Reviewed: October 17, 2007
Released: October 17, 2007
Tony Hawk has finally arrived for next-gen consoles…no really. This time it’s true. While Project 8 allowed the guys at Neversoft to get their feet wet with next-gen tech, actual gameplay and design didn’t really dive into the new and unexplored territories we have come to expect with the Tony Hawk franchise. Now, after more than a year in development, Neversoft has taken their amazing next-gen engine and infused it with an open-ended game design that is unmatched in scope and scale by anything in the skateboarding genre, or any other genre for that matter.
Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground not only pushes the boundaries of game design, it will test the mettle of even the most diehard of Hawk followers. This year the game offers you three unique career modes you can explore, either separately or simultaneously as well as three massive cities, each the size of Project 8.
This latest Tony Hawk game is almost more of a lifestyle simulation than a skating sim, and it all starts when you dive into the incredibly in-depth Create-a-Skater. It is definitely an ambitious project that attempts to combine aspects of THUG, Project 8, and even the RPG character stat building and open-world story elements of a game like Oblivion.
Unlock the unique features of three distinct classes of skaters; Hardcore, Rigger, and Street as you explore the largest game world ever created for a Tony Hawk game. Combining the best (and most popular) elements and landmarks of Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., you will have unprecedented freedom in creating your own style of skating as well as building grid-free skate parks and stunt tracks for amazing trick lines.
As always, expect a lot of goals covering all aspects of skating. These are not only tied into specific locations and careers, but you can expect to meet up with numerous real-world pro skateboarders who will provide valuable instruction and insight in what should prove to be one of the richest cinematic Tony Hawk experiences to date.
After you have created your skater you’ll find yourself in the slums of Philly. You can skate around and get a feel for the basic controls like ollies, grabs, flips, and grinds, but all of the advanced (and new) stuff like Nail the Trick and Agro Kick is locked into the story mode. The city is populated with a large variety of citizens as well as a few key characters that glow with an aura specific to their discipline. Just skate up and talk to one of these skaters to get a brief introduction and tutorial into one the three career paths.
Once you have talk to these three characters you’ll hook up with Tony Hawk for a final lesson that covers non-specific career goals like photo and video shoots as well as all those environmental challenges like grinds, manuals, wall plants, and huge trick lines. Much like Project 8, these goals are broken down into Am, Pro, and Sick, but this year the Pro goals are the equivalent of Project 8’s Sick and the new Sick is…well…impossible.
Seriously, the first grind challenge requires you to skate around an entire city block (with several gaps) in one continuous grind. Then you have a trick line challenge where you have to grind down into a subway station, manual to the spiral staircase, then grind the railing back to the top, then manual to a group of concrete verts to keep the line going. You only have to trick off 5 objects to get Am, 9 for Pro, but if you want the Sick goal you have to trick off all 9 and earn a cool 1.5 million points.
And don’t even get me started on the race challenges in each area. The first race in the slums took me 145 minutes to finish. Thankfully, by the time I finally hit the final checkpoint I was so good at the rest of the race I was able to get the Pro goal, but just imagine spending more than two hours on a race that lasts less than a minute. I’m not sure if that speaks more to my determination as a gamer or the fact that Neversoft has created a game compelling enough to keep me trying for that long.
If you loved the Nail the Trick in Project 8 then get ready for 8 new mechanics like Nail the Grab, Nail the Manual, and the incredible Agro Kick that allows you to achieve incredible air using an active-reload system much like that in Gears of War. This rhythmic acceleration system is key to accessing the high lines (like power lines), as well as catching the ultimate air to rack up the highest points possible. You’ll even learn to agro off of cars and walls enabling you to maintain your momentum for seemingly endless manuals.
One thing that really struck me was just how instructional Proving Grounds turned out to be, not so much for my personal life, but more so in teaching me how to play the game. Normally, game tutorials are over 10-20 minutes into a game but there is so much to learn and do in this latest Tony Hawk installment that you’ll find yourself getting instructions and tutorial videos, even after a few days of gaming. Each new city, or even sections of the city offers up new trick opportunities, and there are numerous pro skaters hanging around willing to teach you the ropes. Heck, one will even come and stay at your crib.
