Tony Hawk's Proving GroundESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer - Neversoft
Publisher - Activision
Players 1-2 (8 online)
12MB to Save Game
In-game Dolby Digital
Billed as the largest and deepest Tony Hawk game yet, Activision has recently released Tony Hawk's Proving Ground for the Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, Wii and Nintendo DS. Proving Ground is the ninth game in the Tony Hawk series which has seen its share of ups and downs over the years. Without question Tony Hawk games have been a force in the video game industry starting in the late 1990's and leading up to present day. However the series now has some serious competition as EA's Skate has been introduced to the masses. With some new competition in the fold I was very curious to see how Tony Hawk's Proving Ground would hold up against the new kid on the block. At the end of the day, and after playing the Xbox 360 version, I have come to the opinion that Proving Ground is good game, however there is still a little too much of the 'same old' to consider this latest version an elite skater game.
Overall the visuals in Tony Hawk's Proving Ground for the Xbox 360 are very good. It is definitely a step up from last year's version and it certainly has a next generation look to it. The visual feature which impressed me the most was the overall scope of the environments. The city and urban areas are large, very detailed and look great in high definition. You truly get the sense you are in a large metropolitan city when skating around town. Details such as moving vehicles and pedestrians walking on the streets are also very effective. I was amazed at the uniqueness and variety of the pedestrians. For example, I would be skating along and there would be a group of three different looking people who were chatting away with each other. In a sense I never felt like I was passing the same people over and over again. There are also little details in each level that show how much work went into game such as the graffiti seen around the city and the scratches/skid marks displayed in the skate board parks. These are quite impressive.
The character design is also a strong point of the game and the professional skaters who make appearances throughout look nearly identical to their real-life counterparts. In story-mode you create your own customizable skater. Almost every aspect of your skater can be altered, including the face, eyes, hair, clothing, shoes, accessories, tattoos, etc. You can also customize your own skateboard with various deck graphics, grip tape, wheels and more. Bottom-line, you likely won't run into your twin brother at any point during the game and you can certainly spend a considerable amount of time in this area. One glaring omission from this aspect of the game is the lack of ability to create a female skater. I am not quite sure why this was not included, however I am sure many female fans of the franchise will be disappointed they cannot create a female skater.
Another concern I had with the visuals was the amount of clipping throughout the game and some occasional frame-rate issues. The latter was not being a major problem, just a surprise. In terms of the clipping I found that there were repeated instances where my skater's arms would pass through some rails or some concrete building. Overall is wasn’t so much a concern but more of annoyance as Tony Hawk games have been around for quite sometime and you would expect the graphics engine to be solid.
Tony Hawk's Proving Ground features arguably one of the best soundtracks I have heard in a game for quite some time. It features over 50 tracks and there is pretty much something for everyone. Bands such as Nirvana, Bloc Party, The Clash, Jurassic 5, Slick Rick, Smashing Pumpkins, The Rolling Stones, and The Beastie Boys all have tracks in the game. I was quite impressed and rather shocked to see that the new single from the Foo Fighters called "The Pretender" was featured in the game. That was truly a nice little surprise. All-in-all the track list is impressive and adds lots of flavour to the game.
The in-game sounds are also very strong and they are almost what you would expect from the skating game. The board smacking the pavement, grinding over rails, and gliding over streets all sound exactly as they would in the real world. The Tony Hawk series has truly perfected all the sounds we have come to expect with skater games. Even details such as the sounds of city, with cars whizzing by and chatter from the city-folk, are all well done. The voice acting is also decent however it does seem scripted and somewhat stale at times. Overall, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground is solid in the audio department and I really don't have any significant concerns.
When you first throw Proving Ground into the DVD drive and start the game, the first thing you'll do is create your skater dude. After he's decked-out you will then watch a movie which explains the three different Skater Styles that you can pursue in the game: Hardcore, Rigger and Career. You are free to pursue any or all three of the styles whenever you like. Career skaters are all about building their fame, winning competitions and gaining sponsorships. Hardcore skaters are those who are more aggressive risk-takers and who seek underground challenges of the sorts. Finally, Riggers are the creative skaters who can take everyday objects, alter their environments and create cool skate lines.
