Jun 5, 2013

Postplay : Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD

In 2012 developer Robomodo released Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD (THPS HD), a game that set out to celebrate the heydays of the Tony Hawk series. If you've read my preplay for this game then you'll know that I have warm memories of those early THPS games. This made me a bit anxious to start playing THPS HD. You'll find out if my fears were grounded when you read on, but one thing is for sure, my love for the source material made this game one of the hardest for me to review so far. This has resulted in a longer post than usual, please keep in mind that everything is written from the viewpoint of an avid THPS 1, 2, 3, 4 & Underground 1 fan.

Career and single run are the only two modes available when you first start the game. I went into career because that's where the crux of the game has always been in the past. While going through the skater selection, I expected to find a custom skater option but to my surprise there wasn't any. It's kind of a shame as this has always been a fun part when starting out with a new THPS game and these series are one of few where you actually get to see your avatar from all angles during gameplay.
But I suppose a custom skater isn't that crucial to the experience so I went on choosing Tony Hawk as my partner in crime. Being that his name is on the main menu I guessed he's the guy to go with.

The first map on my plate was Warehouse, the very first level of THPS1. It only took me one run to achieve enough of the goals to go on to the next level. This told me that the controls of the game are solid and that 13 year old muscle memory is still hidden somewhere in my body. I was amazed at how quickly I picked up all of my old tricks and after just one run I was already landing decent combo's. THPS HD was off to a good start. 

Speaking of unlocking, there's been a crucial change to how this works. In THPS 2 you unlocked levels by spending cash earned by completing goals and collecting dollar notes spread throughout the maps. This was a cool system because it allowed you to spend more time in your favorite levels, collecting every last dollar note, while being able to get through your least favorite maps fast as it didn't matter in which level you collected the cash.
In THPS HD however, levels are unlocked by completing a set amount of goals in the previous level. These goals do not add up so it doesn't matter if you complete 4 or 10 goals in Warehouse, you'll unlock School II and that's it. You'll earn more cash if you complete more goals of course but that's only going to buy you stats and skateboards.
Marseille has always been in my top five of THPS maps and it happens to be the last one you unlock in THPS HD. I had to complete 6 goals in Downhill Jam to unlock it, which is one of my least favorite maps of THPS 2. I don't really get why the original system had to be changed but again, this doesn't ruin the experience.

Perhaps I'm only picking these systems apart because my nostalgia is getting in the way so let's sum up things that did satisfy the thirteen year old fanboy in me.
One of my favorite things in THPS games was the way collectibles were laid out. If you were collecting the letters of SKATE, spray cans or liberty bells they were always put in place in such a way that you could get them all by following a specific line of tricks throughout the level. This was a great way to learn how to perform big combo's while traversing the map. The same thing still applies to THPS HD because all the collectibles can be found where they originally were. This means that veterans will have very little challenge with these goals but new players are still getting the same benefits as of old and that's for the best in my opinion.
A smaller touch that I really appreciated was replacing the secret tapes by secret DVD's. To me that's proof that Robomodo really loved the original games as well.

As briefly mentioned before the board shop is back as well. It isn't as elaborate as in some of the previous games but it's a nice touch and it introduces at least a minimum amount of customization. 
Another familiar screen is the stats screen where you can trade your hard earned cash to enhance your skater's abilities and of course you're also able to buy tricks and map them to whichever button combination you want. This allows you to configure the skater towards your own play style. If you're someone like me that likes to string together huge combo's using manuals and rails then you'll want to invest in your balance instead of your air time and spend money on rail tricks instead of grabs.

I also got a big hit of nostalgia from the music. I still have the THPS2 soundtrack stuck in my head and whenever I hear any of those songs, my instant reaction is calling out that it's a song from that soundtrack. This game includes a lot of those old songs but introduces some new ones as well and for the better part I enjoyed them.
The choice of maps is the most important thing for an old THPS fan of course. School 2, Marseille, Warehouse and Venice Beach shine as they have always done and it was great kickflipping TC's roof gap and ollieing the magic bum again.
Some of the choices are a bit weird. Warehouse and Hanger are both included while the latter is essentially an updated version of the first. There also are a couple of downhill maps and while I'm sure there's someone out there that loves these, I never really enjoyed those.

As I feared I'm already over 1000 words in and I barely said a thing about what's new in THPS HD.
For starters, it's HD and it shows. I like the way this game looks and the changes made to the HUD are for the better. Every now and then the environment doesn't look 100% sharp but unless you're looking for it you mostly won't notice this while you're planning your next jump.
What you will notice is that there are some physics bugs from time to time. Luckily they tend not to occur while riding but when you bail, your skater often flies off at high speeds. This happened once every few minutes but as it doesn't really affect your score I found it rather amusing.

It can't be all good though and THPS HD makes a big error in my book. There is nothing in the game that tries to increase its replay value. Every once in a while there's a hint on the loading screen that informs you that "stuff" will be unlocked once you complete every single goal in the game with every single skater. But even when ignoring the fact that "stuff" is awfully vague, this is a lazy way to get your players to grind out the career over and over again. This can only lead to a group of bored and frustrated players and unless that "stuff" is an actual pot of gold that's being dropped of in your back yard those players will be lost forever to the THPS franchise.

Another thing that made me come back to the older games over and over again was competing with my friends. There were a lot of split screen modes like tag, horse or score runs that kept the game interesting and gave you a reason to get better at it. Later on this was even enhanced when the online mode was introduced on the PS2. I remember buying an external network adapter so I could play THPU online.
In THPS HD however there's no form of multiplayer to be found, not even locally. For me this is simply unexplainable. There's only so much to be done in single player until you want to test your skills against other human players.
When you wanted to practice in the old games you would do this in single run by trying to beat your own high score. This was a great way to track your progress. It's baffling to me that even this local leaderboard isn't present. THPS HD uses Steam achievements and I would have suspected that I could see how well I was doing in relation to other players worldwide. As it turns out I can't even see if I'm doing any better than yesterday unless I write down my scores on a post-it.

This lack of multiplayer and leaderboards has resulted in me not knowing what to do after playing the game for four hours. Of course this has to do with me knowing every map by heart and unlocking all of them within an hour and a half, but this has always been the case when replaying THPS games and it never got in the way of having fun before. 
THPS HD provides some additional single player modes like hawkman and big head survival that add a bit of fun, but these won't grab you for hours on end. I ended up achievement hunting to get to my five hour mark and I must admit I had some fun with that.There are a couple of creative achievements but I can imagine that this would have only lasted me an hour more before it ran dry as well.

This has been a long post and it's still not easy for me to give my definite opinion about the game. It is by all means a well done homage to THPS and I believe Robomodo has done the franchise justice. But the lack of replay value makes this a hard sell. Fans of the series will probably have a fun night or two with this game and I believe new players will get more hours out of career mode than I did.
I'm just not sure if this is enough to justify the €11,99 it's going for on Steam though. If you have the game in your library it is certainly worth a play and I believe that, should it drop to €5 during a sale, this would be a better price for what's in this product.
The THPS series was a product of it's time and this remake gives a little taste of that for sure, but i'm left hungry for more while the game has nothing more to offer.


Peter Fourheal said...

Enjoyed the read! Looking forward to your look on Dear Esther, mine is already finished.

Post a Comment

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Powered by Blogger | Printable Coupons