Reviewed: November 25, 2007
Released: October 17, 2007
The Tony Hawk series has come a long way since the first title hit on the PS1 nearly a decade ago – levels have grown larger, mission structures have changed, tricks and chains have been added – but one thing that has remained a staple in the Hawk series, is the commitment to excellence that Activison and series-creator Neversoft command from each subsequent release. Whether a game is being produced in-house by Neversoft, ported to various consoles by the likes of third-party developers like Treyarch, or even an entirely separate build for a dying console by the likes of Vicarious Visions – the commitment to quality remains.
So, here we are at the very end of the PS2 console’s life cycle, and we find ourselves with one (presumably) final Tony Hawk offering to shoot a little life in the tired old box. As Neversoft was busy with the current generation of consoles (PS3 and Xbox 360), the PS2 version of Tony Hawk's Proving Ground was passed off to San Francisco developer Page 44 – who are not strangers to the world of extreme sports with titles like EA’s Supercross 2001 (PS1) and Freekstyle (PS2) under their belt. The result is a game that might not achieve all of the benchmarks set by the current-gen consoles, but it is a solid play for those gamers trying to eek one last bit of enjoyment out of their tired machines.
The Tony Hawk formula has been rock-solid since its inception in 1998. Over the years, we have seen a steady succession of gameplay tweaks and structure changes, but the Hawk formula has generally remained intact. And while this can be seen as a tribute to a job well done, it can just as easily be considered lack of innovation.
Many see subsequent Hawk releases as simply being expansion packs of sorts; adding a few locations and a few new moves, and cashing in. I myself made pleas within my own Hawk reviews (at a previous writing gig) asking Neversoft to either look into changing something significant, or just start dishing out low-priced level packs via CD.
That was in the THPS3 era, and the subsequent THPS4 introduced the mission-style goals and the spine transfer. I doubt it had anything to do with my review, but I know that I wasn’t the only one feeling a bit tired by the minor changes. The first THUG game brought a character-building storyline to the affair, and the second THUG, THUG 2, brought back the classic mode. American Wasteland introduced the single no-load level design, and Project 8 introduced the “Nail-The-Trick” mode.
Proving Ground was touted as being an accumulation of all the previous releases, and for the most part it is. There are a few missing elements here and there – there is no single-level design so you have to load separate levels from a central menu, and some of the cool tricks we learned in previous games are not available until we tediously re-learn them in later levels – but for the most part this is a veritable best-of collection for Hawk fans.
The game features a mission-based Story mode, as well as the fan-favorite challenge-based Classic mode. The levels meander around the east coast, hitting cities like Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia along the way.
Last year’s super-cool Nail-The-Trick slow-mo analog stick manipulation returns, and it seems like Page 44 has tuned the mechanics to make it a bit easier to land the tricks you create. This year sees a new twist on the Nail-The formula, with Nail-The-Grab – which takes the kickflip movements of Nail-the-Trick and applies them to mid-air grabs.
An entirely new addition comes in the form of the Aggro Kick which – like the transfers and reverts before it – gives players yet another option for chaining together massive combos and racking up incredible score multipliers. The difference being that the Aggro Kick is the first chain move to actually build speed between tricks, and can actually result in higher airs than we saw in the previous games (we’re talking about three or four stories worth) – it’s a bit larger than life, but we are used to our Tony Hawk games being a bit unrealistic.
Proving Ground’s biggest addition is the ability to build your own skate park using the cash you have picked up in the story mode. It is definitely a cool way to drive the story, and it is fun to develop your very own Shangri-la of skating – but Hawk vets might not be so impressed with the gameplay mechanic after already having used the currency-free level editors packed in the past five iterations.
Other than that, Proving Ground is Tony Hawk, pure and simple, and you either love it or you don’t.
Proving Ground looks absolutely phenomenal on the PS2. In fact, even after playing months’ worth of current-gen games on a large-screen HDTV – I did not have any issue going back to the old PS2 and my old SDTV system for this review.
The visuals are nicely filtered to give the game a nice softened appearance, and to eliminate the PS2’s inherent issues with jaggies. The animations are solid, and the game incorporates a few visual periphery tricks to eliminate the distracting onscreen balance meters from the previous games.
The levels are relatively large, and feature a ton of neat textures and pattern overlays to give the different surfaces a unique appearance. I’ve always been amazed at the level of detail put into the plywood knotting and grain structure in the Hawk games, and Proving Ground is no slouch at making plywood look like plywood.
Tony Hawk games have always been tops on sound quality, and Proving Ground does not disappoint. From the rockin’ licensed soundtrack to the awesome sound effects, Proving Ground nails the Hawk audio formula 100%.
The one effect that the Hawk games nail time and time again is the accurate sounds of the polyurethane wheels on the different surfaces, and no surprise Proving Ground makes the grade. There is never a question when transferring from brick to concrete, it sounds right. Even transferring between streets (continuous concrete) and sidewalks (regularly spaced seams) simply by the accuracy of the sound effects. My favorite, the plywood, comes across with an excellent soft roll that will make all skaters (former or current) smile.
Compared to the dwindling assortment of PS2 releases for the holiday, you are not going to find a better bang for your buck than with Proving Ground. Between the Story and Classic modes there are hours’ worth of single player gaming, and the local Multiplayer mode offers enough of the time-tested multiplayer games to keep a pair of buddies tagging for weeks.
Sadly, the game doesn’t offer any online play, so multiplayer games are stuck on split-screen.
The PS2’s days are numbered, and for those gamers who still haven’t made the leap to the current generation of consoles, there is not going to be much to choose from this holiday season. Thankfully, Proving Ground offers hours of solid gameplay and a proven level of quality.
So parents, if you told your kid no to a new console, or cannot get your hands on one of them newfangled Wii thingies, pick up Tony Hawk Proving Ground and get yourself some props.