From there you enter into a handy little tutorial, which I found incredibly helpful by the way, where you start learning the basics. You will find such tutorials entitled "Learning How to Rig", "Learning to Nail the Trick", "Learning the Aggro Kick" and "Learning the Street Goals". After going through the tutorials your first level, Downtown Philly, becomes unlocked. Clicking the Right Stick opens a list of episodes within this first area which includes Arto's Video Episode (Career), Mike V.'s Epic Episode (Hardcore) and Jeff's Rigging Episode (Rigger). After these episodes you are essentially free to do as you please. You will likely take on some of the available goals and start building your character at this point.
There are a variety of different goals in the game and each one can be completed with an amateur, pro, or sick rating. This is where I started to have some concerns. An amateur rating is not much of a problem to obtain; in fact gamers who try this rating will most likely obtain it on the first try. The pro ratings are not that much more difficult either. On the other hand, sick ratings are almost frickin' impossible and seem out of reach. Perhaps for the most hardcore Tony Hawk gamer this will not seem to much of a problem, but the sick rating seemed almost out of reach for me and I am a competent gamer. I truly think that this will provide too much of a challenge for a lot of newbies to the series. Don't get me wrong, I am always up for a challenge, but I found this quite frustrating.
Tony Hawk's Proving Ground utilizes a sandbox open world concept which we have seen in previous versions. Overall it works well and fans of the previous version will be happy with Neversoft's "if it aint broke, don't fix it" approach. The challenges are spread out throughout the world with the cities connected to each other. Each separate challenge is indicated with highlighted beacons in each area.
After you have completed some challenges you will want to try some of the new features in Proving Ground. Some of the new challenges work while others do not. For instance, the camera challenges left me puzzled and I found them awfully problematic. The controls seemed wonky and it made it more of an exercise in patience as opposed to an enjoyable part of the game. On the flip side though you will see "Tony Hawk's 2000" Arcade Machines as you skate around the various cities. These machines each contain three playable bonus mini-games: Classic, Hawk-Man and High Score Run. Classic is a retro Tony Hawk mode where you are given a set of goals to complete, such as Collect SKATE, Find the Secret Disc or Get a Sick Score. Hawk-Man is an arcade-style pellet-collecting game while High Score Run is a free run where you can rack up your best high score and aim for an amateur, pro or sick rating. These games were a nice break and could be quite addicting when given the chance to play them.
As with the other games in the franchise Tony Hawk's Proving Ground utilizes the same basic control setup as last year but it does manage to throw in a new mechanic. The controls are very easy to pick-up and if you are experienced with any of the other Tony Hawk games then you will have no problem with the controls. In Project 8 we saw the introduction of Nail the Trick. This year Proving Ground adds Nail the Grab and Nail the Manual. Much like the Nail-a-Trick, these variations all involve clicking on both analog sticks then controlling the skaters left and right legs with each respective stick. You will be able to pull off many combos with ease as you are able to go from Nail-a-trick to Nail-a-Grab then back again. Once you unlock the Nail-a-Manual or Nail-a-Grind tricks the possibilities are endless. I found that with practice I was somewhat successful in this area and pulling off crazy combos is very satisfying and can result in some great scores.
The multiplayer aspect of the game alright, however I am not so sure many will pick up this game for the online content. For instance, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground features a Skate Lounge. You can enter the Skate Lounge at anytime during the game from the "my skater" menu (after it's unlocked). From there you can essentially "Pimp" out your pad and invite your friends to check it out. On the surface the idea sounds neat but frankly Tony Hawk's is all about skate boarding and I could personally care less about the lounge, not to mention showing it off to my friends. Online you can also invite friends into your game to take on various challenges. You can also play some 8-player graffiti and king-of-the-hill matches which are quite enjoyable.
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