Also new to Proving Ground are the photo and video features that allow you to snap pictures and record live video of your ongoing gameplay. Sometimes the pictures are part of a challenge, perhaps a magazine shoot where you need to perform a certain stunt at a certain location, maybe even wearing a certain clothing sponsor’s gear. Then you have video shoots. These can also be part of the challenge system or you can just freely record your gameplay then go into the full-function video editor where you can trim, combine, and edit together your own custom demo reel.
There are dozens of video options, filters, fades, borders, etc. that you can purchase to tweak your video before submitting for judging. This system is so incredibly detailed that your videos can even be edited to synch with the beats on the chosen soundtrack, a factor taken into consideration during judging.
Another new feature for Proving Grounds include your own personal Skate Lounge. This borrows on the concepts of the Create-a-Park from previous games then takes it to the Nth degree by giving you access to more than 200 items you can purchase and arrange in your warehouse-style crib. Your lounge also becomes your trophy room, as you will unlock career-specific items during gameplay that you can display in your crib.
You can further customize your lounge by adding a stereo to play your favorite music from the soundtrack as well as a wide assortment of TV’s (one that even takes up the entire wall) that will show off your favorite replay videos from the game. And when you need an ego boost you can invite up to eight friends into your lounge and challenge them to various trick lines around the crib or just chat about all your accomplishments and trophies.
But online goes far beyond the walls of your skate lounge. You can now take part in one of the most requested modes of all times – Online HORSE, as well as Nail-the-Trick Spots, and the new Rigger menu allows players unprecedented freedom in configuring and customizing their own personal online challenges. You will also have competitive leaderboards so you can stack up your scores against the best skaters in the world.
And for all you old-school veterans of THUG, you’ll be thrilled to know that you can relive those golden days of Tony Hawk by finding and playing various arcade machines scattered about the cities. Grab your board and play as your favorite pro skater in the famous Classic and High Score Free Skate modes and checkout the new and totally addicting Hawkman mode.
But we all know that you can pack a DVD with as much content and features as will fit, but if the game isn’t playable it isn’t worth your time or money. Thankfully, Neversoft didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken, so we get all the same intuitive and precise controls we’ve come to learn and love for more than a decade. Obviously, there are new tricks and game mechanics to learn, but these are introduced gradually, then slowly expanded upon through increasingly difficult challenges. The agro kick will become such an integral part of the gameplay that you’ll wonder how you ever played a Tony Hawk game without it and “checking” pedestrians could become your favorite pastime in the game.
The SIXAXIS controller felt slightly more intuive (or at least familiar) in my hands, but the DualShock has always been the standard when it comes to Tony Hawk games. Sure, you don't have the rumble so you can't feel the various surfaces you are skating on, but you do have the option to turn on the motion sensors for balance and steering. This is a great feature for those who find the analog stick a bit too sensitive for those long grinds and manuals. Now you can just mimic the balance of your rider with the entire gamepad with far more precision. It does take some getting used to, so don't give up too quickly.
Proving Ground continues the tradition of motion-capture skateboarding so every last move on and off the board looks totally realistic. All of these moves seamlessly transition into each other for perfectly fluid trick lines across any surface. The default dynamic camera angle does an impressive job of always showing the action from the perfect angle, but you are free to pan around with the right stick if you can’t see exactly where you need to go or line-up that that next grind.
Character design is most impressive, starting with the creation process where you can create an infinite assortment of possible character combinations from faces, hairstyles, tattoos, jewelry, clothes, and skate gear. This list will grow as you unlock new items or choose to purchase name brand merchandise that wasn’t offered up for free. Even more impressive is that whatever you design in the lounge is perfectly recreated out in the game world, so when I’m skating around or watching my guy talk to Mike Vee I can see my bling and skin art.
