[6 February 2008]
Before the Tony Hawk games started coming out every year, it was debatable as to whether skateboarding was a sport or just something for California teenagers with a tolerance/thirst for pain to do in between getting high and listening to punk music. Since ESPN started showing things like poker tournaments, people playing video games, and double dutch competitions, America has been looking for a new way to define sport. Look no further America, because I have come up with the formula: Annual updates of video game title + awesome soundtrack for game + my inability to do whatever it is the people in the game can do + shown on NBC sports and/or ESPN = sport.
Tony Hawk is back this year with Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground, the successor to last year’s Project 8, and yes, thanks to Tony Hawk and his franchise (and the above infallible formula) we now know that skateboarding is a sport.
Like every other sports game, there is a new version of Tony Hawk every year. Unlike every other sport game, there is no roster or statistical change to warrant an update every year. Because you spend most of single-player mode as yourself, or the version of yourself you’d be if you were able to skateboard, the skill statistics of the pro skaters don’t much affect gameplay. This mode was always the franchise’s greatest strength, and with Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground, the tradition continues.
The game begins with designing your own character, and I bet my psychologist would have a field day with my avatar. I couldn’t really make him Asian, but whatever. In the game I’m also from Philly and have the voice of a thirty year old. In Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground, you too can be a white Philadelphian thirty-something male. You also get to choose your own path, or as Morpheus said “It’s all about choice”. I chose the Hardcore path because it seemed more fun for video game purposes and also because I thought it would help me to meet Bam Margera (in the game, of course). All the people I came across are of the underground variety, from initial mentor Mike V. to the editors of grassroots skateboarding magazines. Speaking of Mike V., here is a sample of what he said to me as I failed over and over again while trying to clear a hundred-foot gap: “Chicks dig scars,” “There, you almost had it,” and my favorite, “Do it again or else.” Or else he’d beat me up, I guess. I’m glad he didn’t.
Watching yourself looking at pictures of yourself…how very meta.
Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground is not a bad game at all. I would say that it is a good game, but that’s probably because I haven’t played a Tony Hawk game since my freshman year of college. It was Tony Hawk’s Underground, and this game is way better than that one. I especially like the “nail-the-trick” feature that was also in Tony Hawk’s Project 8. The developers may have gotten a little carried away by adding “nail-the-grind” and “nail-the-manual”. However, it’s always better to add than subtract, just take the above formula as an example. The game is just challenging enough, because I couldn’t grind or manual as excessively as in the previous titles I played. The unlocked skate videos are almost worth half the game and the graphics are the best yet for the franchise. I said before that the soundtrack is awesome and it is. The soundtrack is one of the most important aspects to a game, and any game that has Folk Implosion’s “Natural One” in it is okay with me. That song came up and my skateboarding was instantly elevated.
Part of the fun of gaming is finding loopholes that can be both explored and exploited. The rigging system solves this problem by letting you add stuff anywhere you want, and I mean STUFF, as in couches, sculpture, etc. You have your own warehouse that you can transform in whatever way you want. The video editor is also fun at first, but then it becomes less and less fun as you do the same things over and over again. The reason I chose the hardcore path to start the game was that I wanted to avoid the repetition, but a lot of the pictures and videos look the same after a while. Still, there may be a niche of Tony Hawk fans that will have lots of fun with the video editor and put their videos on YouTube.
The problem with this game is that if I had played Project 8, I probably would not have enjoyed Proving Ground that much. The story is always basically the same, though the argument could be made that there aren’t many stories to tell that would serve the game’s purpose. The split screen mode has lost some of its appeal. Playing with a friend, we both quickly became bored just trying to rack up high scores, especially when everyone knows that the fastest way to do this is by linking together manuals and grinds. The online play fares much better, because you can use your character and take on other people while you psychoanalyze their avatars. If the stories are going to be the same, it may be a good idea to just release expansion packs.
Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground is the ninth title in the franchise and the series is starting to show its age in ways both good and bad. It still has the all the air and combinations that made it such a hit, but it also is trying really hard to be the most popular guy in school with a new kid on the block gathering all the intrigue the local boy just can’t buy.
To end, here’s a conversation with Mike V. that I had after hitting some major gaps:
Darmaniac (Me): That’s it? Aren’t we gonna get the camera crews or somethin’?
Mike V: Sometimes skating just about skating, dude, not magazines and stuff. Good skating is just good skating, man, it doesn’t matter if it’s in a magazine or on the internet.