The earlier titles in the Tony Hawk series were often cited for their innovation. The original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater brought the sport of skateboarding into the videogame industry. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, often considered the best in the series, revolutionized the gameplay formula by adding manuals into the mix. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 added an online mode, THPS4 modernized the classic career mode found in the earlier titles, and Tony Hawk’s Underground further perfected the formula by again revamping the career mode in addition to another number of solid features.
Suddenly, it seems the ideas dried up. Underground 2 was a bore, American Wasteland was garbage, and Project 8 — while superior to the previous two — only offered a single unique gameplay mechanic that set it apart from its predecessors. Now, with a new challenger in the form of EA’s groundbreaking title ‘skate,’ can Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground break the mold and offer an appealing skateboarding experience?
There’s one thing for sure – Proving Ground is a Tony Hawk game, not a skate replica. Neversoft’s Tony Hawk series, including Proving Ground, has always been an arcade-like representation of the sport of skateboarding. You’ll be finding yourself jumping massive gaps with little effort, pulling off long and unrealistic lines, and plainly performing the impossible. If you prefer this to skate’s realistic approach, more power to you, but it must be noted that Proving Ground is noticeably less immersive than skate partially due to this design choice.
If you’ve played a Hawk title in the past, you’ll immediately recognize the tight control scheme, gameplay, and overall flow of the game – with one general exception. This lays in the expanded ‘Nail the Trick’ feature, which was first introduced in Project 8. You’re now able to both ‘Nail the Grab’ and ‘Nail the Manual’ in addition to performing ‘Nail the Trick’ manoeuvres. The essence of these mechanics lies in total control. Activate any of them to flip, grab, and manual your board in any way possible using the natural control scheme of the left and right analog sticks. You’re even able to link them together to create the ultimate line. It really is a blast once you truly get the hang of the system.
Besides nailing our sweet custom tricks, the rest of Proving Ground generally feels outdated and outdone. While we used to ignore the unrealistic physics and animation of the Tony Hawk series, after seeing both superbly represented in rival title skate, it’s hard to cast a blind eye upon such issues. Examples include your skater not crouching before an ollie, or hitting a ledge and grinding from a highly unrealistic angle. These concerns aren’t helped by the fact that everything in the game simply looks drab. The unremarkable environments plus the barely decent character models equal a game not up to today’s standards – it falls well under the visual bar that skate set for the genre.
Oh, we can’t fail to mention that development studio Neversoft seems to think that pedestrians are ghosts — we’ve often witnessed the local population passing directly through such objects as an arcade machine on a sidewalk without a second thought. It is small details such as this one (also, cars look like boxes) that damages the immersion factor of Proving Ground, taking you off the skateboard and placing you directly in your living room.
There are three cities in Proving Ground: Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. Each one is connected by bridges and tunnels to create one open (if uninspired) world. Scattered across the cities are various story paths. The three different categories — Career, Hardcore, and Rigger — affect the type of skater you become. Perform career goals to gain and expand Nail the Trick, Grab, and Manual abilities. Rigger challenges will have you modifying the environment, creating completely new areas by adding of changing or adding objects, and climbing to previously inaccessible areas.
Hardcore skaters will be graced with the abilities to aggro kick (push faster), bowl carve, and skate check those who are in your way. It’s no fun that you’ll inevitably be restricted from several of the more entertaining abilities until later in the game. We preferred skate’s ‘start with everything and let the user learn and improve’ method. At least the story is no longer in one straight path, keeping you from progressing if stuck on a single event.
The rewards for each event (or lack thereof) make little sense. Just as with Project 8, each event in Proving Ground has three levels of difficulty. ‘Am’, for Amateur, is for the most simple to attain, providing tiny to no sense of achievement in completing an event. A ‘Sick’ ranking is on the other end of the spectrum, only attainable by the hardest of the hardcore Tony Hawk fans. The ‘Pro’ rankings seem about right – they’re difficult, but not frustratingly so. Unfortunately, you’ll have little incentive to gain more than an ‘Am’ ranking, as the game rewards the same amount of skill points for any of the three. For ‘Pro’ and ‘Sick’ you’ll get a little more in-game money to buy clothes and outfit your Skate Lounge, and who honestly cares about that? Anyone?
Speaking of the Skate Lounge, it’s making its debut in Proving Ground, and we could frankly care less. Sure, it could be fun having your own personal Create-a-Park area, but we’ve seen this without the fancy name and location as far back as THPS4. We don’t mind the addition, but we barely spent any time tinkering with the building tools, vying to be lazy and skate the world Neversoft made for us instead. We simply don’t see the appeal.
Finally, we come to the highly touted video editor. The complex system lets you save multiple clips and edit them together with tons of neat transitions and effects. It even times your cuts with the music you’ve chosen. Neversoft is off to an awesome start. Alright, so you just pulled off an absolutely insane building-to-building 900, and want to include it in a video you’re creating. Nope, that’s not happening. In Proving Ground’s video editor, you have to manually start recording each clip, as opposed to having a constantly recorded replay of your recent escapades. Also, Neversoft was apparently embarrassed to have the boxy-looking cars and ghostly pedestrians appear in any of your videos, so the game simply removes them from existence each time you start recording a clip. Cue jeering now.
Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground is hiding a dark secret. We recently discovered what that secret was, and we’re going to share it with the world right here, right now. You’ve played this game before. Proving Ground is a nostalgic look backwards as opposed to an imaginative leap forwards. The fact that Neversoft hasn’t overhauled the gameplay formula for the next-generation has reared its ugly head in the face of EA’s innovative skate. When skate hit the market last September, it raised our expectations of what skating games could be. Consider those expectations unmet.