and influence in the game design was made plain as the tasks for each level became increasingly more ridiculous. While this may have been more entertaining for some, most fans, myself included, felt that things just became way too silly and the developers were losing the game’s essence. Luckily THPS HD returned to the roots of the series. It still featured awesomely unrealistic skateboarding but luckily you don’t have to do backflips while riding a lawnmower.
In THPS HD you’ll find some of the most beloved skate parks from the earlier games such as The Hanger, Venice Beach, Marseille and of course the legendary Schoolyard. The list of available skaters is rather disappointing though. Some of the original cast made their way back including Eric Koston, Andrew Reynolds, Rodney Mullen and the Birdman himself. The newcomers include Tony Hawk’s son, Riley Hawk, Nyjah Huston, Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins Pastrana and a few others. However, I was disappointed that so many were missing from the list. I’ll never again get to shred a concrete bowl with Mike Vallely, or do sick vert runs with Bucky Lasek and Bob Burnquist. They haven’t even bothered adding the skater creator. It’s sad really.
One plus point to THPS HD is the additional game modes such as Hawk Man and Big Head Survival. The former lays out a number of tokens across the various levels which you need to collect before time runs out. The catch is that you only collect a token if you’re performing a trick when passing over it. Big Head Survival sees your head inflate like a balloon and would deflate every time you land a trick. The longer you play the faster your head grows and so also requires harder tricks to keep the size down. The game ends once your head bursts although this is not as gory as you might think. There’s also the usual single session and free play modes but oddly no option for multiplayer.
A feature that I have mixed feelings about is a level layout that includes the location of all the goal items. In the older games I had to play many hours to find these locations myself and now they’re being made freely available. Sure it removes some of the frustration but also steals some valuable bonding time from me and my character.
As the name suggests, the graphics have been improved. However, don’t read too much into the HD part of it because I’ve seen indy games that look better. Sure it's an improvement over THPS2 but honestly, Activision has no excuse for still offering such awfully pixelated characters. You can't even change any of the graphics settings apart from the resolution.
The soundtracks then need to be the saving grace here. Fortunately, they've included some of the classics including my absolute favorite from this game series, Worlds Collide by Powerman 5000. Unfortunately, Activision has a bit of a reputation of not bothering too much with acquiring proper licensing and it’s because of issues with the music licenses that the game was recently removed from Steam. I suspect licensing is also the reason for the scarcely populated skater list, but this is just speculation.
Despite this being a remake of a much older game, the controls were unresponsive and buggy. Long time players will agree that in order to complete certain tasks you need to have your maneuver timing down to a tee, and THPS HD simply doesn’t allow that. I frequently had to retry basic tasks several times because my character only responded a full second after the buttons were pressed. Since this game is all about chaining your tricks with grinds and manuals, this made it difficult to hit some of those high scores, despite the scoring system seeming to have been made easier.
I also had mixed results in how my commands were followed. Aim for a noseslide and a tailslide would be performed, or a nosegrind would turn into a 50-50. It might be minor differences but it was annoying all the same.
Another major downside to THPS HD is that you are not able to remap your keys. Luckily I had a gamepad available which I could remap from my Steam profile but I’ve played THPS using a keyboard before and it only works when you’re absolutely comfortable with the layout so this will be a big issue for some.
Like its predecessors, THPS HD isn’t what I would consider a good game by any measure. The graphics are way below what the name promises, the game options are incredibly limited, half the crew is missing, the controls are buggy and they didn’t even include any multiplayer modes. Activision’s lack of effort here is so obvious it feels like you’re getting a big corporate middle finger along with your download.
Even so, I try to look at this game as I would a mindless action movie like the Expendables or Indiana Jones. I know the story isn’t going to wow me and the acting will be sub par at best but it still provides a good measure of entertainment as long as I know what to expect. THPS HD does the same. If you open it up knowing that it won’t break any records, you’ll be able to enjoy it for what it is, a whiff of nostalgia and some mindless fun.
Unfortunately, after only a few hours of play, I’m already over this game and had I not purchased it at an 80% discount I would probably be hounding Steam for a refund. What Activision did here is nothing short of criminal. They’ve taken a classic game, adored by so many around the world and pushed it out with the bare minimum of content just so they can make a quick buck, then they had the audacity to only make certain skaters available with DLC's. Despite their small laundry list of to-do's with this game, they still failed since licensing issues has now resulted in the game’s removal from Steam.
Now, where did I put that old THPS 2 disk?