Developer: Vicarious Visions
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Version Reviewed: PS4
Nailed it like a 900. After a long, long string of mediocre releases, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is back and potentially the best it’s ever been. Vicarious Visions' overhaul of the first two Tony Hawk games is not just a much-needed visual makeover, it’s a delicate rewriting of history, splicing together the mechanics of multiple Tony Hawk games to create a package that represents the best of all skateboarding worlds.
Smashing through the window of the first game’s iconic warehouse level, it’s immediately clear that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater remains an unparalleled virtual playground, one that’s both instantly engaging and far more involved than I remember. It’s a game you put on for 20 minutes while your dinner cooks in the oven, and find yourself staring at the screen two hours later, the controller slipping out of your grip as your sweaty fingers try to build up another sick score, all while smoke billows over the door of your kitchen from the charred remnants of your tea.
But this isn't to diminish Vicarious Visions' thoughtful and considered remaster. Unlike many other older games, my memory holds no illusions about how poorly the first two Tony Hawk games have aged. They’re grainy, boxy, jittery looking things, worlds where the geometry is almost fluid as the games push the PS1’s rendering capability to the limit.
Making Tony Hawk’s 1 + 2 look better is easy (relatively speaking), so as you’d expect, the remaster achieves this. Levels and character models are completely rebuilt with modern assets, while the game also adds up-to-date effects like global illumination for outdoor levels, water reflections for street puddles, and so on. Crucially, however, Vicarious Visions hasn’t gone too far, overstuffing the game with unnecessary detail. There are new animations for bails and a few extra sound effects (your skater now whoops when they pull off a perfect landing, for example). Broadly, though, the levels are still strongly reminiscent of the original look, with clean, contoured lines that make ramps and rails easy to identify.
Alongside the improved graphics, a couple of key changes have been made to the systems. Primarily, the remaster adds the Manual ability from Tony Hawk’s 2 to Tony Hawk’s 1, and the Revert from Tony Hawk’s 3 into both games. Combined, these abilities considerably expand your scoring potential, letting you chain flips, grabs, and grinds together to pull off combos entering the tens or even hundreds of thousands.
Which is not to say that doing so is easy. I was surprised by how much my Tony Hawk skills have atrophied over the past 20 years. Successfully landing some of the air tricks like the Airwalk and the Maradona are much more difficult than I remember, and reverting into a manual from these tricks takes some pretty deft fingerwork. Point goals have been also been increased to reflect the greater scoring potential, so don’t expect to dive in and blast through each level in a single run.
Aside from upping the point goals, the contents of each Skate Tour remains fundamentally the same. Each level has a range of different goals, and you need to complete a set number of them before you unlock the next level. Some of these are the same across all levels, such as attaining several different high-scores and collecting the letters of the word “Skate”. Other goals are specific to that level, such as Wallriding three school-bells on the school level, or destroying five police cars on the “Streets” level. Crucially, you’ve only got two minutes per run, so you have to focus on completing one or maybe two tasks. The game only provides minimal information regarding objective locations, so exploration is as important as pulling off tricks.
Compared to any of today’s games, this structure might come off as simplistic, but the complex level design combined with that strict time limit makes the game incredibly engaging, easily hooking you into that “one more go” mentality. Indeed, I prefer the self-contained, easily digestible nature of the early THPS games than the more open, mission-oriented structure that the games began to exhibit from Tony Hawk’s 4 onward. Playing Tony Hawk’s 1 + 2 never feels like a task. You’re always confident that you can drop it at any moment. You just never want to.
On the flip side of that, even stapled together, Tony Hawk 1 + 2 don’t exactly make for a huge game. The career mode might last you a week’s worth of evenings, after which you’ll have to content yourself with optional challenges and the (impressively detailed Skate Park Builder). There’s also multiplayer, both online and Tony Hawk’s peerless local multiplayer mode, complete with classic game modes like Graffiti, Tag, and best of all, Horse, where two players compete to build the biggest combos, thereby avoiding earning a letter of the word 'HORSE'. It remains an absolute riot at parties and one of the best local multiplayer modes ever.
All of this is great, but I think a little new content wouldn’t have gone amiss, maybe a couple of new levels designed in the old style for the career mode. Partly to make the career mode last a touch longer, and partly just to give old Tony Hawk’s fans something new to look forward to.
Given this is my only real complaint, it’s fair to say that this is a fantastic remaster. Not only does it make a classic game easily accessible and enjoyable for new audiences, it beautifully communicates just how excellent these games were the first time around. Turns out OPM were right, heaven IS a halfpipe; they just failed to mention it’s a virtual one.
October 14 2021 | 15:04