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Game Review Hub: Tony Hawk's Proving Ground
Genre: Sports (Skateboarding)
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation 2, Wii, Nintendo DS
Developer: Vicarious Visions, Neversoft Entertainment, Page 44 Studios
Estimated Length: 7 hours
Rating: 1 out of 5
When the first Tony Hawk game came out on the N64 and PlayStation, I was instantly hooked. As someone who has an interest in skateboarding, but zero ability or skill in the sport, the game allowed me to delve into the sport without the risk of bodily harm and embarrassment. While the game lacked any sense of realism, it was enough fun that I did not care. As the series progressed, I followed along until about Tony Hawk's Underground which was the last game in the series that I played. While I enjoyed that game, and the others leading up to it, I simply moved away from the series.
After Tony Hawk's Underground I noticed that every new Tony Hawk game that came out was reviled by critics, and sales continued to slip. Not having played these games, and having such fond memories of the earlier games, I wondered if the critics weren’t overreacting. Years after my last experience with any skateboarding games, I decided to check out the last entry in the Tony Hawk series, Tony Hawk's Proving Grounds. After all, how bad can a Tony Hawk game really be? Pretty bad as it turns out.
The first thing that I noticed when I booted up the game, is that they are trying very hard to make the game have a cohesive story. They introduce you as an up and coming skater with lots to prove. The story is presented to you through poorly modeled representations of professional skaters. The game is fully voices, and while that is usually a good thing, it might be the worst part of this game. Not only are most of the skaters terrible voice actors, but the dialogue that is written for them is terrible, and I think it would have been more tolerable if I had to read it rather than hear it. Now if this game was like some of the earlier entries, the story would be corny but you would give it a pass because the games are all about the great skating, right? Not this time.
Not only are the fundamentals of the way you play the game changed, but the skating itself feels totally different. The camera has been tweaked and annoyed me right off the bat. After a bit of digging I found an option in the setting to change it back to the classic feel. I then proceeded to skate around the environment a bit. The game is designed as an open world, and as usual, everything can be grinded, jumped off of or gapped over. For a brief few minutes it was back to the Tony Hawk skating goodness that I remembered.
Then I followed the mini map to my first objective. Another weird interaction with goofy characters, and on to the tutorials. They take you through the standard introduction to basic game mechanics broken up across a few different objectives. Then they split the objectives up into three categories. I figured this was where the fun goals would come in; I was sorely mistaken.
It turns out, every goal in the entire game is structured like a tutorial. You perform a newly introduced task a few times, then they talk more, then you do it again in a different way. By the end of the game, less than 5 objectives were not broken up into different bits where they either taught you new skills or told you to remix or combine others. The traditional two minute race to achieve a list of goals is relegated to a few side missions that are only mentioned once in the game.
The problem with this type of objective is that you never feel like you learn anything because they are constantly stopping to tell you exactly how do to everything and you are given no freedom to do what you want. The only goals which required you to get a certain high score, a classic Tony Hawk trope, were restricted to specific move sets. In addition, the constant break for more tutorial is jarring and breaks up the flow. In some instances you must perform goals in one combo, and the game will pause during the combo to do more tutorializing, then breaking back into the skating with no warning. if you were holding the ollie button before the pause, and you are not when it unpauses, you will jump right out of your combo. That is very bad game design.
Now in order to make a full game one big tutorial, they had to add lots of new stuff to the game. Some of these things feel good and add to the flow of the game, but most are terrible. For example, nail the trick is a system where you are supposed to move the control sticks like they are the skaters feet, and mimic the movements used to perform tricks. That is novel idea, and while the system is imprecise, it is cool looking enough to get a pass. The problem is that the game requires you to use it for certain goals. They were also nice enough to add flip tricks which can be done by holding the left trigger and a direction, and manuals which are done by holding the right trigger and a direction. The controls for these are even worse than the flip tricks. Then the game instructs you to do all of these in a combo, switching back and forth between flips, manuals and grabs, without even explaining how to transition between them. To call is frustrating would be a significant understatement.
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The Tony Hawk series started off strong, with interesting new mechanics added and a few quirky story beats to mix things up in later entries. However it seems in an attempt to make the games more cinematic and flashy, they have destroyed everything that was great about the early games. They apparently feel the need to keep adding more and more crazy gameplay mechanics, regardless of how well they control or if they will add anything meaningful to the gameplay. After almost a dozen entries, it seems they need almost an entire game just to introduce all of the mechanics that they have added, and that's how we got Tony Hawks Proving Ground.
Please note, this review reflects my experience with the Xbox 360 version of the game. I did not play any other versions of the game before writing this review.