All of the pros have been photo-captured and recreated with an almost eerie lifelike quality. They look really good from a moderate distance, and some even close-up, but Tony looks a bit weird when the camera zooms in really close for a few conversations. The one thing that totally impressed me was the 100% spot-on lip-synch for every talking character in the game. There is some impressive technology (or evil magic) at work here.
The cities are massive, each about the size of the West Coast scene in Project 8, with unprecedented details. The cities are so large they are broken up into sections so as not to overwhelm you all at once. Only after you have accomplished certain goals within one area are you allowed to expand your territorial borders. And with each new location comes new people to meet and new tricks and skating styles to learn.
The world comes alive with traffic and pedestrians, and while these models do get slightly repetitive, they are here more for atmosphere than actually looking at. Who cares if you knock the same fat lady on her ass in three different parts of town, and does it really matter that you just did an agro push off the same model car four times in a row. The details are in the actual city design and that is key to the gameplay.
You’ll be amazed at the level of detail, power lines, statues, bridges, tunnels, elevated trains, parks, and even a few secret portals. Skating into the revolving doors of a certain hotel will launch you from the rooftop of that building for some sick air. You have major streets and dirty back alleys as well as all the famous landmarks for each city and some legendary skate locations (Love Park) for those with some historic knowledge of the East Coast skate scene.
The game is also choked full of video footage for each of the pros as well as many of the corporate sponsors. I was impressed that when it came time to pick my sponsor I could view footage from just about all of them. You can also watch many of the pro’s pull off their own custom moves as well as plenty of training videos using in-game graphics. The one thing I did notice on the PSP was a slight lack of polish. The video footage was a lot grainier on the PS3, almost like it was compressed, which doesn't make sense given the added room on the Blu-Ray disc. And even in the gameplay there was some shimmering and jaggy edges.
Proving Ground comes with a soundtrack that is as varied as the gameplay and as large as the cities you will be skating in. With more than 50 songs from various artists, mostly chosen either for their relevance to the skateboarding lifestyle or their East Coast vibe, you will have hours and hours of killer tunes ready to back up your skateboarding action. You can also use these songs as your own personal soundtrack in your edited video footage.
The dialogue is really good and fits with the open-ended storytelling required of the open-ended game design. Obviously, these guys are skaters first and actors second…or even further down the skill list, so sometimes it sounds like they are reading their lines while others are able to turn in some really convincing performances. Cooper is really good as the journalist forced to venture into the electronic age of the Internet, and Mike Vee is awesome in almost every encounter.
Sound effects are just what you would expect starting with the sound of the board rolling along a variety of surfaces, either a smooth roll or a clackety-clack over uneven surfaces. Then you have the grinds which all sound the same until you grind on an overhead power-line (don’t try that at home kids) and hear all the electricity sparking and crackling beneath you. And nothing beats the ultra-cool sounds of time literally slowing to a crawl in the Nail modes, where each and every kick and flip can be heard with precise detail.
Initial estimates would put Tony Hawk Proving Ground somewhere in the 100+ hours of gameplay territory and even then I wouldn’t expect anybody to have earned all of the sick goals. Then you have the gaps, so many gaps, that you don’t even know where they are until you accidentally reveal one. Combined with the stats and upgradeable skills that you get to improve upon as you see fit, this is one game that will take months to complete, assuming it actually can be completed.
Then you have the online gameplay modes, which are insanely fun and totally addictive. The addition of online HORSE will probably keep most Hawk veterans online for the next six months, but with other modes like Nail-the-Spot and the ability to use the rigger menu interface to create your own custom trick lines in the game world, there is unlimited potential for online skating.
Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground is the ultimate evolution of the Tony Hawk franchise. It contains the perfect mix of next-gen technology while holding true to the core skating elements and quality gameplay that has made this the definitive skateboarding title for more than a decade.
Newcomers to the series will find the gameplay concepts easy to learn yet difficult to master, and Tony Hawk veterans will find the game equally challenging as they get to explore new career modes and skating concepts that have been previously unavailable. Proving Ground is the ultimate installment in a long line of Tony Hawk titles and a most-own game for anyone who loves skateboarding.