Being a previous skateboarder and just recently researching the latest skate gear to help my nephew get a nice board for Christmas, put me in the mood for a skateboarding game. Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground seemed like a good choice and I was excited to throw it in my Xbox 360 and relive my skateboarding days. Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground’s promotional material tells you that “every skater has a different story, create yours” and they accomplish this by giving you an open environment to explorer similar to previous Tony Hawk games ever since Tony Hawk’s Underground was released.
I played Tony Hawk’s Underground for review back in the day and played a little of Underground 2. I skipped American Wasteland and Project 8 besides playing the demo for an hour, so Proving Ground was the first Hawk game I have played for any length of time since Underground. I was happy to see that in Proving Ground they have gone back to focusing on skateboarding instead of having you do all the weird things like Underground made you do. I have not seen a golf cart in Proving Ground yet and this is a good thing.
Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground has you performing skateboarding challenges as you progress through the three different storylines depending on which path you want to take. The three different paths allow you to focus on a career and contest in “Career” mode or you can just skate to skate and try to hit huge gaps in the “Hardcore” skater mode. The last career option is “Rigger” where you get to place your own items into the stages to launch off of or grind using the games built-in level editor. All three paths will be entertaining to different people and you should be able to find one you like or you can play all three if you can’t decide. The open environment of the game allows you to jump back and forth between different career paths.
This jumping back and forth was a good thing for me, since I found myself very frustrated while going down the “Career” path. I think I am either losing my video game playing skills or the developers and hard core fans of the Tony Hawk series of games think pulling off insane combo tricks is easy. Each challenge has three different levels of difficulty (Amateur, Pro, and Sick) and it seemed to take me way too many tries to complete a challenge at the “Amateur” skill level. I didn’t see anywhere in the game a difficulty setting, so I think the three challenge levels are a different way of setting the difficulty, but I think the difficulty level is unbalanced for some of the challenges. In most games you can blast through them on the “Easy” difficulty level, but I found myself trying over and over and over again just to try to finish a challenge and get an “Amateur” rating. Maybe I just suck at Tony Hawk games, but I don’t remember the previous games being this difficult to progress through. As I tried over and over again I felt the fun leaving and the frustration setting in. One of the challenges that stumped me is the one where you have to do a kickflip to a rail grind and then kickflip off the rail and land it. I was able to do this from time to time, but I had to do it ten times in a set amount of time. This is where I started to get very frustrated. I was able to kickflip onto the rail, but would bail while landing or not kickflip going on the rail and have the whole trick voided. To kickflip you have to hold the green button down and then release it when you are close to the rail and then press the blue button while pushing a direction on the control stick and then hit the yellow button to grind. Then you have to press the green button down and then release and press the blue button while pressing a direction on the control stick again to kickflip and then get the skateboard lined up so you can land without falling. After trying this multiple times I finally gave up and starting going down the “Hardcore” path instead of the “Career” path.
I just can’t believe they would make the “Amateur” challenges so difficult and I don’t even want to attempt to get a “Pro” or “Sick” rating on any of these challenges. I would probably be there all day. Maybe that is what they think people want to do. Is this a way to extend the length of the game by making the challenges harder than needed on the easy mode to make people do them over and over trying to complete them by either lucking out or practicing for longer than I would like? Even when I did complete some of the challenges I didn’t feel totally in control of what I was doing. It felt more like luck than skill a lot of times. I can see this being a real turn off for new players of the Tony Hawk series. If someone never played a Tony Hawk game before I could see them getting very frustrated with Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground if they can’t even complete one of the earlier challenges.
Also, another problem I have with the Tony Hawk series in general and in Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground is the insistence on pulling off huge combos to get huge scores to complete challenges. To pull off these combos you find yourself having to manual (pressing up and down on the control stick to begin rolling on two wheels and balance the trick by moving the control stick up and down as you roll) between every trick and if you fall at any point then you lose the points for every trick you have performed so far. First of all, I don’t think this is that fun and also it is not very realistic. I know Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground is just a game, but when was the last time you watched a skateboarding competition where the skater pulled off a ramp trick, then did a manual over to the next ramp, did a trick, then rolled on two wheels to a rail to grind, rolled again on two wheels to another rail and then launched from that rail to another one before ending the trick? This would pretty much be impossible in real-life and it shouldn’t be a requirement in the Tony Hawk games either. I hate having to try to balance after landing one trick as I go to the next ramp to perform another just so I can get a high score. This is dumb and I don’t understand why no one has complained about this in other Tony Hawk game reviews before. Maybe other people have complained and I missed it or maybe this is why I see a lot of people recommending Skate from EA this year, since it is supposed to be more realistic. I think this trick, manual, trick, manual, trick, manual, pattern in the Tony Hawk games needs to go or at least be reworked.
