The knock against the Tony Hawk series is that it's just the same thing year after year. But while there's some truth to that, Neversoft should be commended for the amount of new ideas and gameplay tweaks that actually find their way into each new iteration of the game. Yes the basic gameplay has stayed largely the same since the original game back in 1998, but there's enough new in each game to give it its own identity and keep you coming back for more twelve months later. Unfortunately Tony Hawk's Proving Ground suffers from an almost unthinkable problem, there's just a little too much going on in this game.
Tony Hawk's Proving Ground is Activision's ninth installment in the long-running series, and in a lot of ways it feels just like the arcade skateboarding game you've grown up loving. Despite having the added pressure of competing against Skate, Electronic Arts' new skateboarding simulator, Proving Ground is just more of the same Tony Hawk goodness with a bunch of new modes, moves and characters added in for good measure.
If you've played a Tony Hawk game before then you already know that this is a series about over-the-top tricks and larger than life characters. Like most of the games in the series, Proving Ground allows you to create your own character and take them on a journey from rags to riches. You start out just learning how to pull off basic tricks, but by the end of the game you're performing moves with some of the best skateboarders in the world, earning money, and showing the East Coast why you're the greatest skater that ever was. Regardless of whether you are into the story or not, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground is really just a game about a boy and his skateboard pulling of amazing tricks that nobody in the real world would think about attempting (not even the Hawk man himself).
Much like last year's edition, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground takes place in one large streaming world that is then separated by smaller chunks. This time around we move from the upbeat landscapes of the West Coast to the dark and gritty urban streets of the East Coast. In Tony Hawk's Proving Ground Neversoft has attempted to recreate three familiar East Coast cities - Washington D.C., Philadelphia and Baltimore. In this fictional Tony Hawk world these three cities are located so close together that it takes no more than a couple minutes to trick off of each famous city. As usual you will find familiar city landmarks and a vibe that is somewhat similar to that of the actual location, but needless to say these are not street-for-street recreations of these large cities.
What sets this year's Tony Hawk game apart from the rest of the crowd are the three different "lifestyle" paths you get to take on during the course of the game. The lifestyles are split up by color; you have the green Career goals, the orange Hardcore goals and the purple Rigger goals. How it works is you find an icon or person that is pulsating either green, orange or purple and you select them for a mission. The mission structure isn't too different from what we've seen from other recent Tony Hawk games, the biggest change is just how different the three lifestyles are. The good news is that you don't have to do one or the other; you can play the entire game alternating between those three lifestyle paths.
The idea of having three different lifestyles is a good one, but all three of them seem to have a few problems that keep them from being as fully realized as they could have been. For example, the Career lifestyle mainly focuses on how well you can skate and what kind of tricks you can pull off. But at the same time there seems to be an unhealthy obsession with the "Nail the Trick" mode that was introduced in last year's Project 8. In case you decided to skip Project 8, the Nail the Trick mode is a strange new trick that allows you to literally slow down time and control both of your feet at the same time. How this works is that when you are getting some air you click in both of the analog sticks to activate this mode and then you use the two analog sticks to move your legs, all while watching the skateboard's position to make sure that you don't mess it up. This mode takes a lot of practice before you can start pulling off the big combos (which they call branches in the Nail the Trick mode), but before long you'll be nailing the trick like a pro. The problem is that this mode didn't feel natural to me in Project 8, so the heavy reliance on this new mechanic in Proving Ground is disappointing to me.
This year's Tony Hawk tries to add a lot to the tried and true skateboarding formula ... maybe even too much. While there's a solid skateboarding game here, you have to trudge through a lot of half-baked ideas that aren't nearly as much fun as they should be.
This product was submitted by the publisher for review. As a rule, Defunct Games does not review games we spent money on. However, that does not always apply to classic/retro games. This specific product, however, came straight from a PR guy for the purposes of being reviewed!