The most potent tool in the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater arsenal isn't The 900. That's just a whole lot of spinning. It isn't the soundtrack. That's just a whole lot of absolute bangers. Nor is it the Activision dollars that fuelled the sensational rise and cataclysmic fall of this classic franchise. That's just a whole lot of money. It's not even the super-tight controls and rewarding gameplay mechanics. Ultimately, that's just a whole lot of 1s and 0s. No, the most potent tool in the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater arsenal is purity. It's a rare commodity these days, when so many AAA games are cut with awkward RPG mechanics, padded with pointless side-quests, laced with poorly conceived loot systems, thrust unnecessarily into ill-fitting open world settings, polluted with microtransactions, or a combination of the above. Hell, even this very series has ticked off most of those genre-bending sins in the years since it first fell from grace, but this largely faithful return to the very beginning of the THPS legacy showcases just how much power there can be in focus, direction, and purity.
But what does 'purity' even mean in this context? Well, let's strip everything back to the very basics. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is a game about pressing a lot of buttons very quickly in order to score points. More buttons, more points. Wrong buttons, no points. There's slightly more nuance to it in practice but at a fundamental level, that's it. THPS has more in common with classic arcade games like Pac-Man and Space Invaders than it does with more grounded and realistic skating sims like the Skate series, to the point that this series and EA's are practically incomparable. It also just so happens that this old-school all-or-nothing arcade gameplay gels wonderfully with skating — one false move on an actual board could land you in hospital, and while throwing away a few million points might not leave any physical scars, the mental ones are more than enough to serve as an analogue for the experience of bailing. Next time, press more buttons and press them better.
Nostalgia is obviously a key player in a remake like this as well, but Vicarious Visions has done a really good job of letting the gameplay speak for itself without having to trade on that side of things too heavily. The original THPS and its sequel were great games with excellent production values two decades ago, and the team has made sure this is just as true today as it was then — it’s wonderful to see these classics tidied up and given new life so that a whole new generation can enjoy them just like we did back in the day. As can we, of course, and anyone who played the originals growing up is going to have the biggest grin glued to their face from the moment the title screen starts belting out Goldfinger’s Superman. All bar a couple of tunes from those killer soundtracks are back, joined by over 30 new additions (most of which fit really well), and you can even curate your own custom playlists and skip tracks mid-session simply by clicking the right stick.
That same methodology — revisit, refresh, reinforce — has been applied across the entire game, and to great effect. The original cast of pros is back, all with slick new character models that reflect how they look today, and they’re joined by a few fresher faces from the modern skating scene as well as a handful of the expected ‘secret’ characters to unlock. Although the 19 stages are all recreated with unwavering authenticity, the playbook of tricks and abilities is far from faithful to the original games. Manuals, for instance, weren’t in the original game but are usable here in all the old levels, while features from later games such as the Revert (a combo extender added in THPS3 that serves as a transition from vert tricks into manuals) and the ability to chain and extend tricks with additional inputs all blast scoring potential into the stratosphere compared to what was possible in the originals.
Oddly, though, the score goals for each level don’t seem to have been updated to account for this, so anyone with a modicum of skill should be able to tick off any given stage’s High, Pro, and Sick Score goals in a single combo. Career progression in general feels a little off, actually. Part of this is due to how the game lets you attack both games’ career modes however you like with unified progress, so if you play through levels in order, your stats and tricks will be way beyond what you should have going into THPS2’s first level, Hangar. Also, unlike the original games, career progress is account-wide and not per character, so additional characters just need to grab the stat point pickups and not worry about the goals since they’re already done. It’s probably the right play in fairness, as that degree of repetition doesn’t have as much of a place in modern gaming as it did back in 1999, but series veterans may still find it comes as a bit of a letdown. There is, however, the new Speed Run mode if you really want to do the goals again, and it’s great fun seeing how fast you can clear everything up. Just don’t look at the top times on the leaderboards unless you enjoy being made to feel thoroughly inadequate.
It’s not just that one new mode, either. Vicarious Visions has added in a ton of new things to do, and that includes character-specific challenges that take the place of that old repetitive loop. These challenges come in all imaginable permutations of difficulty, complexity, and creativity, meaning there’s a steady flow of them popping up no matter your skill level — beginners get constant pats on the back for relatively simple tasks and moderately tricky goals to work towards, while pros will unlock these things in huge waves. I earned enough just messing around with Tony in Warehouse as the game installed to reach Skater Level 26 before I even started the game proper, and was able to clear 11 of Geoff Rowley’s 21 character challenges in my very first session with him. The toughest challenges even serve as huge slices of content in their own right, almost like in-game versions of achievements that force you to tackle levels in completely different ways. Each stage has a number of collectibles to hunt down, as well as a Platinum score goal to beat (typically seven figures, so best keep working on those combos), but best of all are the ‘Got There’ challenges. These are all about stringing together gaps in each level, and many end up feeling like puzzles as much as tests of skill. What line would you take to link all three Roll Call gaps and the gym rail hop on School II? How would you maintain speed when at least one of those will involve an uphill climb? These are an awesome extension of the gap system and between working out how to complete them and actually pulling it all off, you’ll likely find yourself invested in the trickiest ones for hours at a time.
Looking at the achievement list at first, it didn’t seem too bad. One thing I didn’t account for, though, was just how silly the XP requirements for higher Skater Levels would get, and how much time you need to invest to beat the challenges that actually make a dent in the progress bar when you get there. After completing the career 100%, maxing out four characters, smashing out plenty of insane scores, and beating a bunch of the challenges (including all three tiers of the Challenge Collections), I’m still only sat at level 60. Given how much progression has slowed down and that nobody has unlocked it yet, I’m guessing this bad boy is going to take at least a few weeks for most people. Most of the more daunting achievements have workarounds if your skills aren’t up to unlocking them legitimately, such custom parks for the big scores and game mods (read: cheats) for others. Collectibles and gaps you’ll want to use guides for, if you plan on getting those done this side of Christmas. Got There will be the hardest to obtain, since it takes a ton of skill and dedication to get through all of those special challenges, and there’s no shortcut. One more thing: there is an achievement for giving 50 letters in Horse, which is a split-screen-only game mode, as well as several challenges relating to split-screen multiplayer (some of which may be tied to another achievement, if I recall correctly), so the completion is going to require a second controller.
SummaryTony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is a shining example of how to do a remake properly, and sits in stark contrast to the last woeful effort to revisit these classics, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD. Vicarious Visions demonstrates a wonderful understanding of what needs updating and what should be held sacred, even to the point that the team has bitten the bullet and let the lesser stages (yes, of course we mean you, Downhill Jam) stay bad just so the classics can stay superb without laying a finger on any of the layouts. The myriad challenges and the endless entertainment of the online multiplayer suite — persistent lobbies of rotating maps and modes that you can just jump into and out of at your leisure to destroy (or get destroyed by) other players — represent incredible longevity, the core gameplay loop is as easy to pick up as ever but the skill ceiling is somewhere out in space, and I could happily sit in the same level for an entire day just working on new combos and pushing my top score. 'Could' is really the wrong word there, because I have done exactly that, and I will again. And again. Between the fantastic quality of this remake and the amazing critical and commercial reception it has received, if you don’t think the bigwigs at Activision are currently eyeing up THPS3 and 4 with dollar signs in their eyes, you’re crazier than whoever green-lit Tony Hawk: Ride.
EthicsThe reviewer spent around 30 hours grinding down memory lane on PS4 Pro, since PS4 review code was provided by Activision.
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