Okay, I guess I have ranted enough about what I don’t like about Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground. Maybe I should cover a few things that are good about the game before raping this up. The one thing that is decent is the sound effects and they should be since they have had eight previous games to get them right. You will hear the screeching of the urethane wheels on the cement or ramp when you slide and your bearings spinning as you blast down the street using the new “aggro” technique that allows you to pump hard and go faster by pressing the right shoulder button at the right time. You will also hear the thud when you faceplant on the ground after missing a ramp. All the required skateboarding sound effects are in the game and sound good. The voice acting is okay but doesn’t sound as clean as the in-game sound effects. The dialog sounds a little like the skaters are reading from script. This is probably because the pro skaters they got to record the scenes are not actors and probably are reading from a script. The storyline also isn’t the greatest, but it moves you along from challenge to challenge. The music in Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground also has that skatebording feel to it with aggressive metal tracks and other rap and hip-hop flavors. It isn’t bad, but I didn’t hear anything that stayed with me after I turned the game off. Actually, if you told me you would give me a million dollars if I could tell you any of the artists or songs in the game I would not be buying a new Ferrari next week.
Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground’s graphics are also something that is good about the game, but not spectacular. The game has a very dark color palette and I guess that makes it look more realistic and gritty, but it also leads to kind of bland colors throughout. The skaters in the game look good, but also a little freaky in some ways, since they look real but at the same time they don’t. You have the ability to customize your character and this offers a decent amount of options for clothing, hats, tattoos, accessories, and more. I didn’t see an option to take a picture of your face with a web cam and import it into the game, but you should be able to customize the provided characters enough to make them match your style even if they don’t look exactly like you. The one thing that may just come with the territory with the open environment games is that the game still has clipping issues. When you bail it is not uncommon for your head to magically go into a wall or your leg to pass through an object. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it is common enough to mention. Maybe this is just because the open environment style of the game that lets you skate through connected versions of the cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. doesn’t allow for every collision to be detected correctly. The graphics do look good in Proving Ground, but it is interesting that some of these clipping problems have still not been solved even with the new and more powerful gaming system available now.
If you have had enough fun with the offline challenges then you do have the option to go online and compete against up to seven other people for ranking and money. I tried this briefly and it worked well with a few spots of lag here and there, but the few games I joined didn’t seem to have any purpose. I think the people in them were just skating around together for fun, since I didn’t see anywhere telling me I had to complete any type of challenge. You can also do the same things you can do online offline with one other person in 2-player mode at your house. My son and I free skated around for a little while in this mode which worked well in split-screen mode, but, as expected, your view is somewhat limited.
If online or mulitplayer gaming is not your thing, then you also have the options to decorate your skate lounge via the “Create-A-Park” features that let you place ramps, rails, TV, and other things within your own area in the game. You can then have people visit this while you are online so that they can checkout your skatepark creation.
The other creative option in the game allows you to create videos from the video clips you record while skating in the game. You need to choose from a menu to start recording your run and then you are free to pull as many tricks as you like. Once you have a few clips you can edit them and connect them together to make a skate video that you can submit for a score. This is just another option to extend the life of the game.
How do I rate Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground? On one hand it was very irritating and caused me to become very frustrated while trying to pull off “Amateur” challenges to progress through the game. I also don’t like the unrealistic way you have to chain trick after trick together just to get high scores. Real-life skate competitions deduct points from a skater if they fall during their run, but they don’t lose all of their points from all the previous tricks if they fall. They also don’t have to string one trick directly into another over and over to get a high score. This whole side of Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground rubbed me the wrong way, but last night my son and I played free skate and just skated around together in the split-screen mode just doing tricks and exploring and that was a lot of fun. I can see someone buying this game and going online to play with their friends and really enjoying it without ever touching the offline game. I can also see people putting in the cheat codes that seem to come with every Tony Hawk game to unlock all the additional items and characters after becoming frustrated with trying to complete the game the normal way. So, after all this rambling I would say that Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground is a decent game that has potential, but also has a lot of things the developers need to look at to bring the series back to its glory days.
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