The nice thing about the Tony Hawk series is that you can practically set your watch to it. Activision's long-running skateboarding franchise has taken some knocks for being one of those games that never seems to miss a year, but to its credit each new Tony Hawk game tends to try out new ideas and up the ante from the year before. Last year was no exception; Project 8 has been hailed as the best Tony Hawk title in years, a triumphant return to form after the less than stellar American Wasteland. Being a huge fan of Project 8 I was excited to see if Neversoft would be able to top what they did with their first "real" next generation Tony Hawk title. After an extended play session at a recent Activision event I have come away more convinced than ever that Proving Grounds may just be the greatest Tony Hawk game yet.
In a lot of ways Tony Hawk's Proving Ground feels like an extension of Project 8, it's using the same style of graphics and you skate in a large open connected world. This time around Tony Hawk and gang take a trip to the East Coast. Proving Grounds features three major U.S. cities to skate through, including Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC. Much like the eight installments before it, the cities in Proving Grounds are basically over-the-top models of these real locations, so don't go in expecting a realistically modeled landscape where all of the streets and buildings are right where they are supposed to be.
But really, just as long as you have enough railings, ramps and real world landmarks to trick off of does it even matter where the game is located? Most people are coming to Tony Hawk's Proving Ground wanting to see something new; they want to do something they've never done before. The good news is that Neversoft listened, because Tony Hawk's Proving Ground is jam packed with all brand new ways to control and interact with the game.
For the most part the trick system remains the same; you'll still be pulling off ollies and grinds the same way you have for nine years. What has changed since Project 8 is the "nail the trick" mechanics. In the 2006 game players had a very limited amount of options when it came to using this new mode, but all that has changed in Proving Grounds. Like before you go into nail the trick mode by pushing both analog sticks in at the same time, but now you will be able to nail a manual after your kick flip allowing you to combine impressive tricks. On top of that, you will be able to nail the grab, which you do by pulling the left trigger and using your left and right analog sticks to control your hands. As always this mode takes a little getting used to, but once you've mastered these new tricks you will be pulling of some amazing moves that will impress all of your friends.
Speaking of impressing your friends, in Proving Ground you will be able to record and edit your best tricks. Thanks to a robust video editing mode, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground actually becomes a way for you to make your own home movies. At any time during the game you can start recording your tricks; this will allow you to record up to 30 seconds of your best tricks (or wipe outs, if that's what you're into). Once you're happy with the 30 second clip you can go into a video editing mode that allows you to do just about anything to it, including changing the camera, adding effects and selecting the song. Once figuring out the basics of the editing tools I was excited to see what I would be able to pull off, trying out brand new effects and camera angles. And just when I thought I had seen it all, I realized that I could affect the game's speed, play with the lighting and try and time my edits with the music. If I had the time I could probably have spent a full day doing nothing but making these skate videos.
After you're done fiddling around with the edit mode you will be able to save your videos and show all your friends. I was impressed to learn that most of the promotional videos coming out of Activision are done using this video editing software. While there are a few problems I had with the overall implementation of the mode, this is a great first step for the Tony Hawk series. I can only hope that for next year's model Neversoft goes in and adds to it, I would love to be able to have the game recording all the time, but alas you are forced to go in and actually turn on the record mode when you feel like you're going to do something impressive. It's worth mentioning that owners of the PlayStation 3 will not be able to share their videos with their friends, Activision said they would like to have added that feature but at this point there is no infrastructure for this option. Hopefully this will be resolved for whatever the 2008 installment is.