'Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2' Review: Skating Perfection
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Featured Image Credit: Activision / Vicarious Visions
From the moment the intro video kicks in, I'm met with a cavalcade of skating royalty reminding me of exactly why the original Tony Hawk games gave me such a giddy thrill back in the late-1990s. A sense of fun, rebellion, freedom and anarchy at your fingertips. Of nights spent trying to get high scores, executing perfect lines and bumming around with your friends in free skate mode.
The intro is soundtracked by Rage Against The Machine's pounding masterpiece of 1999, 'Guerrilla Radio', and I'm flooded by the same emotions I had back then, some two decades later. All this and I haven't even pressed start yet. I'm standing at the precipice of nostalgia, and nothing in the world could stop me from dropping in.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 has been developed by remake virtuosos Vicarious Visions and Beenox Studios - whose previous credits include Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled, Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered's campaign and Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy to name but a few. They are the crème de la crème when it comes to recognising what made these games so good, and transporting them into a modern world while still offering newcomers a welcoming hand.
For those too young (or perhaps just not cool enough) to have experienced Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and its sequel way back when, the games start with a handy tutorial, with an enthusiastic Tony Hawk himself guiding players through the dos and don'ts of skateboarding. For example, do try to land your ollies and melon grabs straight, do not become well-acquainted with face plants etc.
The Tony Hawk games helped pioneer this genre of gaming as we know it, with an iconic control scheme. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 does give you the opportunity to use the analogue sticks to move your boarder and perform tricks, and it feels remarkably normal to use these, especially if you aren't used to using the D-pad so much. For me though, I immediately defaulted to the old-faithful D-pad controls, which felt like I'd never put the controller down.
Indeed, everything is how you remember it, with the overwhelming bulk of changes coming in the games' presentation, not the gameplay. It's still incredibly easy to wipe out from a misaligned landing and your boarder can bounce off walls at weird angles ruining your perfectly lined-up route. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things - and if anything the game feels like it benefits from being so faithful - but when you're pushing to get the letters of S.K.A.T.E. or aiming for a high score in the game's pseudo-campaign modes, it can certainly set the blood boiling.
The level structures and challenges are also relatively untouched (we'll come back to those levels in a moment) and the new features are mostly benign. Custom Skater does what it says on the tin, with the game offering up unlockable items of clothing and boards which can be purchased with money earned by completing certain challenges. They're the kind of things you're doing anyway, like reverting to manual coming out of tricks, hitting a speciality move or going into overtime when the clock runs out.
All the gear can be unlocked in the Skate Shop. This doesn't look like it's tied to any kind of online transactions - at least not in the PS4 review build Activision sent us - so fingers crossed that they'll be good and keep the unlocks in-game only.
It would perhaps have been nice to see a few more extras thrown into the mix, like some new levels, but the Create A Park designer scratches that itch. I imagine there will be plenty of wild and wonderful creations springing up post-launch for those keen to have something new to dip their toes into.
For the uninitiated, the gameplay loop of the Tony Hawk games is as simple as they come. In Skate Tours (that's campaign/career and free skate modes to you and me) players must complete a certain amount of time attack challenges on each level before unlocking the next level, and so on and so on. Things like getting high scores, performing specific tricks and collecting the letters of S.K.A.T.E. dotted around the level will keep you busy enough for a while, but it's in the free skate mode where the memories come flooding back.
Very few things before or since have compared to the feeling of gathering around a TV set, kicking back with good friends, cranking up the volume and just hanging out while in the game, which is something that I'm very happy to say still retains its full power. This is the heart and soul of a Tony Hawk game, and it absolutely radiates good vibes.
There is now the ability to take the action online which is good, clean fun if you're into it, but split-screen skating will always be the real reason to own these games, and the online modes can feel a little empty in comparison.
The 21 default skaters are a mixture of pros from the original game and more recent arrivals on the scene, giving a really good balance of abilities and specialities to get to grips with. An interesting thing to note is that the original skaters have been aged up so they appear as they do in real life now, not as they did in the original games. A neat little trick to remind us that we're all human, I suppose.
While the likenesses are fine, and in reality they don't really need to do a better job than convincing you it's Tony Hawk or Kareem Cambpell, just don't stare at them for too long. You might start to feel a little uncomfortable in that uncanny valley.
But the real characters of the Tony Hawk games, arguably, are the levels, and they are achingly well remade and the structure of the maps will fit like a glove for old hands. Everything is where you remember it, and boarding into the secret areas that you know your friend can't quite get the timing right to enter is perfection.
You can't talk about the character of a Tony Hawk game without mentioning the soundtrack - and this, again, has been nailed by the developers. It's true that not every track from the original games has made the leap (licencing tracks from two decades ago can be a hell of a thing) but the vast majority have arrived safe and sound, with the new songs from artists like Skepta settling into the empty spaces with little more than an eyelid batted.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is about as good a remaster as we've ever had, staying as close to the originals as possible, and only veering off slightly where it spots a chance to improve on the source material. There's really no reason not to get this if you have even a passing interest in the original games, or skateboarding, or hanging out with your buddies on a Saturday night to see who can nail the craziest combos.
Pros: Untouched gameplay, split-screen gaming, faithful remake
Cons: could have done with some more bells and whistles, online mode is bare bones
For fans of: SSX Tricky, Jet Set Radio, Tony Hawk games of old
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is out on September 4th for PlayStation 4. PlayStation 4 code for review was supplied by the publisher, and the game is also available for Xbox One and PC. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.