You don’t crouch.
After a countless “Tony Hawk” games involving playable characters like Darth Maul and Wolverine, the ability to grind the length of an entire rollercoaster and having enough air to invent tricks like the “720 double backflip kickflip stalefish, impossible,” you’d think the series’ newfound approach to realism would’ve brought about a few changes.
You don’t crouch.
When you hold “A,” you no longer get into a crouching position before you ollie, a fact that the other nine games realized was necessary to maintain any semblance of realism. This flaw speaks volumes about the rushed nature of “Tony Hawk: Proving Ground.” Sprinting to market to compete with other “realistic” skate sims like “Skate,” not only are there glitches and shoddy game play, but they also forgot to include little things like “fun” or “creativity” in the final product.
“Proving Ground” claims to be all about choice. Three choices, specifically – three career paths your skater can choose with three alternate endings to the game. You can find fame and glory as a pro, get street cred as a hardcore skater or create mind-blowing trick spots as a rigger. Each of these sounds great. Unfortunately, once you start playing them, it’s like having to decide between driving off a cliff, a bridge or the top of a parking garage.
Set in a very gray-looking Philadelphia, the level design is extensive, but it makes you wonder what happened to actual “levels.” Remember the Warehouse? Area 51? You knew each of these better than your own parents’ faces after playing “Tony Hawk Pro Skater” for 12 hours a day back when the series was good.
Now there’s something unnecessary called “a plot” which involves your skater meeting with other pro skaters who just happen to be in Philly and just happen to want to make you famous. All the conversations are roughly along the lines of, “Hey bro, sick set!” “Thanks bro!” “Bro, you should totally skate in my sick demo later.” “Whoa bro, that’d be sick!” The only sounds skaters need to be making in this game are the grunts and moans when they hit the base of a concrete fountain going 30 miles an hour.
“Proving Ground” believes it’s about creative freedom without actually giving gamers any more options than “rock, paper, scissors” does. The franchise is now caught in limbo between attempting to be realistic and trying to retain its original game play. The result is simply uninspired and borderline disastrous.
Wood + nails = skating genius: The most bizarre of the career paths is the “rigger.” Being a rigger is supposedly about creativity, setting up items that help you execute sick tricks. The result is a kind of in-game level editor, and not only is it incredibly tedious, but as an added bonus it’s also incredibly lame. When they throw things like this into the “Tony Hawk” franchise, you know they’re trying to be different just for the sake of being different – something that hasn’t worked since Mario strapped a water gun onto his back.
Sk8 or die!!1: Yes, one of the career options is to be a “hardcore” skater. This consists of making superhuman leaps over large concrete abysses and learning moves with names like “aggro kick,” which make you go faster and gives you the ability to body check pedestrians, because that’s what being hardcore is all about! No cameras, no lights, no glory, just skating, and I guess fighting. And stupidity, don’t forget stupidity.
Mo’ money, mo’ problems: The only “career path” that anyone will actually choose involves getting sponsored and becoming famous, which has been the theme of the last four “Tony Hawk” games. But unlike previous games with simple goals like “Get 500,000 points in two minutes for the gold,” now each competition makes you do a specific series of events (“double heelflip the table then 5-0 grind the rail”) in order to impress the judges and get the crowd “amped.” Any freedom or creativity is completely removed, and you’ll wonder how they screwed up a great series this much.
Make me beautiful: Except for the fact that Tony Hawk himself looks like a zombie with a heartbreaking addiction to crystal meth, the rest of the game looks stunning. Although Philly is kind of a mundane place to set the game, the buildings, landscapes and characters models are miles above any previous game in the series. Unfortunately, this is the only bright spot in a sea of toxic waste.
Freedom isn’t free: When you first boot up the game the following options appear: Career Mode, 2 Player and “Guitar Hero III” Demo (the best part of “Proving Ground” by the way). Notice anything missing? Yeah, it’s called free skate, and it’s been in every “Tony Hawk” game since the beginning of time. No longer however, as you have to go through at least 20 minutes of tutorials in career mode before they finally let you roam around the city. The game includes actual lines of dialogue that say, “Sometimes you just skate to skate, man” yet somehow doesn’t feel the need to listen to its own rhetoric.
A natural disaster: “Proving Ground” is without a doubt the worst Tony Hawk game ever created. It’s only logical that after three or four good games, the 73rd in the series would get a bit stale. Sure, it’s bigger, looks better and has a “plot,” but that doesn’t make it fun. I miss the days of Spiderman grabbing the board with his web or grinding around the rim of a flying saucer. “Tony Hawk” should leave the realism to games like “Skate,” and keep the ridiculousness that always made it great.